Keys to repairing some of today’s most popular vehicle electronics

March 14, 2014
Here’s a look at how to diagnose and repair problems with technology that improves the driving experience while making life in the repair industry a bit more challenging.

Technician Eddie Culper, who works for a San Diego shop that specializes in dealer repairs, is like many repairers when it comes to dealing with some of the latest electronics to come out of Detroit, Europe and Asia.

Backup camera units can sustain damage in a host of areas during a collision. Courtesy of Nissan

He appreciates the conveniences and extra safety they offer. He’s not so enthusiastic when it comes to tracking down problems and repairing some of these products when they’ve been knocked out of service by a collision. These days, Culper reports that he groans anytime he sees a damaged backup camera unit.

“On some vehicle models, even a light hit on or near the rear will shut off the camera,” he says. “When it comes to finding the problem, you’re looking at a potentially damaged camera, LCD monitor, sensors or yards of electrical wire.”

Making this repair even more difficult, Culper says some of these units may already be defective. The owners may not be aware they have a malfunctioning (or not fully functioning) product. In other cases, a jolt to the vehicle shuts down a unit with faulty components.

Culper isn’t alone. Other repairers see similar issues with the latest and greatest electronic technology rolling off of showroom floors. Here’s a look at how to diagnose and repair problems with technology that improves the driving experience while making life in the repair industry a bit more challenging.

Solving the camera conundrum

Because Culper’s shops handles many late-model vehicles, he probably sees more vehicles with backup cameras than most repairers. His business handles so many of these repairs, that Culper eventually created a diagnostic/repair schema with steps that he believes will let most shops nail down the source of damaged backup repair units and set them right.

Collecting all available repair information is an important part of difficult electronic repairs. Since many DVD players are from aftermarket companies, you’ll need to turn to the Internet for this information. Courtesy of Rosen

Step 1: Check the OEM technical bulletins

Culper says this step might be the single biggest time saver, mainly because the early backup units produced by some automakers contained defects that would show up within a year of purchase and often after a collision.

“Some GM vehicles we saw had dim daylight displays and were basically useless at night because nothing showed up on the monitor,” says Culper. “We tried replacing the camera, but the problem remained. We talked to one of our dealers who said the cameras contained a faulty module.”

With a new module, the system worked correctly. 

“Had we started with the right information and checked the OEM paperwork, we could have solved the problem almost immediately,” says Culper.

Step 2: Clean the camera lens. Problems with even the most advanced electronic products often have the simplest causes. Fuzzy and dark images displayed on backup monitors often are the products of camera lenses that have been coated by contaminates. Culper says collisions often kick up fluids, mud and other grime that typically wouldn’t come into contact with a backup camera lens.

Step 3: If there is no picture, the camera is the most likely culprit. Check first for a blown fuse. If the fuse is fine, examine the camera for signs of damage. Replace if necessary.

Step 4: Examine the wiring. If the camera is not at fault, the source of the problem almost has to be the wiring. Save yourself some time running down the faulty wiring by first checking the terminals on the camera and the wiring connected to it. If it isn’t the problem source, locate the OEM procedures for diagnosing wiring issues related to the backup unit. If the unit still doesn’t work, you’ll have to examine the wiring running between the various parts of the unit or from the vehicle power system. Since this can be time intensive, concentrate on areas where the vehicle body has been damaged. Be on the lookout for sliced or crimped wires.

Also, refer to the OEM diagnosis and repair instructions for the backup camera system.

Culper says the great majority of damaged backup camera systems he’s seen are related directly to their cameras. He’s also seen more than several that stopped working due to damaged wiring and other causes. For this reason, he cautions other techs to follow a thorough, detailed list of diagnostic steps that take into full account all that may have gone wrong with these systems.

“Too often I saw other techs simply swap out the camera since that usually solved the problem,” explains Culper. “When it didn’t, they had to start over and do the diagnostic work they should have in the first place.”

“That’s wasted time, which is unacceptable,” he adds.

Damaged DVD players

Following backup camera systems, Culper says onboard DVD players can be especially difficult to repair.

The extent of damage from a collision can point to damaged airbag systems. Courtesy of Subaru

The good news about these systems is that their placement in the seats and roofs of vehicles makes them fairly well protected. Typically, if they are damaged in an accident, the collision damage is so extensive that the vehicle must be totaled. When a repair can be performed, often the damage in the vehicle cabin and the violence of the collision can damage a DVD player in a number of ways.

