Another challenge, Catlett says, is working on loose connections or corroded connectors. He says it's one of the "biggest nightmares" because these kinds of problems occur when the driver hits a bump in the road, when a connector is not completely plugged in, or when the vehicle isn't on level ground; all of these things don't necessarily happen in the shop.
"It's frustrating at times, when I can't get it to act up," Catlett says.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
When Catlett's team services vehicles with intermittent problems and can't find a solution, notes are added to the work order from technicians to remind the driver to report any details about the problem and the operating condition of the vehicle when the problem occurred.
Catlett says they need to ask a lot of questions. "Does the temperature gauge or oil pressure gauge act up? Do you lose battery voltage, or do the gauges all of a sudden go dead while the vehicle is still running? What kinds of roads are you on, or were you taking on a hard right or left turn?
"The biggest thing is trying to get as much information from the drivers as possible, because sometimes you can't re-create the condition that they're going through. I don't like to release a vehicle unless I know it's safe."
Josh Stolfuss, a technical services manager with National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) agrees that most cause for concern in medium duty vehicle fleets has to do with electrical issues, and technicians need to be aware of the changes that are taking place in the industry.
Stolfuss says that having a strong electronics background will be important, especially in the next ten years. He adds that the trend is turning toward multiplexing and sensor- or module-based technology.
"For the most part, medium duty technicians have been involved with this kind of technology to a certain degree. But it's something they will have to deal with more on a daily basis," he says.
"Technicians nowadays really need to be well-versed in electrical systems on a vehicle. Particularly because the electrical systems are getting more complex every year," Stolfuss adds.
"So they need to have a basic understanding of electrical theory and multiplexing, because a lot of vehicles are getting into multiplex modules. International has it, and Ford has it. So, understanding multiplexing and modules you are looking at with different inputs and outputs are very important, even in wiring tail lights."
A WEALTH OF INFORMATION
Fairfax County's Catlett thinks it is helpful to have a good working relationship with OEMs to keep informed, and says he is actively involved with International engines to receive training. He tries to keep up-to-date on as much reference material as possible, whether it is receiving information online, with CD-ROM or hard-copy manuals.
Catlett also keeps current with bulletins that focus on everything from mechanical to electrical issues. He sees more and more of this information readily available for technicians.
NTEA's Stolfuss recommends obtaining subscriptions online, which is a generally more affordable way for technicians or shops with a limited budget to build library of reference material.
Attending electrical training classes has helped Catlett a great deal during his career, and sometimes he repeats classes if he needs to gain more knowledge.
Catlett says that revisiting a class is beneficial for him because always knows he will learn something new. He is also able to apply practical information from his experience in the shop to what is being taught in the classroom.
"There's nothing wrong with repetition, because you might have missed something the first couple of times and now you understand more. When you go [to a class] a second time, you can say 'oh yeah, it all makes sense,'" Catlett says.
MORE IS BETTER
"I'm learning new things every week, but I run into something a little bit different," Catlett says. Some of it's trial and error, but a lot of it is trying to keep updated with information available."
Catlett says he's considered a 'go-to guy' among his peers for electrical issues. He mentors technicians and mechanics on his team, sharing as much information as possible, but is learning as well.
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