Changing test brings diagnostics to the fore
It’s no joke. When new additions to the regulations governing MOT testing take effect on 1 April 2012 vehicles with dashboard Malfunction Indicator Lamps (MIL) lit at test time will fail their MOT. As we all understand these dashboard lights warn drivers when systems such as ESP or SRS airbags aren’t working properly, but this new rule also specifically highlights that – for the first time – their illumination will directly result in a mandatory fail (the rule comes into effect from 1 January but will be help up as an advisory only until 31 March). Warning lights or MIL that are required to be noted if illuminated include ESP; Electronic Stability Programme, SRS; Safety Restraint System, ABS; Anti-Locking Brake System, and crucially for our business TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System).
Whatever the details, this decision looks set to generate increased diagnostic activity in order to fault-find and fix these problems before the vehicle can be declared road-legal. And the increased use of diagnostics in general and the specific technology known as pass-through – or PassThru to use its North American-derived nomenclature – raise questions of market independence and the right of business to repair freely. Together both issues mean that this month’s diagnostics feature, which includes insights into both the latest business and product developments in the market, has come at something of a good time.
A quick run through pass-through
The standard OBD socket is nothing new to those in the garage trade. According to various manufacturer sources, it originates in the 1994 US EPA mandate that all so-called “light-duty vehicles” should have a standard connector for On-Board Diagnostics (OBD). The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) was then made responsible for generating the OBD standard, which is known as J1962. This specifies the physical size, position and design of the OBD connector. As a result of this (theoretically at least) anyone can plug a scan tool into the connector to monitor the car’s emissions and review any recent faults. Since then the practice and the guidelines associated with it have broadened to include a wide range of other vehicle systems.
In order to understand a little more about what this technology, and the recent developments associated with it and what these mean for independent garages and tyre specialists, Tyres & Accessories contacted a number of industry representatives from this specialised sector including sales director of Snap-on Diagnostics, Mark Ost. T&A asked what his view is on recent developments relating to pass-through and if the way vehicle manufacturers and their main dealers are using this has any particular effect on tyre fitters? His answers are broadly representative of the other diagnostic equipment suppliers T&A spoke to on the subject.
“Pass-through programming (J2534) requires specialist equipment and is currently used in the main for the re-programming of ECUs by main dealers. Each manufacturer’s website (this is an online operation) is unique in both its operation and the method of paying for the service, making this difficult for the independents, although some independents are mastering this. For the most part the re-programming is focussed on the major component areas (engine management, automatic gearboxes etc) and was initially specified for North American emissions compliance [following the Californian law that kick started OBD take up off].”
His view is – it seems – that while life is made more difficult for independent garages, increasingly with the right tools and knowledge independents are competing with vehicle main dealers in the provision of these kinds of services. However when it comes to the kinds of work tyre specialists in particular are likely to perform, things look a little more straightforward: “It is unlikely (though not impossible) that manufacturers would introduce re-programming or mandate internet based diagnostics for TPMS,” Ost commented.
In addition other trends are said to include: “Continued increases in vehicle technology giving challenges to technicians and workshop owners; particularly those in the independent sector, seeing the need for full function products growing year-on-year as manufacturers continue to strive to increase fuel economy and reduce emissions.
Speak to those involved in the manufacture and distribution of diagnostics equipment and they will tell you that 2011 brought with it continued growth in the sales of diagnostics and test measurement products. Last year growth is said to have been especially marked in terms of the take-up of so-called “full function” products, with sales of these up significantly year-on-year. At the same time most leading companies took the opportunity to update the software supporting their tools as a means of both increasing the ability of their customers to fix cars, while at the same time ensuring that they do a good job when it comes to repeat business too. Snap-on for example published two “very successful” software releases for the Snap-on family of products with the intention of “providing more functionality to enable workshops to complete repairs.”
Looking forward into the next 12 months there are said to be clear signs that the take up of diagnostics equipment will be fuelled by MOT regulation changes. In addition the rules governing the fluids associated with air conditioning systems look likely to focus attention on this specific area too.
So what’s in store for 2012? “More technicians will see the benefit of purchasing their own scan tool. With changes to MOT regulations increasing, the awareness and requirements for electronic safety systems to be monitored and maintained will increase too. There will also be greater interest in air conditioning with workshops recognising the need for servicing both R134a and HFO1234yf gasses. Of course the increase in tyre pressure monitoring will take electronic tools further into the tyre shops,” Mark Ost predicted. Snap-On already markets the Solus PRO which purportedly offers “deep coverage” of Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems. However, the company is expected to be among those launching new products in 2012, which could include something in this area. Questioned on this subject Ost simply said: “Yes, watch this space.”