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Diagnostic Housekeeping

"Generally speaking, I think we have all come to accept that when it comes to the diagnostic process, data is king".

We are surrounded by thousands of possible fault codes, many more thousands of lines of data - and that isn’t even including the technical bulletins covering manufacturer-known faults that may involve parts swap outs, parts modification, or software modification etc. Now, as a diagnostic technician and self-confessed tech geek, instead of shying away from this ever-growing technology I do my best to embrace it. I want technology to make my life easier or in the case of this article, I want to use it to streamline our diagnostic process. As many of us in the trade right now appear to have more time on our hands than normal, I thought I would highlight some aspects of this technology that we use to streamline and document our processes and procedures during a diagnostic session.

Thought experiment Imagine for a moment that you have a diagnostic job in your workshop with reported symptoms present and fault codes being logged. You also note after a quick initial diagnostic assessment that some of the live data lines are questionable.

This particular situation is ringing bells with you, but you find that you can’t quite put your finger on it. You start to convince yourself that you have seen this before, leading you to ask the following question: maybe there is a technical bulletin available? Now, think how useful it would be to have your very own database on your PC, laptop, partition or smart phone; one through which you could search for a fault code, symptom, or section of live data by entering make, model or any other variable you can think of?

To be fair, this is not new by any means, after all, having multiple PCs, laptops and partitions is the norm these days.

From our standpoint though, this is something that has progressed over the years – we have always saved and documented various pieces of data and/or evidence. The problem we had experienced previously was trying to remember what machine or partition we may have used when saving that nugget of information – let alone the added complication of taking various laptops out of commission or even recommissioning them for a different purpose.

Solving storage problems Many years ago, one of the first steps for us was to use cloud storage; the likes of Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.

Storing all our diagnostic data, printouts, technical bulletins, photographs and videos in the cloud, not only allowed us to have a central location for all our data, history, and evidence, but also freed up space on our machines. This allowed us to access this data from any machine, partition, smart phone or tablet anywhere in the world. The next thing that we adopted into the business was print-to-PDF software. This is again available for just about every device, including Windows, Mac and iOS devices, and is available from many different sources.

For us, the one key requirement was for the PDF printer to be able to merge documents – in effect, add additional pages to an already existing document. As a side note to this, there is also a reason why we chose to save everything as PDFs rather than screenshots, html files and photos etc., but I will explain that later.

The bigger picture

Now, if I detail our average diagnostic job or diagnostic process, hopefully I can put all the parts together for you. We always (and without fail) carry out a complete global fault scan before doing anything else.

The reason for this is that it gives us the chance to document the complete vehicle’s state as it arrived to us and ‘before we touched it’ so to speak.

We of course print the complete report as a PDF via our PDF printer to a file named with the vehicle registration. Next, we might (depending on codes stored or present) go and view some relevant live data, and, to reiterate, we will always print that data to our current PDF file using the all-important merge function. We may also, for example, run some manufacturer test plans and again print the results to our PDF.

If we then check for and find a relevant TSB (technical service bulletin) relating to our symptoms and/or fault codes, we will also print this document and add it to our customer file PDF– the same is also true for wiring diagrams if they are used in the diagnostic process.

If we then stripped the vehicle down to inspect a control module and found any form of evidence, we would generally take a photo of this and sometimes add before and after photos. Again, we would print those photos using the PDF printer, adding them to the customer PDF record.

Scope patterns taken (although saved as priority files) would also be printed and added to the ongoing customer record. If you think about it, anything that can be printed from any device can be added to your ongoing vehicle record. You can see that by doing this we are not only documenting every part of the vehicle (to include all control module part numbers, software variants,coding values, fault codes, fault freeze frames, live data, relevant technical bulletins,relevant wiring diagrams, photos and so on), but we are also building it as a complete diagnostic and evidential timeline.

Full vehicle profile For one vehicle, we have one file. Each and every page made up in that PDF file has a time and date stamp allowing us to not only document the time spent on the vehicle, but also know that we already have data for the vehicle in question, so we can simply start a new timeline by adding it to our already existing PDF file.

And yes, you guessed it, we keep all those PDFs in the cloud. That way, no matter which brand we are working on (and therefore what PC or laptop we may be working with), we have access to all the previous files and therefore the ability to save new files to the same cloud location.

This is all possible by having your chosen cloud service app installed on all your devices.You can also segregate them if you so choose. For example, you may choose to separate stored customer diagnostic PDFs in separate folders by brand. That way, when installing your cloud service on your BMW laptop for example, you could simply choose to only download/synchronise the BMW folder, saving further valuable and expensive storage space.

Information at your fingertips Now, here’s the reason we chose to use PDFs over any other document format. Apart from the fact it is difficult to merge different types of information in other file formats, PDFs are perfectly suited to something called file indexing. This is something that can be done automatically by nearly all operating systems in the background, scanning each and every file and can distinguish between each and every word in your PDFs.

So now I can use the windows search bar or my cloud service app on any device, laptop or partition from anywhere in the world and I can search for any word or any character located in any one of the previously saved customer record PDFs.

Going back to my original scenario, hopefully you can now see that I could simply search for a fault code and bring up (within seconds) all vehicles we have worked on that ever contained that fault code. It would even bring up every record containing every TSB that includes that same term. We could do the same by searching for a control unit part number and bring up every vehicle we have ever seen in our workshop that had that same control unit part number fitted – very helpful when trying to calculate coding values.

In fact, you are only limited by your own imagination when it comes to what you can search for. The longer you stick to this type of process the more natural it becomes and the greater the depth of data you have access to. Just don’t forget to back it up every now and then!

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