Diagnostic procedures on modern vehicles, particularly those that involve complicated electronic systems, can throw home mechanics for a loop. Working on your own vehicle is a point of satisfaction for gearheads everywhere. However, many modern technologies require a lot more than wrenches and screwdrivers to repair. A modern technician has to be part mechanic, part tech support expert. Check out these four car diagnostic issues that are likely to send you out of your own driveway and into the garage of a professional technician.
Hybrid vehicles offer the best of both worlds: electric power efficiency and gas engine distance range. But they also present some definite car diagnostic challenges for two specific reasons. First, the electric propulsion systems and batteries in these vehicles operate at very high voltages. Working with this type of electrical power is dangerous and requires special training that’s not easy to get outside of a dealership. There may also be special tools involved. Then there’s the question of the computer controls that handle the complex balance between the gasoline engine and the electric motor(s), and how they regulate both propulsion and charging during driving. The equipment required to interface with these systems is typically beyond the financial reach of any one individual. Just replacing a component may still mean programming it to operate with the rest of the vehicle. Changing oil and brake pads at home is still fine, but when it comes to the electrical side of these hybrids it is probably best to leave it to the professionals.
Tight Spaces, Strange Places
With so much technology stuffed under the hood of cars today, it’s not always easy to access parts that must be changed or repaired. Just reaching some parts can be dicey as you may accidently damage another part in the process. Modern vehicles are more space efficient than ever while also cramming in more components than ever. Getting to some parts can feel like a sliding block puzzle at times. Some car diagnostic issues, such as inspecting timing belts or clutch disc, may require extensive disassembly and even removing the engine from its mounts to get at the necessary components. Some vehicles go so far as to remove the entire engine assembly out the bottom of car to make components accessible. This isn’t something you want to tackle at home without the proper garage equipment. So unless you’ve got unlimited time and a flatbed car carrier to take your vehicle to a shop should something go wrong it is sometimes best to take it in to the shop.
If your car is less than 20 years old, chances are it’s equipped with a wide variety of electronic sensors. Not just in the engine bay, either — sensors may be used to measure wheel speed, steering wheel angle, body yaw, internal cabin temperature, exhaust gas composition and dozens other vehicle parameters. Trying to diagnose problems that are sensor-based requires proper training and expensive equipment. While it is true that anyone can pick up an OBD code scanner to read trouble codes, these scanners are only a one-way tool. Professionals have expensive diagnostic tools that can actually talk to the computers inside the car and manipulate systems to help track track down irregularities. If you are unable to track down a problem that involves an electronic control system and its sensors with an OBD code reader, a visit to a professional repair facility is in order to dig deeper.
Driver Safety Systems
Modern vehicle equipped with Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) are becoming more commonplace on the road. These systems are great at reducing accident damage and even avoiding some collisions entirely. But they depend on extremely precise readings from an array of sensors and even cameras arranged throughout the vehicle. Physically replacing a damaged ADAS component may seem routine, but the system likely needs to be recalibrated or reprogrammed in order to work as it was originally intended. Even something as simple as replacing a windshield on a vehicle equipped with a forward-facing camera requires special treatment. The diagnostic equipment for these procedures can include not just a computer, but also precisely measured targets that have to be placed around the vehicle in special pattern. There may also be a specific driving cycle that has to be performed if the system can be dynamically calibrated. All this adds up to a big investment in equipment that most DIYers can’t justify tackling at home.
Simply put: No one looks forward to taking their car in for repair, but sometimes it’s necessary. This is especially true with modern vehicles that seems just as much part computer as they are transportation. The experts at your local shop are equipped to handle these diagnostic tasks efficiently so you can get back on the road. And don’t worry, there are still plenty of repair tasks you can still do in your own driveway, just know your own personal limitations.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPAOnline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations or a AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on car diagnostic issues, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
Photo courtesy of Morguefile.
More than 90 years ago, the National Automotive Parts Association ("NAPA") was created to meet America’s growing need for an effective auto parts distribution system. Today, 91% of do-it-yourself customers recognize the NAPA brand name. We have over 6,000 NAPA Auto Parts Stores nationwide serving all 50 states with a unique inventory control system that helps you find the exact part that you need.