In the trucking industry, there is more interconnectivity between vehicle systems and components than ever before, which allows the asset to become safer, smarter, and more efficient. But this also creates complications for the maintenance professionals who will have to fix any problems that come up.
“Components are increasingly reliant on other vehicle systems to operate effectively, so diagnosing a single ECU will often not uncover the root cause of the problem,” said Sandeep Kar, chief strategy officer for Noregon.
In fact, technicians must now diagnose the overall vehicle more holistically—to see each system as part of a larger entity to truly resolve the problem as opposed to temporarily relieving a symptom. This ranges from a paradigm shift in the way faulty components are diagnosed and repaired to the tools that detect the faults. And according to diagnostic experts who spoke to FleetOwner affiliate Fleet Maintenance, shops will need to upgrade both their skill sets and tools in short order, as the technological advances and complexity in trucking will not slow down so everyone can catch up.
The root of the matter
When trying to uncover a vehicle’s issue, some are easy fixes, such as topping off the coolant or diesel exhaust fluid. Others may take deeper digging with a diagnostic tool, some trial-and-error, and parts swapping. Even all that may not be deep enough to reach the real root of the problem.
“There is a very clear difference between making a repair that was created by a problem—or root cause—and solving the problem that created the need for a repair,” explained Randy Obermeyer, VP of safety and maintenance at OnLine Transport.
It’s a noble pursuit. Fix one DEF sensor and improve one truck’s uptime; help the OEM identify why the sensor failed and avoid future downtime for all similar trucks.
It’s the reason that Obermeyer chose “Root Cause Analysis/Problem Solving” as the major theme of his recently concluded tenure as general chairman and treasurer of the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council.
He presented the following common method of resolving a check engine light:
First, the tech uses various troubleshooting steps, such as using a scan tool to find fault codes. Once the faulty component is identified, the quote is written and submitted for approval. Then the faulty component is repaired or replaced, and the invoice is sent and settled.
If another truck comes in with the same issue, the process repeats.
“Nowhere in this example is anything suggested as to what caused the component to fail,” Obermeyer noted. “It is not suggested that the component’s typical life expectancy was passed or if it failed prematurely.”
Obermeyer imagines an industry-wide workflow where repair facilities emphasize root cause analysis and problem-solving as part of the diagnosis and repair process.
In this scenario, when dealing with a check engine light, the tech still goes through the troubleshooting steps to find the faulty component. Then the shop determines if the part failed early. Obermeyer noted this would take industry standardization and the customer’s repair history.
If the part failed early, the shop looks for obvious reasons, like a shorted wire, to understand why the component failed.
“If no, the repair facility digs deeper into the root cause, such as an internal component issue, an electrical voltage spike, internal wire or connection faults, etc.,” Obermeyer explained.
The quote would now include the cost to repair the current issue and list potential causes, and the tech then repairs or replaces the faulty component, and fixes the root cause if applicable. The invoice would also state the root cause and any potential countermeasures.
“The problem that created the need for the repair was solved, and the countermeasure is then put into place by the fleet which slows down and then potentially eliminates that particular issue from occurring on similar trucks,” Obermeyer explained.
It’s a comprehensive solution to problems that nag the industry, but it’s not without critics.
“I have had people push back saying that fleets will not want to pay extra for that service,” he said. “My answer: They cannot afford not to. Inflation has caused the price of my average component to go up 25%. There will be more expensive electronic control features added as ADAS and EV technology advance. Add that to skyrocketing labor prices at dealers and service providers. Why wouldn’t they?”
The former TMC chairman believes strongly that this is the best way forward and will continue to push the industry to shift from temporary to permanent fixes. His plans include helping develop a guide for teaching root cause analysis and making it a part of the curriculum at technician trade schools, adding a root cause track to TMCSuperTech and state skills competitions, as well as developing new root cause repair order and invoice standards for dealers, service providers, and fleets.
He also hopes to create a certified Root Cause Analysis Specialist Program similar to that of the VMRS Specialist Program currently offered by TMC.
Troubleshooting tool trends
Not only do technicians need to be better trained and acclimated to a problem-solving workflow, but they have to have a more capable array of diagnostic tools at their disposal.
“With technology advancing at an accelerated pace in Class 8 trucks, proper diagnostic equipment is a requirement for getting customers back on the road quickly,” explained Eric Daniels, VP of truck care for Love‘s. “And proper triage with diagnostic equipment helps drive throughput and technician efficiency.”
For Winston Minchew, maintenance training manager for Old Dominion Freight Lines, diagnostic software for fault code diagnostics is essential.
“You definitely need that with today’s engines, today’s aftertreatment systems, and all of the modules on the vehicle,” he said.
Diagnostic tool providers have responded by developing more complex tools to avoid becoming obsolete, ensuring users have accurate information and increased efficiency.
“Overall, the evolution of comprehensive scanning tools for commercial vehicles has been marked by a steady increase in sophistication and functionality, driven by advancements in software, algorithms, and wireless technology,” said Marcos Obispo, sales director for Cojali.
More advanced diagnostic tools don’t have to complicate the user experience, and sophistication on the back end amplifies the need for a user-friendly experience on the front end.
“While scans are getting more sophisticated, the analysis from the scans is getting more predictive and prescriptive in nature,” Noregon’s Kar noted.
He added that tools can’t just present information to the technician but must guide them through the process. Without simultaneously scanning all components, technicians may find a temporary fix and clear the fault. Still, if the problem originates from another component, it will soon reoccur, causing unnecessary downtime and additional service expenses, Kar explained.
Duane Watson, a technical trainer for Bosch, said techs need a scan tool that can simultaneously communicate on different levels of protocols to speak to the various modules and protocol speeds. “Doing that will give me the information to drive to that root cause failure,” Watson said.