Tag Archive for: diagnostic

Humble Mechanic Logo

Hey everyone. I really have scan tools on the brain today. I know that we have talked about scan tools before, but I want to talk about them again. To say they are important to fixing cars would be the understatement of the year.

The main reason I have been thinking so much about scan tools is, I got a new laptop. You might be thinking “Charles, what does you getting a new laptop have to do with VW scan tools”. Well I picked this laptop up specifically to use as a VW scan tool. I picked up a small netbook from Asus. It is a pretty cool little laptop with a touch screen. I did shop around some, and realized we are at a transition point with laptops. They are trying to combine a tablet and a laptop. Sadly they are doing a so-so job. Just a heads up if you are planning for a new laptop soon.

There are a few reasons I wanted to get back to a laptop based scan tool at work.


Source: Ross-tech.com

  • With every factory update for scan tool, something gets messed up. This usually involves programming VW keys
  • You can count on the program running slower.
  • We almost always have a scanner down at the shop. Now we have 1 totally down, and one the Bluetooth doesn’t work.
  • There is also times were the working scan tools are all being used. I am no fan of waiting for a scan tool.

For the past 7 or 8 years, I have been using an aftermarket scan tool software from Ross-Tech called VCDS. It is scan tool software and cable built specifically for Volkswagen-Audi group cars. This software is awesome. It has always been ahead of VW factory software. We can do things with VCDS that would never happen with VW factory scan tools.

A few weeks ago, I had a 2013 Beetle come in with an ABS light. I pulled the codes and found I had a fault for the right rear speed sensor. After using the factory scanner to monitor the wheel speed, I felt like I was getting nowhere. I hooked up VCDS and graphed the readings of each wheel. Every so often, I could see the right rear wheel speed drop by a few mph. I wish I had the screen shot of that. Faster readings, more information, and the ability to see more info at one time, what is not to love.

There are some limitations to VCDS. It may come as a shock that VW has proprietary information. The main thing they keep under wraps is immobilizer information. We still need the factory VW scanner to program keys. I also can’t use VCDS for warranty work. VW has a diagnostic system called Guided Fault Finding GFF. Any car under warranty that requires any scan tool work must be done with GFF. This system runs all faults for the car, and creates a plan for a tech to perform. Sometimes it is great. Other times you spend 30 minutes pressing buttons and getting nowhere.

What can a mechanic do with a scan toolThere are some super cool things I can do with VCDS or the VW scan tool. There is way to much to list, but here are some of the coolest:

  • Read faults of most car computers
  • See activation of most buttons on the car. Like the horn, or cruise control buttons
  • Activate outputs like the horn, turn signals, engine fans, door locks and more
  • See the values the computer sees. We can see if the car thinks the doors are locked, what temperature the car thinks the engine is, what the tire pressure is, even engine compression on some cars
  • Force tests to run. We can force the car to run certain tests. This is mostly for checking things that make your check engine light come on. We can run the test to make sure your gas cap is on properly
  • Turn on or off some features. I can change things like, the confirm beep when locking or unlocking doors, auto lock at 15mph, and tons more. The newer cars have a lot of things you can change.

What a mechanic CAN NOT do with a scan toolThere is this idea out there some folks have. That is we can hook up the computer and it tells us what to replace. That largely comes from mechanics hooking up the computer and throwing a part on a car. Also most customers simply don’t know. Here is what we can not do with a scan tool.

  • Predict the future. Sure I can get an idea of a car’s health. But it is not a crystal ball.
  • Just plug it in and find the problem.
    When a fault is stored, it gives a system that has failed. It is up to the tech to interpenetrate and diagnose the failed part.
  • Change the design of the car. If you don’t think the seat heaters get hot fast enough, there is nothing I can do with the scan tool. The car is built the way it’s built. I can do some fine tuning, but the scan tool will not make a red car blue.

I hope this has helped clear up any question you might have about scan tools. There are also tons of aftermarket scan tools from Snap-On, Matco, and others. If you work on Audi or VWs, I recommend VCDS. If you think that $350 is expensive for a scan tool, try buying a $5000 VW scan tool. If you have any questions about VCDS, or automotive scan tools, please post them up in the comments.

