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Test Equipment Wizardry

By on January 1, 2020

Pinpoints Cranking & charging Systems Problems

By: Homer Hogg
Director, Technical Service

At the biannual North American Commercial Vehicle Show held in Atlanta during late October, computer proliferation from all of the Class 8 truck manufacturers was clearly evident. Most systems are now controlled and/or monitored by onboard computers. Their ability to capture and share information has also contributed to a rapid transformation of diagnostic best practices. As test equipment wizardry has grown in scope and complexity, cranking and charging systems are among the key beneficiaries.

A Stark Contrast

Not many years ago, technicians used hydrometers, load testers, multimeters and other basic equipment to isolate cranking and charging systems problems. Advances in today’s test equipment have not only enabled technicians to identify a defective part, they can now evaluate the complete cranking and charging systems to determine their integrity. If a technician identifies a defect using current test equipment, he or she must make the repair and continue with the test of the entire system to isolate any additional deficiencies.

The test equipment is smart enough to know that defective parts such as starters are often damaged due to low voltage conditions caused by loose connections, corrosion and/or certainly bad batteries. So when the equipment confirms a bad part, it prompts technicians to continue testing until they see results from all required tests. This ensures that the condition of the entire system is known versus just replacing a defective part, which most likely resulted from being exposed to the wrong environment.

Alternators are often damaged as a result of bad batteries. If the alternator attempts to charge them, it will just continue to charge at a high amperage rate. This shortening of the alternator’s life is another example of why modern test equipment has evolved to the point of not just being satisfied with locating a bad component. It’s now programmed to continue testing the entire system to locate the problem’s root cause.

Robust Logic & Friendly Interface

The equipment currently used to test cranking and charging systems benefits greatly from modern technology. Some of the test equipment is tablet-based. This helps test equipment manufacturers utilize more robust logic and a friendlier user interface. The test procedures built into the equipment include color schematics for properly identifying the connections and step-by-step, on-screen routines, which help reduce errors from missed troubleshooting steps. The fact that the tool displays test procedures in real-time, while the technician is conducting the actual troubleshooting procedure, is a huge accuracy and efficiency benefit. Additional benefits include the ability to upload test results electronically, which eliminates the need to reenter the information and ensures that accurate test data moves from the technician’s tablet to the report.

Modern test equipment has also kept pace with the more robust AGM Pure-Lead batteries. The logic needed for accurate testing is much more complex and is very different from the standard AGM batteries we’ve seen, even in recent years. These newest Pure-Lead AGM batteries can tolerate more discharge cycles and deliver more amps over a longer time. These enhanced characteristics are great for the modern truck but can be a challenge for old test equipment. Fortunately, test equipment has kept pace with newer battery technologies, enabling technicians to identify a defective battery and return the vehicle to service in a timelier manner.

Batteries, alternators and even electrical cables and wiring will continue to improve. Charging and cranking test equipment is up to the challenges, and the industry is better off because of it.  

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