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The Digital Deep End

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With modern car electronics evolving so rapidly, Rob Marshall queries three leading plug-in diagnostic suppliers about how they help the Aftermarket to keep up.

As reported in AT‘s regular 4Focus and New Car features, the rate of technological advances in current models is not only advancing but also accelerating. Clearly, keeping an eye on such developments is relevant for all of us. While respected bodies representing the Aftermarket, such as the IAAF, are examining the repercussions of the connected vehicle (and more), it is clear that OEMs view both security gateways and over-the-air updates as the future ‘norm’.

While it is useful for the independent sector to keep abreast of the technology featuring in current showroom vehicles, the Aftermarket has the luxury of time to ponder how to respond. The Opus Group told us that it is too early to tell how wireless updates will affect the traditional plug-in methods. Yet, the company reports that it has provided programming solutions since its 1999 inception and adapts its approach to meet vehicle manufacturers’ requirements. It, therefore, has positioned its technology to adapt to wireless technology, as it becomes a requirement for the Aftermarket.

Delphi also recognises such changes are afoot but reports that wireless updates tend to be used for software updates and not necessarily for repair operations, such as resetting service lights. Delphi also reminds technicians that EOBD interaction will continue to be a separate part of vehicle repairs and maintenance for the time being and Over The Air upgrades should not be confused with ‘Pass Thru’ diagnostics.

As Delphi hints, of more pressing relevance is the increasing issue of car manufactures implementing security measures to ‘protect’ their vehicles’ communication networks. While it is not the aim of this article to debate whether OEMs are acting disproportionality to obtain a competitive advantage, or for genuine safety and anti-cyber attack reasons, the result is that aftermarket repairers are required to use certified diagnostic tools more often. These require Wi-Fi capability to access manufacturer platforms to perform certain common repair functions, including clearing fault codes and performing calibrations. The first well-reported example of this was Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) introducing a Secure Gateway Module, on the majority of its models from the 2018 model year.

During live data sessions, diagnostic equipment provides displays information based on signals from vehicle sensors. Do not be fooled by mistaking a faulty sensor for an abnormal measurement.

Making the investment

Unlike many conventional hand tools, investing in onboard diagnostic equipment tends to be a cost borne by the garage business and not technician employees. Regardless of whether you own the business, or are employed by it, everyone has a vested interest to ensure that the workshop is equipped with the most appropriate diagnostics for its needs. Open dialogue about such an important investment is, therefore, in everyone’s interests.

While Opus is proud of its licensed OEM diagnostic capability and a trio of diagnostic modules covering over sixty vehicle brands, it highlights its Remote Assisted Programming and Remote Services as especially valuable. These features are provided as a pay-per-use service and provide complete coding/programming functionality. Furthermore, the IVS (Intelligent Vehicle Support) 360 gives technicians full repair guidance support from OEM-trained Master Technicians. Opus reports that customer feedback has revealed that technicians appreciate not only the option to consult with a brand-specific expert but also the ability to configure, code or program a component via its remote services. The company reports that future development is focussed towards expanding the number of OE services that it provides through the Remote Assisted Programming and Remote Services functions.

Consider other specialist tools, such as manometers (pictured here measuring DPF pressures) as useful to verify the information displayed on your EOBD diagnostic equipment.

Delphi highlights its systems’ ease of use, alongside in-depth coverages of European and Asian models, including EV and hybrids. An especially useful feature is a direct link from the diagnostic fault code to a test plan. Additionally, technicians are not placed under extra time pressure, because neither is there a software time-out, nor additional catch-up fees. Highlighting its position as an OEM supplier, Delphi’s diagnostics include OEM data and technical support. Its customers testify an appreciation for the vehicle registration look-up function, which saves the technician a considerable amount of time, because the facility can identify the vehicle immediately, right down to its engine code. The company also comments that it sees its Flight Recorder utility as a key quality, because it allows technicians to monitor live data, while conducting a road test, without being potentially distracted (or breaking the law) by the presence of a PC within the cabin.

