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Are you basing your diagnostic conclusions on statistics or data?

Friday, September 29, 2017 - 07:00
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Recently, I took part in a Roundtable discussion covering a variety of industry issues. During that discussion, I heard two men whom I respect very much jokingly refer to technicians who were using a new diagnostic method I’d never heard of before – Statistical Diagnostics. The term references what seems to be an increasingly common trend, and a great topic for this month’s Tech Corner!

Multiplied Experience

It was a common practice in nearly every shop I’ve worked in to lean on your fellow techs for opinions and advice when faced with a repair challenge that was getting the best of you. With the birth of the Internet, the ability to interact with technicians from around the world was also born – iATN (the International Automotive Technicians Network) is example.

(Image courtesy of Mitchell 1) Recently I had to solve a P2111 intermittent on my father’s Ford Escape. The peak failure of the throttle body at 60,000 miles reported in SureTrack was a great piece of information that helped me find the problem quickly. But I still verified with testing that the part had died.

As an early subscriber to iATN, there were a few features that I found extremely helpful. One was the variety of forums I could access and learn from. There were, and are, some talented technicians there that don’t mind helping those who truly want to grow. Another was the Tech Help feature that allowed me to share the steps I’d taken in a particular “hard case” with others via email. This was exactly like asking the tech in the next bay for his help, only the techs that answered my requests were scattered around the country. Invariably, I learned from the advice and help I received and eventually triumphed over the problem I originally sought help on. Better yet, I learned new skill sets that I could apply to the next one I ran into.

Another valued feature is the Fix database hosted in iATN. This was the accumulated results of every Tech Help message ever sent or answered. Perhaps the problem I was facing had already been faced, and beaten, by another tech? If so, this was the first place to go see. As these data files grew (currently the Fix database alone has over 250,000 records and nearly 2 million related replies to search), pattern failures began to appear. These were the “silver bullets” many of us began to rely on in an effort to save diagnostic time. Time we were often not getting paid for.

And there, my friends, is where, I think, the seeds of Statistical Diagnostics were planted – a growing online log of repair histories by year, make and model coupled with an uncertain method for being paid to accurately diagnose the problem.

Today’s Reality?

How do you get paid for your diagnostic time? How does your shop establish its diagnostic fees? That’s been a big issue for many for a long time. When I was still full time in the bay, I would typically be credited no more than an hour for a “routine” diagnosis. Anything over that was on me unless I could successfully argue that the problem was not “routine”.

And then there were the many times I spent more time than allowed figuring out a problem, only to finally find it and think to myself that I should have found it much faster. It was a fault in my process that added to the clock time spent. Is it fair to charge the customer for that extra time?

But now we have a number of databases, some like iATN and Identifix, and others like Mitchell 1’s SureTrack, that promise to reduce our diagnostic times to a more manageable level. You’ve heard many of our contributors, including yours truly, recommending that you do a search of related issues using these resources.

And you’ve also heard us say that you should test and verify that the problem you are diagnosing meets the criteria for the “silver bullets” you may have found checking those resources. And that’s where the current trend starts drifting off to the left.

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