MK1 Volkswagen Cabriolet
MK1 Volkswagen Cabriolet

Single round headlights, and the top down 🙂

On Monday the Humble Mechanic welcomed a new VW to the family. She is a 1984 Volkswagen Cabriolet. I picked this car up from a really nice guy on Craigslist. He bought the Cabriolet for his daughter. After owning if for a short time, the Cabby started to develop some drivability issues. After a taking it to a mechanic that was not very familiar with VWs, he decided to cut his loses and sell it.

I picked this Cabby up for $700. It is a little more than I typically spend on a car that does not run. The interior is in really good condition, so I stepped up on price. MY initial intent was to strip the interior out, and use it for Project Luv-A-Dub. It would be the easiest way to complete the interior. Plus have some random extra parts.

Once I got the car home, I started to think that maybe gutting it was not the best choice. She looks pretty good, but just doesn’t run right. I don’t think that swapping the VR into the black Cabby is on the table right now, but you never know 😉 For right now, I think I am going to work on getting her running properly. My gut says that the pump is the fuel tank is the main issue. That is just a feeling I have. I need to dive deeper into the diagnosis.

Before I could post this post, my wife started talking about the car. I think that she is really starting to dig the look of the early MK1. So I guess that leaves me fixing this car up for my wife. Fellas, any time your gal is interested in your projects, you better give them exactly what they want. And ladies, the same goes for you.



Humble Mechanic Logo
VW Damage from a Rat

Finding damage like this can be rare

We have talked before about the diagnostic process that auto mechanics must follow. Starting with the basics, getting good information and being thorough are vital to repairing cars. There are times however that all the processes and information in the world do not guarantee a proper diagnosis.

Yesterday I spent the about half the day with a QTM working on a car. The QTM is a regional tech that travels to dealers. He deals with new cars, cars that have multiple repairs, and the extra crazy problems. The QTM has a lot more resources than we do at the dealership level. On top of that, these guys are REALLY smart. The kind of folks that will forget more than guys like me will ever know.

The QTM and I were working on a 2013 Jetta Hybrid. The customer’s concern was the car would shut off. It was shutting off differently than it is programmed to. We went round and round with the car, doing test after test, inspection after inspection. All to find NOTHING! Well, not exactly nothing, but nothing final. There was no “Ah Ha, here is the problem” moment. There was a lot of “well, this might be it,” and “it could be the issue”.

Not finding the exact problem is a very common thing. Many times we have to focus on the part that makes the most sense. Or the part that is the least crazy(seriously). So how does an auto mechanic fix your car right the first time? Here are a few things that I use to help narrow down a failed part:\

  • Known good parts.
    The great thing about being at a dealer is the ability to swap parts. Taking a part off a new car to see the change. If a sensor is not reading right and I swap the sensor, I find out if the sensor was good, if the wiring was good, and the module the controls it.
  • Comparable Vehicles
    This is an easier step than actually swapping a part. I can read sensor values from both cars. That will give me an idea of what the car should see. Comparing that to the car with the issue, and using confirm failures.
  • Experience
    This is the biggest and best tool in a mechanic’s tool box. The more problems a mechanic sees, the more they are prepared to deal with new issues. That doesn’t mean a they will not get stuff on problems. It just means they dig through them faster.

Like I said, even with all the proper information, a mechanic doesn’t always know 100% if a repair will be successful. Now if a tire has a big spike in the side of it, we KNOW that is why it is flat. Check engine lights and drive-ability issues are generally not as cut and dry. There are times when we need to roll the dice on a repair. I say it all the time, it is great to be a lucky mechanic.

Don’t forget that you can avoid the late post to Facebook, or missing a post by signing up for email updates. It’s easy, just fill out the box in the upper right of the page. You will be the first to get all the good info. I still like when you follow me on all the social media places, we have some fun times. Use the icons on the right. They take you right where you need to go.

