Preparing for an electric vehicle future

Jan. 3, 2020
Here's a look at service, training, tooling, and diagnostic considerations for EV vehicle repair and service for the independent repair market.

In case you haven’t noticed, the future of automobiles — particularly a future of electric vehicles, has been a hot topic of discussion lately. Whether it’s here in the pages of Motor Age or in the national news connected to a political effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the energy behind transitioning from fossil-fuel internal combustion engines to advanced technology HEV and EV technologies can be felt profoundly. The effects of this technological advance are already beginning to be felt across new car dealerships and independent repair facilities. While dealerships have a manufacturer supported infrastructure to assist in complex repairs, the same cannot be said for the independent service sector. In order to stay ahead of this trend, shops will have to create a plan to address the service, training, tooling and diagnostic considerations for EV vehicle repair.

(Image courtesy of Toyota Media) The future of electric vehicles is coming. What will this look like for your business?

Service considerations

As the independent service sector begins to plan for EV service there is often a series of questions that the business owner is seeking the answers to: What are the differences between service of an EV vehicle and that of its internal combustion engine counterpart? What do I need to do to prepare for this technology? Are my employees equipped to do the required work safely? Does my shop need any special electrical infrastructure to repair charging equipment?

ICE to EV — Beginning with the obvious, the main consideration is that the ICE has been replaced with an electric motor, a large, high-voltage battery with new chemistry from the lead-acid technology we are used to and a control unit that coordinates the handoff between power to the wheels and regeneration back to the battery. This handoff is very similar to that of the relationship that exists on production hybrid electric vehicles. While these systems have their own unique considerations, they are typically not service considerations until something major like a battery or other related component fails. Besides these high-ticket items, these vehicles still have many of the systems we are used to servicing. One area to consider is that of cabin noise. Without the noise of the internal combustion engine, small noises from the brake system such as those associated with brake pads and calipers, can become a customer complaint. Other noises such as those created by wind or vibration can be a concern. If you are not already familiar with analyzing noise, vibration and harshness, now may be a good time to perform some due diligence and get some training.

(Image courtesy of Opus) Having the option to “phone a friend” is now a reality with tech support from companies such as Opus Intelligent Vehicle Services. The Boy scout motto – Be prepared. As your longtime customers begin to research and purchase electric vehicles, they will certainly look to you for guidance. Do you know all you should about this technology? How will you educate a customer when they ask you, their personal automotive expert, which charging unit to use in their home? Remember when you used to read Hot Rodding magazines? It’s time to start doing that same kind of studying with EV’s and advanced technology.

Safety – Safety has to be a priority in any shop setting, especially when working with high voltage HEV and EV systems and components. If you have already taken the time to establish good hybrid electric vehicle service practices in your shop, you may already be prepared for EV safety.

Keep in mind that many of the voltages you will be dealing with will have the capacity to severely injure or even kill a technician. However, most manufacturers have gone to great lengths to install safety mechanisms such as high voltage isolation, service disconnects and contactors to prevent the presence of high voltage when servicing these systems. Basically, if you follow the common sense approach of reading before proceeding then you will almost always be safe. Personal protective equipment such as high voltage lineman’s gloves and insulated tools will become a necessary step to maintaining personal safety in the shop.  Shops will also need to invest in various devices such as safety cones to quarantine an area of a shop and notify other employees and customers of safety concerns while performing high voltage repairs.
(Image courtesy of Pete Meier) Safety will be paramount when servicing high voltage EV components and will require personal protective equipment such as high voltage gloves. Electrical infrastructure – Does your shop have the electrical infrastructure to install a charging system? How will you test an HV charging system problem without one? While you may not be performing repairs such as this yet, you may very well be seeing them in the near future. It might be time to have a conversation with your electrician to make your shop EV ready.Training and tech support – One of the advantages of working for a new car dealership is that when you can’t solve a problem, they have a team of experts to help you navigate the diagnosis and repair. In many instances, a field technical engineer will even visit the dealership to help the technician fix the car. Sounds like most independent shops, right? Not exactly.
Access to factory service information can be found easily by visiting the web page of the National Automotive Service Task Force: www.nastf.org The independent repair market will have to make significant investments into training and technical support to stay current and ahead of the curve. What does that investment look like? For starters it means having a plan to send technicians to high level training events. Training such as this is available through multiple auto parts companies such as WORLDPAC, Carquest, Advance, NAPA and more. There are also a multitude of independent service providers such as The Society of Automotive Engineers, Future Tech, ATTS, TST, ATG and others that provide specialty HEV and EV training. The key to training is setting a budget and having your techs attend regularly. While this is can be a significant expense, it will be necessary to stay relevant. Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines has a famous talking point on training that goes something like “What if I train our people and they leave? The better question is: What if I don’t and they stay?”