Launch Tech UK, meanwhile, emphasises the value for money benefits that Launch Tech products offer, which provide wide vehicle coverages, coupled with interfaces that have been designed especially for user-friendliness. Even for a single-marque specialist garage that uses the OEM diagnostic interface, the latter advantage saves diagnostic time, especially as some manufacturer portals are hardly the most intuitive. Delphi declares that garages using its DS tool instead do not have to pay the hourly costs for OEM equipment. Furthermore, certain carmakers change their software overnight without notice, meaning that the official tool will need to be updated before it is useable. Launch comments that its entry-level X431 would be an ideal second device that specialist technicians can employ alongside the OE system. Aside from value for money, Launch reports that X431 also has no lock-out, or catch-up fee policy with its software. Yet, this does not mean that the system is never updated; Launch reports that it evolves its systems continually for newer vehicle compatibility. It also provides UK- based landline technical support for any user-related enquiries, including password resets, software renewals, and vehicle- specific help. Opus adds that its products are regarded as respected alternatives to OEM diagnostic tools and, while it has expanded its multi-brand offerings, the company continues to attract new customers that require a single brand focus, while benefitting from access to Opus’s Remote Services team.

Opus has found its remote services particularly popular. It handles, approximately, 12,000 IVS 360 vehicle cases per month, meaning that it sees a growing need for bespoke assistance beyond the capabilities of a typical hand-held diagnostic tool.

Investing in you

All companies with whom we spoke agreed that any diagnostic equipment is only as good as the technician operating it. This can be a difficult message to get through to the public, many of whom believe mistakenly that the plug-in ‘computer’ is smarter than the garage staff. Opus reminds us that a diagnostic solution is used to extract information and data based on the symptoms provided by the customer but a repair occurs, when this information is coupled with technician knowledge, skills and expertise.

Delphi emphasises the quality aspect. It elaborates that technicians must be confident that the data provided by the equipment is correct. For example, an incorrect fault code description could waste workshop time and money, which explains why all of Delphi’s software is validated before release.

In addition, quality suppliers should not end their relationship with customers, as soon as payment has cleared. Training is an important part of the process and technicians should not waste any opportunity to further their knowledge. Customers that purchase a DS tool can attend a free training course at Delphi’s training centre in Warwick (although T&Cs apply). Online sessions are also being planned. In addition, Delphi customers benefit from a free technical help hotline. Opus also provides individual technician training that details how to use each area of the software, so that the equipment can be used to its maximum potential. This includes ongoing training, webinars about requesting the IVS 360 support and how to book Remote Assisted Programming and Remote Services.

Delphi also reasons that diagnostic equipment and software must be easy and logical to use; making the software too complex to follow is counterproductive. Launch UK agrees with this stance and, while it agrees that anything is achievable with the correct training, it highlights one of the positives of its Android operating system is that it is ubiquitous. Therefore, most technicians find the Launch X431 tools easy to use, because many of them are accustomed to the interface already.

The X431 is one of Launch Tech’s diagnostic products approved by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) group for an official security gateway (SGW) licence that covers post-2018 models. Users can purchase the licence from Launch Tech UK, the official UK supplier of Launch Tech products.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…

While the long term implications of OEM over-the-air updates for the aftermarket remains unclear, it is becoming gradually trickier to access manufacturer data. An increasing number of workshops are becoming aware of OEM security gateways that include not only FCA but also Daimler (Mercedes), the Volkswagen Group and the Hyundai Motor Group. Delphi reports that technicians are realising that a scan tool will guide them only part way through the diagnostic process, because more is needed than simply reading fault codes and viewing live data. For example, additional information is required to provide context to the data generated by the vehicle. Delphi explains that this is why it incorporates technical data into the DS range of diagnostic tooling. Even after the fault is pinpointed, the diagnostic session may still not be complete, because parameter learning/resetting and/or programming might be required, afterwards.

Delphi states that its OEM supplier status places it at an advantage to meet such challenges for independent repairers. Opus reports that, through its global R&D teams and partner relationships, it is also well-positioned to support its Aftermarket customers with access to Secure Gateway Modules (SGM), as they become commonplace. It also advises that technicians should remain close to the latest OEM processes and functions through these uncertain times.

It seems, therefore, that navigating through OEM firewalls is likely to become more common. Launch UK adds that its diagnostic tools are recognised by carmakers. In certain cases, FCA vehicles included, garages can purchase official licences via Launch to enable a technician to access and perform special functions that would otherwise be locked-out by the vehicle manufacturer.

While OEMs continue to adopt technology and processes that raise barriers to aftermarket repairers, there are solutions. Ashall continue to keep abreast of the situation and bring you the latest information as it evolves.

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