Thank you all for the kind words about the new house. Jenn (my wife) and I are really excited. She is even more excited than I am. Fellas you know how important that is! 🙂

Lucky Mechanic

Yesterday we talked about what it takes to be a top level, Master mechanic. One thing that I left out was LUCK! Yep luck. Yes a good mechanic needs to have top notch diagnostic skills. But it never hurts to get lucky. I thought I would tell a few stories about getting lucky fixing cars.

A 2004 Passat wagon came in for the radio cutting out. It had been around and around the shop. The radio had been replaced several times, the amplifier had been replaced and rewired several times. The radio would only cut out once every few months. Like many times when a problem is sporadic, it never messed up at the shop.

When it got to me, I spend about an hour messing with it. Checking this, testing that. Looking at all the work that had been done to the car. Finally, and very frustrated, I flopped down in the back seat. The radio cut off. I stood up, and the radio came back on. YES! I found something. It might have not been the problem, but I was able to duplicate the customers concern.

I pulled the bottom of the back seat up. There was a nicely wrapped wiring harness that ran right under the seat. I pulled the harness up, and the radio came back on. It turns out that a small part of the body of the car was rubbing a wire. We never found it because we never had anyone riding in the back. It was something that the customer did not put together. A quick wiring repair and she was good to go!

I guess me getting mad at the car paid off. This next one happened to the guy that works next to me. It also happened last week. This is one of those weird electrical issues that we see from time to time.

The customer’s concern was the headlight was not working. The tech pulled the car in, and found nothing. All the lights were working. He checked all the faults in the vehicle and found several faults for lighting.

Next he disconnected the module that controls most everything in the car. That really made the car mad. Now all the things the customer told us started happening. It was not just the headlight, ALL the lights were going nuts. Some lights on, some lights really bright, some only half lit.

After diagnosing the car a little further, checking ground connections, fuses and so on, he had no answer. We chatted about the car for a while and didn’t come to any answer. He was pretty frustrated, and I didn’t blame him 1 bit.

While we were talking about the car, I started whacking the fuse panel with the butt of my flashlight. All of a sudden, the lights came on. Poof, just like magic. Not really sure which fuse or relay made the car happy, I started whacking again. This time everything worked fine. We turned the car off and let it sit for a few minutes.

When we turned the car on, the lights were off. I started whacking the fuses again and BAM, found it. We pulled the fuse and found that the fuse was burnt on the backside. Technically, the fuse was good. The issue was the fuse block. It was slightly melted causing the fuse to lose contact. Another easy fix, but a hard problem to find.

So you see, there are times where being lucky is good. Sometimes stumbling onto a problem is just as awesome as actually diagnosing the problem. Fixing a car is fixing a car, for the most part, I don’t care how I find it.

Line of Volkswagens

I want to theme this weeks Shop Shots. Since I was at training last week, I thought I would post some pictures of the training center, and some cool pictures I shot while I was at mechanic training. Years ago, the training center had a ton of cool cut away parts, but they seem to be long gone.

Volkswagen Mechanic Training Engine RoomIn the back of the training center they have a storage room with all the training aids. Here are some of the engines that VW mechanics use to learn the ropes. That thing in the middle of the picture(blue and grey) is the engine lift table. We use that to remove engines and transmissions for Touaregs and Phaetons. I can’t identify all of the engines, but I spy a few VR6s

Old School VW mechanic equipmentHere is some old school VW diagnostic equipment. The VAG 1551. It was built solely to talk to cars. Nothing fancy or crazy. The good thing about it was how fast it was. The bad thing, you had to remember everything. There was no built in repair information, no tests, just values. I was only able to use one briefly in training. I am sure the guys that have been around a long time really miss this scan tool. Right now, it is obsolete. Looking at it, it looks like that robot from the movie “Short Circuit”. HA

VAS 6150 VW scan toolFast forward to today, here is the newest scan tool. This is a VAS 6150. All of the functions are windows based. This scan tool communicates with the car via a blue tooth. This is a much slower scan tool, but the information that it contains is far superior to the VAG 1551. I will say that the blue tooth communication is really cool. Yeah, until someone leaves the connector in a car.. To give you some prospective, this is about $6000 worth of test equipment.