This fact can make simply replacing these units a better, less expensive option than replacing them.

Still, Culper says that – like backup camera systems – problems with these units often have relatively simply causes. By carefully troubleshooting them, shops can provide relatively inexpensive fixes.

He recommends the following steps:

Step 1: Verify what the problem is: Will the DVD player power on? Is the picture clear? Does the sound work? (Note: If the picture is the problem, try adjusting it using the DVD controls. If that doesn’t solve the problem, use Steps 2-7, which also apply to power problems. Steps 8 and 9 address sound issues.)

Step 2: Examine the player and check for any obvious damage – for example, a cracked screen or broken case. Replace if this is the case.

Step 3. Access the OEM technical bulletins and diagnostic instructions. Since so many onboard DVD players are aftermarket products, you may need to collect their information from the Internet. You might need this information later to track wiring problems and other potential problem sources.

Step 4: If the player won’t turn on, check the DVD player fuse. If it has blown, replace it. Be sure to test this fix by turning the DVD player on and running a disk. If the DVD player operates correctly, you’ve fixed the problem. If the fuse blows again, move on to Step 4.

Step 5: Examine the red and black lead wires running from the vehicle to the player (be sure to first disconnect the vehicle battery). Make sure the leads are connected firmly. If the power can't be turned on, verify that the yellow lead is connected.

Step 6: If the player still won’t work, reset it using the product instructions. Typically, these instructions involve hitting the Power and Eject buttons or pressing a “hard reset button.”

Step 7: If the player still won’t power on, check the wiring for damage. If the wiring is fine, replace the player. Odds are that a violent collision has caused internal damage in the player.

Step 8: If sound is the problem, first check the speaker output lead from the DVD player. Check any other leads and wiring for damage.

Step 9: Make sure the speaker output lead is grounded. If this needs repaired, note that the negative terminals on the speakers, both right and left, must be grounded in common.  

Step 10: If vehicle noise is interfering with the sound, check the rear ground terminal for damage. If it is damaged, replace it.

Step 11: Remember to reconnect the battery if it has been disconnected.

Top Shops remedy

While Culper notes the repair challenges tied to two video-based technologies, other repairers point to a host of difficulties carried by other electronic parts. Mayfield Collision Centers, a 2013 Top Shops finalist, points to two others. They’ve instituted a system to get “in front” of these repairs to ensure they’re done correctly and to prepare for future electronic challenges.

Mayfield Shop Forman Dale Sullivan says his business has identified two electronic areas that hold special repair difficulties – airbag and parking assist systems. Both incorporate fuses, sensors and wiring harnesses that can be damaged or destroyed during a collision. All of these areas need to be taken into consideration when these systems either stop working or are suspected to have sustained damaged that may prevent them from working properly in the future.

Parking assist systems typically include sensors in vehicle bumpers. A mechanics stethoscope can help determine if these sensors were damaged in an accident. Courtesy of Hyundai

Sullivan explains that when systems like these are damaged Mayfield starts its repair during an exploratory stage when it collects as much system and repair information as possible.

“We use Alldata to access information,” he says. From there, the shop considers the extent of the damage and the force of the collision as it tracks the potential extent of electronic system damage – especially when it comes to airbag systems.

“An airbag might need repaired even if it didn’t deploy and the warning lights show no sign of a malfunction,” says Sullivan. “We look at damage in surrounding areas and with nearby electronic parts as indications that there might be something wrong with an airbag.”

When the shop identifies any unusual problems or problems associated with specific vehicle models or brands, it’s quick to share that information with all of its techs. “We’ll pull all of our techs over to look at a problem,” says Sullivan.

By placing a premium on information, Mayfield is able to troubleshoot problems as early as possible in the repair process, which Sullivan says is critical in avoiding unnecessary delays. This approach also helps keep the shop up to date on some of the latest electronic troubleshooting methods.

For example, when analyzing the source of a damaged parking assist system, Mayfield techs use a mechanics stethoscope to determine if sensors in the bumper are working correctly. “When they are, you hear a clicking sound,” says Sullivan.

Knowledge like that is power when it comes to solving some of the toughest electronic problems. Indeed, according to Sullivan and Culper it’s the key to efficiently resolving these issues. It’s available to shops willing to make the effort to collect it.

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