Working to turn frustration into a learning opportunity

Martin Instructor Burnaby, British Columbia Posted   Latest  
2009 Chevrolet Malibu LT 2.4L (B) 6-spd (6T40)
Multiple Symptoms And Dtcs

Initial frustration! Grrrr. 

We'd just spent the better part of two weeks in class, reviewing "advanced" electrical diagnosis and exploring vehicle networks. I've yet to see any "advanced" electrons, I thought they all did their stuff at the same speed. In fairness though, it really was a basic electrical review with a dose of maximizing the power of DMMs and DSOs, in readiness for exploring network fault diagnostics.

Early on, I had emphasized that all diagnosis and electrical circuit testing of the nature that we have been involved with should begin with a fully charged battery that is being maintained at the requisite voltage, plus tools and equipment with good batteries, otherwise measurements won't mean much. I'm also a stickler for having students turn off the headlamps when they've cycled the ignition on, simply because it all too often results in dead batteries. 

Anyway, fast forward to yesterday morning. I've got a particularly small class of eight students in session, as opposed to my usual head count maximum of sixteen. Paired off into four groups, we began to tackle some engine management related learning activities. The first two of lead-in exercises in the Student Work Guide (SWG) are diagnostic process related, to ensure that all are using the same diagnostic starting point, instead of wandering off aimlessly in different directions.

In both exercises a fuse in the under hood fuse blocks, bussed electrical centres, whatever you prefer to call them, was replaced with a blown fuse. To expedite these two "15 minute" activities, I doubled up the class into two groups of four. That in itself might want to cause you to pull out clumps of hair, because unless you emphatically state "two groups of four" and "herd" them into separate corners, you will most certainly end up with a group of five and three or six and two!

Anyway, a blown ECM fuse was blown on an '09 Malibu 2.4L and a throttle fuse on an '07 Silverado. The class can work on the newer stuff ('15-'17) when they prove to be better capable of following directives and diagnostic process. In reality though, these two vehicles actually fit the exercises exactly, as designed to achieve the desired results. And, that's where it all began to go wrong!........

Each group was assigned a vehicle and when the diagnosis has been completed, the groups were to switch and work on the second vehicle. The Malibu exhibited a no crank condition and the Silverado, a crank, start and stall. Group A works through the Malibu in the shop and B outside on the Silverado. The groups were instructed not to "give the game away", as sometimes is the case. I've got my eye "on the ball" and decide that I can wash some green slime from the '07 Acadia parked just outside the shop door, that has accumulated over the winter and be ready to assist/coach as needed, with both groups visible.

"Turn off the headlamps", me says on numerous occasions while group A is on the Malibu and again when the groups switched vehicles. "Put a charger on it too", all this falling on deaf ears at the Malibu after group B has spent some time assessing the vehicle. I don't know how many times I called this out as I passed back and forth roaming the shop, as group B grew exponentially in size until it was both groups at the vehicle. They began blaming each other for a fault that they had collectively generated by ignoring my "chirps" from the "cheap seats". As my words went unheard or more than likely ignored, I imagined feeling like Lily Tomlin must have in movie, The Incredible Shrinking Woman.

With obvious floundering, despite what appeared to be a group decision to follow a specific diagnostic path, it was time to step in and ask what the holdup was. "We have a high resistance in the HS LAN the initial "instigator" of the diagnostic direction "chirped" proudly. "We're testing the bus right now" he proclaims, just as I managed to stop one of his team from disconnecting the BCM with the battery still connected, which can often result in an undesired outcome. At that time, the thought process was that 183 Ω had been measured across terminals 6 and 14. "Okay, that is understandable if there was a fault on the bus me says." I'm now openly being blamed for having secretly bugged the system, but there has been at least one or more students at the vehicle for the entire session and I'm no magician!

By this time, the end of the day was fast approaching and from my earlier observations I was pretty sure what the issue was. I barked out my directives, "Charge the darn battery, carefully re-connect any open connectors, reassemble the vehicle trim, then clear all of the DTCs." (knowing that there will be many DTCs in there by the bucket load.) "Then, start the car and move it outside."

"Humph, what d'ya mean? What did you do to it?" one student asks and again, they know full well that as sneaky as I can be, I didn't set a bug this time. "So, how'd you know there's a bunch of DTCs set?" another asks. (there would find many). "There's still the 183 Ω resistance on the HS LAN the instigator announces and counters, "No way, it ain't going to start", just as the now re-connected battery allows a KOEO ignition input signal to send a fuel pump request that resulted in the familiar buzz of a healthy in-tank pump.

Someone announced, "It never did that before", while another said, "An' the lights ain't on all the time now either." A turn of the key and the previously silent beast now runs as happy as ever, and I'm internally overjoyed that I don't have to go on a diagnostic chase the following morning at 5 am before class starts. Some mornings can go in that direction and it keeps me sharp.