VW mechanic training center Here is a shot of one half of the training center. There is another room just like it next door. As you can see there is a shop, and a place for lecture. It is usually filled with the newest VWs on the road. I was actually in the class next door. I have spent many many hours training in the room. There is usually a good mix of techs in each class. Some of the classes get only top level guys. They are the ones that I find the best. When you have a class full of mid-level techs, they like to try and out do each other with stories. Each will tell a story about how awesome they are, the next will have to out do it. It is actually pretty funny. I think you have to have a bit of an ego to do this job. 😉

Line of Volkswagens

I know, this is not really a SHOP, but it kinda is. I took this pictures when I got home after training. The crazy looking car at the front is the Cabby. Next in line is my Passat, and last is the VW Tiguan that I drove. I liked the Tiguan more this time than the last. I also averaged 30.2mpg! I think that was pretty awesome considering the traffic I sat in. All in all a good trip!

Well, that wraps up another volume of Shop Shots. Any questions about this week’s pictures? To be sure you never miss an update, be sure to click the subscribe button on the upper left of this page. You will get update before everyone else! Also, I did a little pro quality shoot with a really great photographer last night. As soon as I get the pictures I will post them for everyone(another reason to subscribe to the site, just sayin 😉 )

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Humble Mechanic Logo

Hey folks! As promised, I am following up on my training session from last week. I go to training at least once a year. I wish that it was more, but my dealer is not exactly close to a mechanic training center. In fact we are about 350 miles from 2 different VW training centers. I travel to the center in the fine town of Jessup,MD.

Last week I was in training for O.D.I.S. Offboard Diagnostic Information System. Let me give you some definitions before we get cracking on O.D.I.S

  • VAS-PC ~VSD~ VWoA’s current diagnostic software. This is our current scan tool program
  • Vehicle Self Diagnosis~ This is part of our current scan tool program. Here a mechanic can navigate all the modules on a car.
  • Guided Fault Finding ~GFF~ Part of VAS-PC this is a computer guided system. If a fault is stored, the program will launch a test for the mechanic to perform. We are required to use this for warranty repairs.
  • Guided Functions ~GF~ This is a smaller version of GFF. Here, the plans are only things like, programming keys, or replacing ECMs, or coding modules.
  • ELSA~ VW’s repair manual. It has more information than just than, but that is what I use most
  • ETKA ~ VW’s Parts catalog.
  • VAG-COM ~ An aftermarket diagnostic program for all VAG cars, VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat, Lambo, Bentley, Porsche, Bugatti, and so on.
  • Star Mobile ~ Chrysler’s diagnostic software. We use this on the Routan.

Ok, now that you are totally confused on all the acronyms, lets talk about ODIS. ODIS will be added to our current diagnostic software this summer. Mechanic will be able to choose the one they want to use. This however will only last a short time before VW stops supporting VAS-PC. My overall opinion about ODIS is positive. We were using an slightly older version than the one that will come out to all VWoA dealers. By then, most of the bugs should be worked out. 😉

The interface for ODIS is 100% different from VAS-PC. In VAS-PC all the of programs(VSD,GFF,GF) are separate. ODIS does a nice job combining the 3, making navigation easier and a little faster. There seems to be a few more ways to navigate to the same end result. To me, that is a good thing. Everyone remembers things different, or multiple navigation paths can be a good thing. VW seemed to do a good job of taking the good things of VAG-COM, and Star Mobile, and pile them into a nice scan tool.

There are somethings that I am concerned about. There will be a fairly large learning curve for this scan tool. This is the biggest change in diagnostic software since the late 90s. In my dealer all but 2 guys have only used VAS-PC. I worry about how everyone will adapt. The trust is, techs MUST learn this new setup. The faster they learn, the better off they will be. ODIS will have its flaws, but so does everything else. We will all have to put in the extra time to know the scan tool. But in time all the the mechanics will be pros at using ODIS.

There is another story that I wanted to tell everyone. The guy that was my lab partner in training was a pretty good dude. This guy bled VW blue. I noticed that he had a Master VW Technician ring on. We got to chatting about that, and he told me this story.

Man, I have been a master tech for about 6 months. I had to take all the tests a few times before I finally passed all 5. I am so glad I can wear this ring and call myself a master tech.

