Keeping Up With Change: Continual Research and Education Is Vital
Automotive technicians all have their own individual style and approach to diagnostics and education. But most techs will tell you that if they understand how the system is supposed to work and the components involved, the diagnostic repair journey is usually easier. Automotive technology is constantly changing, it never seems to stop, but keeping up with this constant change is a demanding task.
I am frequently asked how I stay current with today’s continuously changing automotive technology. My answer: I read everything that I can, attend workshops, (virtual, in person and hands-on), join webinars, subscribe to trade magazines, manufacturers’ and parts suppliers’ newsletters and blogs, and spend a lot of time on the internet investigating and learning how things work. I even try to get to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit every year for the hands-on experience of viewing the enormous amounts of technology on display and studying the cutaways that are usually on display (it was cancelled this year due to COVID-19).
I find that understanding the technological side of how something works before I have to diagnose or repair it, will simplify or enhance my diagnostic or repair approach of that system. If you have already read about or seen how the system is supposed to properly function, you don’t have to spend the first part of your diagnostic procedure learning and researching the systems operation, components and characteristics. This is one of the biggest advantages to keeping current and up-to-date.
Getting this needed information and understanding of automotive systems is much easier today than when I started out many years ago. There are so many different ways that we can get this information, but I like to think about it in two simple ways: information that I can get for free and information that I have to pay for.
Almost all the major aftermarket parts suppliers and technically-focused automotive publications are providing information on technology and training to help keep up with todays never ending technology.
FREE TECHNICAL INFORMATION
One of the first sources that I go to is the internet. There are many free sources of information in many different forms, but we have to remember it’s the internet and not everything on it is true. I try to stick with reputable sources’ websites: the actual manufacturers, parts suppliers, tool suppliers, educational facilities, trade publications and the like. Yes, I have searched for and found many answers and shortcuts from some questionable sources but for the most part I stay away from them.
The parts manufacturers’ websites provide a great deal of free information on how their systems or parts function. These sites provide information on the actual parts and systems that they are currently supplying or will be in the future to the various manufacturers and parts stores that we count on.
Looking at the Delphi Technologies website https://www.delphi.com/featured-technologies it provides insight on some futuristic automotive technologies but it also supplies lots of information on currently-used technology. For example, there is an article on their 500 bar (7,250 psi) gasoline GDi system. It may be used in some 2022 or 2023 models because of the increased fuel efficiency and lower emissions due to the higher fuel pressures. But there is lots of current information provided too.
Delphi Technologies provides much more free information on GDi systems and diagnostics, testing and functionality. The hyperlink https://www.delphiautoparts.com/usa/en-US/product/gasoline-direct-injection leads to information again all free, from YouTube videos showing how to diagnose common GDi issues to other sources of information again describing how a system works or how to diagnose them. And this doesn’t just include GDi. The information is available on almost all the other systems that Delphi manufactures and supplies to the automotive manufactures.
A quick look at the https://www.continental-automotive.com/ provides lots of interesting reading about what they see as technology that is either in development or planned to be included in upcoming models. This website doesn’t provide any diagnostics but it does show the direction that they feel automotive equipment and technology is headed.
I first saw the Honda LaneWatch blind spot display at the North American International Auto Show in 2013. This photo is from a 2019 Civic and also shows the Honda diagnostic menu built into the dash display.
Another area that contains lots of free information are the vehicle manufacturers own websites. There may not be much in the way of diagnostics, but https://www.hondatechtutor.com/ explains how the majority of their safety systems function. There are valuable explanations on Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) and Road Departure Mitigation System (RDM). The website is model specific and has tons of free information. This type of information can be used by a tech to see if the system is actually preforming the way that it is designed and some of the adjustments and procedures that can easily be executed to help solve some customer concerns or perceived concerns.
Honda’s global website, https://global.honda/innovation/ provides information using multimedia and graphics to showcase Honda’s technology and innovations. Almost all the manufacturers provide information on their products and information on systems that are in development.
GM’s techlink; https://gm-techlink.com/ provides free in-depth technical resources and information exclusively about GM models. This is an amazing searchable data base that provides enormous amounts of current and past mechanical information and a huge amount of technical data. This information is in the form of TSB’s, system functionality, tools required, procedures and information on how systems work and need to be repaired. This is one of my favorite spots to go and has provided me valuable diagnostic data and technical learning, again all for free.
Trade publications websites and newsletters are another source that provides easy access to information that is both current and up-to-date. This publication, Auto Service Professional has a fully searchable data base at https://www.autoserviceprofessional.com/technology that provide free technical and industry information in various forms.