So, where did they go wrong? Neither group had followed basic steps to ensure that the battery was kept at an acceptable voltage level. I knew they were in trouble when they couldn't cycle the lights off, (they had all missed that clue completely), plus let the battery go so dead that nothing would operate.

A fixation on locating a resistance on the bus, probably because they'd been diagnosing network faults on the same vehicle the previous week, had led the students astray. They should have listened to my comments about "headlamps" and "battery", but everyone had chosen to ignore my words to their own embarrassment by this point.

I'm pretty sure that "Mr. 183 Ω" was pretty "steamed" when the now not broken car started on the first attempt and that's too bad because his thought process of late has been developing reasonably well and being "humbled" by the car wasn't something he had been at all prepared for. Since I've had my "butt handed to me before", I know that humble feeling all too well.

For all of about thirty seconds at the end, with a big grin I got to say "Who's yer Daddy now?!!" , as I summarized how and why they had strayed so readily from the basic needs of the vehicle to function as designed. Today however, their focus while working on more diagnostic activities, was very much improved!

For me, it had been a bit frustrating early on that they "lost the plot" early on, resulting in a problem that hadn't been in the vehicle as presented. Instead of re-grouping to deal with the issue as a fresh concern, they had become disorganized and floundered badly. It was compounded by "tunnel vision", followed by going down a "rabbit hole" and eventually running into a "wily old fox" who'd scared 'em back onto the "trodden path."

My words of advice were, "Listen to the clues that the car is giving you." A dead battery from extended sitting with the headlamps on and no battery maintainer connected, headlamps that could no longer be turned off and a nearly endless list of DTCs throughout the vehicle, had provided a valuable lesson. 

From this single experience, I might net a little extra short-term respect and buy-in, from those who realize that we were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason. The lesson is, to be able to turn a frustrating or negative experience into a positive experience that will not soon be forgotten!

I'm sure that we've all got some similar stories to share......

Robert Diagnostician
Ballston, New York

Ahh dealing with teenagers. The end of your school year is near so they all think they are smarter than poppa bear now. 

You handled it well. I’m sure most of them will listen the next time you’re speaking. They may not openly admit it but they will. 

I attended a hands on 6 day diagnostic course a few years ago. At the end of the week we were given broken vehicles to rectify. 

We were split up into groups of 3 or 4. It was me a technician and two college level instructors in my group. They were very knowledgeable instructors and I had a lot of respect for their knowledge as they did for me also. 

The car we had to diagnose and repair was a Honda Civic hybrid. The cimplant was that the engine would not start. 

This was a good exercise as it was a hybrid course. So entering any one of these challenges your mind immediately begins to assume an issue with the hybrid drive system. 

So the car has a complaint of no start. We hit the key it cranks then no start and the hybrid warning light comes on.

Long story short all 3 of us originally were thinking hybrid problem. The high voltage code was for the ice failed no to run. As you know when the ice doesn’t start on a hybrid you’re on borrowed time. You only get so many cranks before the High voltage battery state of charge drops to a level where it will no longer attempt to spin the ice over. 

So quickly we need to see why the ice won’t run. All of us decided on a good test plan that allowed us to diagnose a not running fuel pump in short order. Of course it was bugged and the pump was unplugged. 

Great we plug fuel pump on and we are all set. Ummm maybe not. It runs but the battery light is on dash. 

Convinced we broke something during our diagnosis we decided to find out why the battery light was on. 

Well one hour later the three of us determined the DC/DC converter has failed. When we finished the diagnosis the instructor popped his head in the car. You guys don’t have this running yet? Well we do then we told him our story. 

With a sly smile he said ”Thats awesome I’ve been wondering why that light comes on when I start it for the first 5 minutes it runs”

Oh we didn’t follow instructions. Went down a rabbit hole and got caught by a fox. 

Even as a seasoned tech I’ve never forgot the lesson of not following instructions. I’m sure you’re students won’t either. 

0 Ð Bounty Awarded
Martin Instructor
Burnaby, British Columbia

I agree Robert, sometimes we get caught out and a slice of "humble pie" is a bit hard to swallow!

FWIW, my students can range from late teens to the oldest who was 50 when he graduated. Most are mid-20s to mid-late 30s. I see them again often for upgrading courses, when they have graduated and are at the training centre. I'd like to think that they have matured by then, but it is not always the case!

It seems that no matter the age group, maturity is more of an issue than ever these days, along with "GoogleTuber" habits of searching for garbage videos to amuse themselves with on their cell phones during break times.

I recall instructing an Engine Management course at the training centre when the Cobalt was first introduced in 2005. I'd shorted the LS LAN and one student out of the six focused on following the proper diagnostic path, while the others figured on trying to fast track the diagnosis, as it was Friday afternoon and they were headed to all corners of the province by plane, road and/or ferry.