I have worked full time for VW for 23 years. In that time I have seen just about any and everything that you can imagine. I have seen techs come and go, trainers come and go, and more broken cars than you can wrap your mind around.

When it came time for my ring ceremony, I asked to have Dan(who is in charge of all training for VW and Audi) there for me. Dan was glad to be there and give a speech. He told all the young guys that “THIS RING” is the only thing that matters. All the cars, the tools and anything else are meaningless, EVERY mechanic better be striving for “THIS RING”

I am sure my jaw hit the floor. 23 years of working on VWs. There are guys at my shop that are not 23 years old.I can only imagine what it felt like to be doing a job for that long and finally reach the top of the trade. It really made me reevaluate my appreciation for being a Master Tech.

Overall the training was good. I left with my confidence intact which does not usually happen when I leave training. I will go back tomorrow and chat with my guys about ODIS. Oh, and replace a fuel system in a TDI.

If you think that VW has a ridiculous amount of acronyms, click one of the buttons below and let everyone know. I will probably click each one a bunch of times 😉

It is no secret that car technology is advancing at an insane pace. In the almost 9 years I have been working on cars I have seen some pretty awesome advances. A perfect way to show how far we have come is something as simple as a light bulb.

When I started with VW the 2004 model was the latest and greatest. Even in 2004 we had some pretty smart cars. But the light bulb was still a pretty simple setup. Here is basically what it took to light a bulb in your car in 2004.

Light a light bulb Basically you just had a few parts.

  • Battery. This will provide power to the light
  • A fuse. This will protect the circuit from damage
  • A switch to control the light
  • The light itself. Hard to talk about lighting a light bulb, with out the light bulb right.

Power will flow through the fuse, to the switch then from the switch to the bulb, and light the bulb. BTW I am not interested in debating power flow from power to ground pr ground to power for this post. Lets save that for another day. 😀 This is a pretty simple setup. Problems could be found by using a simple test light.

Oh how far we have come. Today we have a much different way to light the same bulb.

Lighting a Light bulb todayNow we have added a few parts.

  • Battery, pretty much the heart of the cars electrical system
  • Switch. you still have to still have to turn the light on.
  • Bulb, still need the bulb to light the bulb
  • Module, now the power, and ground for the light are controlled, and monitored by a module. the module acts as a fuse as well
  • Diagnostic connector. This is how we monitor the bulb

As you can see lighting the bulb seems to be much more complicated now. We have added modules and diagnostic ports. Why the heck would they do that? Is it because VW likes to over engineer things? Nah, it’s all about the driver. By using a module(that will talk to other modules) we can alert the driver when a bulb is out. You can even get super awesome and have lights turn themselves on.

The diagnostic approach is a little different. Now mechanics can use a scan tool to diagnose an issue with a light. I can use that scan tool to activate the light to test the activation side of the circuit. I can also use the scan tool to monitor the position of the switch. I can watch the readings change from “ON” to “OFF” when I push the button.

I have mixed feelings about both setups. The old way requires taking things apart to test. Usually you can be sure of the issue. With the new way, you can watch what is happening on a scan tool, but you add the “magic box”. You can’t know for sure what is happening inside there. Sometimes that requires a roll of the diagnostic dice. I guess it boils down to knowing the system. It doesn’t really matter how you feel about it, you still have to know it.

What do you guys think? Is throwing a bunch more electronics in a car a good thing? Is giving the mechanic a “hands off” way to diagnose a car the wave of the future? Are you an old school test light fan? Post it up! BTW~ This was my first attempt at making a wiring diagram online. I don’t think they came out that bad. Not great, but not bad…

Remember, you can join up on the mail list. It is super easy and you will not miss a post. I know I asked a lot of questions of everyone today, but I have one more. If you were part of an elite group what would you want to be called? I am thinking of naming the email list. Something like the “Humble Club”. Any ideas? You guys seem to always come up with really awesome stuff.

If you didn’t understand anything about the wiring diagrams I posted, its cool, just share them with your friends. Oh, and don’t feel bad, there are a lot of mechanics that don’t understand wiring diagrams either.