For quite a long time, tech support has been limited to the dealership but recently companies such as Autologic have emerged in the tech support arena and provided a model for the future. In November, Autologic’s parent company OPUS announced the establishment of Opus Intelligent Vehicle Support (IVS) which merged several well-known organizations in Drew Technologies, Autologic Diagnostics, Farsight and Bluelink Diagnostic Solutions to bring a powerhouse of knowledge and support to the aftermarket. OPUS IVS will offer expert guidance from OEM-trained master level technicians leveraging a combination of factory and proprietary software and hardware platforms to provide a much-needed infusion of support in an arena where it has been virtually non-existent. This service is subscription based and designed to support the end-user in even the most complex of repairs. It’s not hard to imagine other organizations following Opus’ lead in this arena.

Diagnostics

Diagnostics are typically at the heart of any repair. With that being said, shops should have access to factory level scan tools whenever possible. While this might seem daunting to some, access to this tooling has become much easier over the years. A visit to the National Automotive Task Force website is a great starting point: www.nastf.org. NASTF provides a database of OEM service subscription websites and associated costs. Each manufacturer provides a framework of daily, monthly and yearly OEM software subscriptions allowing independent shops to download and utilize and in many cases is identical to factory level diagnostics and programming.
Even hand tools used on or near HV components should be rated for the job. A factory scan tool interface along with a suitable laptop are the next considerations. Each manufacturer has a preferred USB connected interface that will allow the end-user the ability to connect to the vehicle’s OBD-II connector and utilize the factory software subscription. Unfortunately, these devices are typically proprietary, meaning you will need a different interface for each make you service and repair. With this in mind, companies such as Drew Technologies have researched and designed interfaces such as the Drew Technologies Cardaq PLUS 3 which provide an aftermarket solution to this very problem. Drew claims that this device will provide factory level OEM Diagnostics on at least a dozen OEM nameplates for a retail price of around $2,000. This type of interface may be the way to go for a business that services multiple vehicles brands.

While some may argue that you can perform diagnostics with an aftermarket tool, I would point out the August 2019 Motor Age article on Toyota Vehicle Control History. This technology provides the tool user with information that can be essential to diagnosing complex vehicle complaints and highlights the necessity of factory scan tools for certain repairs. As always, as independent technicians we find a way. The way just may be easier with the right tooling and info.

Tooling

(Image courtesy of Opus) Access to factory tooling or a “one size fits all” interface such as Drew Technologies Cardaq Plus 3 will be essential in diagnosing high-tech EV concerns. When looking at tooling for the HEV and EV repairs, look no further than OE recommended tools and equipment. It may be a surprise to some but the actual list of required equipment for these repairs is relatively small. For most manufacturers this comes down to a good insulation meter commonly known as a Megohmmeter as well as a meter capable of reading very precise resistances known as a milliohmmeter. The megohmmeter and milliohmmeter are two of the tools that you are most likely to see when diagnosing faults within the windings of motor generator units and the high-resistance, high-voltage wiring that carry the current for the motor generators. Megohmmeters are readily available through the name brand electrical testing companies you are already familiar with and can be purchased for between $500-$700. Whether or not this investment may prove to be worthwhile might depend on how committed you are to these repairs as well as the frequency of these types of repairs that you might see in your shop.  The milliohmmeter is a bit more expensive. For example, the unit specified by Toyota is the Hioki RM3548 which retails for about $1,200.
(Image courtesy of Fluke Media) A Megohmmeter such as a Fluke 1507 or 1587 will be a staple of motor-generator testing. Insulated tools are often recommended by manufacturers. These too can be purchased through most major tool companies.

PC-based labscopes – While this is not a specific hybrid/EV tool the labscope can be of great use in HV and EV repair. With several HV additions, this tool can provide a wealth of information. Differential probes, available through companies such aeswave.com, provide the ability to view live measurements from any pair of windings on a 3-phase system. Just keep in mind that if you want to view all three phases simultaneously, you will need three differential probes in order to do so. These cost approximately $375 each.

Get ready

Tesla holds the majority of the EV market share but industry predictions show a massive push for EV technology that will greatly impact the automotive world. To keep your shop ahead of this trend, be sure to do what any good student does- Put your head in the books and start learning all you can.

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