I'd cautioned them up front that there was not to be a relay and fuse swapping "contest". Of course, the moment my back was turned to focus on how the tech at the PC was doing, someone removed and dropped a fuse down into the darkest depths of the chassis. We didn't have a replacement on hand. 

It took over 30 minutes of muttering as the techs tried to locate and eventually found the fuse. However, whoever subsequently re-installed it in the under hood fuse block, missed the mark and had one leg of the fuse installed across an open spot.

It was all quite amusing and payback, since now there were more problems than the original bug to deal with. That issue was resolved after some back tracking to re-trace steps. The class suddenly seemed more receptive and followed the lead of the tech who had done the proper research. In about 5 minutes, the original bug issue had been resolved. If only they had listened! 

0 Ð Bounty Awarded
Adrean Diagnostician
Bakersfield, California

Haha I was once that 183ohms guy haha 

0 Ð Bounty Awarded
Martin Instructor
Burnaby, British Columbia

I'm pretty sure that we all were and may still be once in a while Adrean. In the past 50 years of association with this field, I've been humbled more than enough times!

+2 Ð Bounty Awarded
Adrean Diagnostician
Bakersfield, California

Humbled again and again always . We learn everyday 

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Sean Diagnostician
Regina, Saskatchewan

Hi Martin,

I was once one of those ASEP stooges. I'm sure John could tell you stories. Someday's I like to think I turned out OK ;). I hope your doing well out west. Those students are very lucky to have a mentor and instructor like you. I know i'm grateful for all that John taught me. Do have to say I miss all the PST training I received in my dealer days. Reading your post brought me back to how naive and ignorant I was compared to what I am today. Working at one of the largest GM dealers in the country and now the foreman of a multi location indy shop, I can completely relate to your frustration. My question to you is how much wiggle room do you have with the ASEP training these days. Are you expected to follow a strict curriculum which includes the hands on class vehicle or do you get a lot of freedom to build your own modules and hands on classes? 

Great to see you here. Take care.

0 Ð Bounty Awarded
Martin Instructor
Burnaby, British Columbia

Thanks Sean. It's been a while and good to see you here! I'll most likely see John at the IAGMASEP conference in Detroit later in the year. I'll say "Hi" from you. We have enough room within the apprenticeship training component to cover content not addressed in the 30+ GM hands-on courses. Since the apprenticeship is supported and augmented with GM course content, I do have freedom to explore within the boundaries of the apprenticeship, that is outside the realm of the GM only content.

We do however deliver the GM courses as consistently as possible across the country, but as you know, we sometimes have to utilize alternate vehicles to cover some of the activities. An example might be when delivering EM 1 calls for a Cobalt, but we use a same year Malibu with the identical system, or we use a GMT900 truck instead of the Yukon Denali that is called for, again with the same system.

It takes some work to ensure that system schematics and components do represent the designed activities accurately, so that a student in Burnaby, BC receives the same training opportunities as a student in Halifax, Nova Scotia or any other province.

As I understand it from John, his college only allows him a handful of vehicles, whereas my vehicle count has been as many as 22.

So, when a GM course has "X" number of exercises, I will ensure that those are all covered and add in some additional activities to keep all 16 students busy in a course that was originally designed for a 6 student PST class.

I am pretty creative at making activities that augment both the mandated GM and apprenticeship content, while always ensuring that we meet the requirements of both. I also keep in mind what is required to survive and be successful in the dealership service bays, so added value activities are included.

An example might be that while we do the Ecotec Engine Mechanical course with L61 2.2L engines, that I enhance the experience with some additional timing chain stations on 2.4L, 3.6L, 2.9L and 1.4L engines. I'll also use extra components such a bent forged crankshaft from a 2.5L engine as a station-based diagnostic activity.

Since our location is ~30 miles from PST in Langley, we don't borrow their vehicles, although they have borrowed a couple of ours on occasion to run courses where the model may not be currently available new from dealerships. A training course may still have needs for delivery, until that model fades from warranty. They borrowed a 6.5L diesel some years ago an Envoy to meet specific PST course needs.

In apprenticeship, there are lab scope activities and fuel injector cleaning that we cover in class to meet the requirements of apprenticeship. Even though GM does not authorize injector service, apprenticeship requires exposure to a broader range of equipment, diagnosis and service procedures. So, while we used a variety of GM course activities last week including the AFIT, AFM compression and more, we have an ASNU injector cleaning activity tomorrow morning.

We will discuss the pros and cons of the equipment and GM protocol for injector diagnosis, but the students have to be aware of other tools and equipment available in the field that is used. The apprenticeship exams focus on a wider range of test and service procedures than might be found in various vehicle manufacturer service departments. So, it is important to ensure awareness of what is available, even if it will not be used in their workplace.

Take care.

+2 Ð Bounty Awarded