Many trade publications and websites will provide information right to your email inbox as a news feed for a quick fix of information that you may want to spend more time looking at later.
YouTube is another free source of information that I use. I follow and subscribe to a number of factory sites: Mercedes Benz, Ford and FCA North America, and more. These sites provide many technical details on the options and systems that are on their vehicles and give a great visual of the technology that they are showcasing in their vehicles.
Another favorite YouTube site that I follow is called Engineering Explained. Jason Fenske is the channel owner and he explains automotive engineering technology in a way that is easy to understand. He covers a large number of topics for example “Will Thinner Oils Damage Your Engine?” with major corporate support from Mobil 1. His explanations on technology are user friendly and easy to follow. He covers some really interesting and useful topics.
TECHNICAL INFORMATION YOU PAY FOR
Almost all the major manufacturers have a diagnostic website and the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) website https://www.nastf.org/ provides a great jumping point of hyperlinks that can be accessed for a fee.
There are multiple options now for accessing these sites from per hour, daily to even yearly subscriptions. After the subscription fee is paid and you are signed in, you typically have all the access that the dealership folks have and that includes information on new technology and how it is incorporated in their vehicles. Most will have a monthly or quarterly newsletter that will cover technical updates and new vehicle technology. Training material is often restricted to a dealer level tech, but some sites do offer access to the same training as the dealer techs, again for a price (Ford does this).
I have purchased short-term access at some of these sites just to read and understand new technology and how it works. But often I have had to login to a website for another reason (flash or repair data) and then it becomes, well free research for me while the subscription is valid.
This cutaway photo shows the timing belt on the GM 2.8 Duramax Diesel engine.
The Toyota site http://techinfo.toyota.com/ has a great section on new technology broken down into model years and provides heaps of information on engines enhancements and systems being used on their vehicles. For example how the EGR valve warms up the engine sooner, variable flow cooling system and the 3 coolant thermostats used in the 8AR-FTS Lexus engine. There is also lots of information on how the new Vehicle Control History (VCH) codes are used in diagnosis. These codes are similar to the proprietary codes that Saturn vehicles used and are displayed in an X000 format.
Most of the aftermarket companies that we deal with for parts provide training, technical publications and information on current technology and how to repair and diagnose vehicles. Federated Auto Parts, Denso, Napa, WorldPac/Advance Auto Parts/CARQUEST, ACDelco and others all offer online, virtual, interactive and in person training and information that will keep techs current on the latest technology.
The information services that we subscribe to to get our repair and diagnostic information is another valuable source of technical information, and typically a website that we are at continuously. Mitchell 1 at https://mitchell1.com/ is a very popular information service and they provide a tips and tricks section that can help keep up with trends and information not just for techs but the shops management team as well. They have a lot of helpful information on ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).
CARS OnDemand https://www.carsondemand.com/ has a subscription service that provide many training videos that include testing and diagnostic aids and other features all in an effort to help current techs keep up with all the changes that our industry introduces. There are many other examples of this type of online learning available for a fee.
Here’s a cutaway of a Ford V8 showing the much talked about piston cooling jets.
CAN YOU EVER KEEP UP WITH ALL THE CHANGES?
Keeping up-to-date with automotive technology is a never ending journey for me, and the reason is simple: I want to stay current, productive and effective, which improves the ability to diagnose and repair without wasting time.
Technology that we see today isn’t always a brand new invention or new idea. Most of what we are seeing is the results of a constant evolution of components, processes, concepts, systems and techniques. And it’s this evolution that we need to stay up-to-date with.
The Otto Cycle (4 stroke) naturally aspirated spark ignition piston engine we are so familiar with today still functions using the same four cycles it used when it was invented back around 1861: an intake stroke, compression, ignition and an exhaust stroke.
The basic operating principle of the engine is the same, but there have been momentous changes in the way it is operated, controlled, cooled and lubricated, making it more powerful, durable and efficient. It’s these changes that we need to keep up with and this is just an example using an engine because everything on today’s vehicles is always changing.
The need to have continuous training to keep up-to-date has never been as important as now and even with restrictions for in person learning, webinars and internet training has become the norm.
n this article I mention websites, company names and information sources that I use to keep up with automotive technology. I am not endorsing any of them, I am simply sharing how I get some of my training and technical information to stay current with today’s automotive repairs.
Jeff Taylor boasts a 34-year career in the automotive industry with Eccles Auto Service in Dundas, Ontario, as a fully licensed professional lead technician. While continuing to be “on the bench” every day, Jeff is also heavily involved in government focus groups, serves as an accomplished technical writer and has competed in international diagnostic competitions as well as providing his expertise as an automotive technical instructor for a major aftermarket parts retailer.