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Taking Your Diagnostic Game Plan to the Next Level


When it comes to service and repair on today’s advanced vehicles, it is critical to formulate and constantly refine your diagnostic game plan. Vehicle technology is increasingly complex. A logical, consistent diagnostic process that utilizes the key tools at your disposal can be the difference between diagnostic success and failure. So, we thought we’d bring together several resources related to developing and refining your diagnostic game plan to help you stay one step ahead of today’s ever evolving vehicle technology.

Developing a Diagnostic Game Plan

In this first article, Brandon Steckler from addresses the reasons why it is critical to have a solid plan when it comes to vehicle diagnostics. He also identifies the resources needed to implement a solid diagnostic plan, including vehicle service information, wiring diagrams, troubleshooting flow charts, knowledge of how vehicle systems/circuits/components in the affected area work and the experience to know the pieces of the equation don’t add up to the obvious answer. As he states, “Having an understanding of the systems and the components that they are comprised of, along with the goal of that system, is what it takes to be successful in today’s world of automotive service, repair, and especially diagnosis.” He then lays out his approach to tackling diagnostic challenges and later uses a case study to illustrate his diagnostic approach. He provides a great framework to consider for developing a consistent, efficient approach to vehicle diagnostics.

It All Starts with Vehicle Inspection

That’s what Dennis McCarron says in this MTD article on In it, he emphasizes the importance of a thorough, structured vehicle inspection as a critical first step of any service ticket. And, for him, a vehicle inspection means a digital inspection, which he states will improve efficiency, increase effectiveness and drive greater revenue, as well as enable improved documentation. “DVIs (Digital Vehicle Inspections) reduce the amount of time a vehicle is in your shop, as there’s no walking back and forth from the car to the sales floor a hundred times a day. They also provide credibility through photographic evidence and help you obtain customer approvals more quickly. There isn’t a single valid reason why any [shop] in North America shouldn’t have a DVI [process].” He makes a compelling case. 

How to Approach Vehicle Data?

One of the key elements identified in Brandon Steckler’s article when it comes to developing and implementing your diagnostic plan is service information and, more generally, vehicle data. In this article on, Scott Brown addresses the many aspects of vehicle data available too and needed by today’s shop. As he states, shops are literally drowning in data and this trend is not likely to change anytime soon. When it comes to service information, he notes that it can be incomplete and/or inaccurate at times, including OE service information, adding “… [at our shop], we have access to multiple information resources including aftermarket and OEM information services. It would be nice if there was a single location that had all of the most up-to-date and comprehensive information available but that simply does not exist due to the complexities involved in our field.” The article also addresses options available to shops in terms of diagnostic tool platforms as well as new security frameworks such as the FCA Security Gateway and the NASTF SDRM service. Managing the information flow and ensuring they have the information they need is a major task for shops to deal with and Scott does a great job of providing an overview of what the state of information/data availability is today and where it’s headed tomorrow.

HD Diagnostics Also Requires a Disciplined Approach

Leaving the world of light duty service doesn’t eliminate the need for a diagnostic plan. In this article from, Jake Schell makes the case for having a clear, logical diagnostic strategy when servicing heavy duty vehicles as well. He notes that, while tried and true methods are tried and true for a reason, it is important to not let a “that’s how we’ve always done it” mindset lead you into a diagnostic minefield. He suggests that the best approach is a blended one that relies on hard won experience when it comes to pattern failures and similar situations but also incorporates detailed diagnostic strategies supplemented by vehicle service information to ensure effective and efficient resolution of vehicle challenges. He also gets into strategies for situations where no published diagnostic strategy exists. “… do some digging… As an example, a complete review of the wiring diagrams for circuits in the system can be helpful, along with the circuits that tie in through shared power and ground connections. When possible, harness routings should be noted to see potential movement or pinch points where damage may occur during operation. Also, be aware that splices tucked away inside a harness can be difficult to spot.” Great advice and a great article to wrap up our dive into the benefits of having a solid diagnostic plan.

We hope these resources are helpful to you as you hone your diagnostic strategies, whether you work primarily on light duty or heavy duty vehicles. As we enter our ninth year of the blog, having compiled many survey articles such as this one, one of the most common themes when it comes to vehicle electrical system diagnostic success is the need for a logical, effective diagnostic game plan. Whether the expert is one referenced here today or one referenced in our many previous articles (Albin Moore, Dave Hobbs, Pete Meier, etc.), this theme is emphasized over and over, and for good reason. It can make all the difference.

Do you have specific steps in your diagnostic process when it comes to electrical system diagnosis?
We love to hear from you. We’re sure our readers would also. Please drop a note in the comments.

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