Refine and adapt: You can troubleshoot many VDA challenges on your own
June 1, 2008
Any modern-day mechanic should be forgiven if he shakes his head at the thought of a new service tool. Just ask him about the difficulties that have emerged when connecting a PC to one of today's Elec...
Any modern-day mechanic should be forgiven if he shakes his head at the thought of a new service tool. Just ask him about the difficulties that have emerged when connecting a PC to one of today’s Electronic Control Modules. Technical support centres are flooded by calls about Vehicle Datalink Adaptors (VDAs) that don’t seem to work, even though everything promises to comply with RP1210a – a common communications standard developed through the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations.
Today’s adaptors are certainly better than those that existed in the mid-1990s, when every Electronic Control Module had its own proprietary connector. In those days, shops needed a web of adaptors and cables to address the various needs, says Ken DeGrant of the Dearborn Group, which produces RP1210a adaptors.
But the remaining problems can still be frustrating to a technician who is paid by the job, adds Lee Lackey of Noregon Systems, which also provides the adaptors. “They’re losing valuable time fixing the problem, and spending time on hold to talk to one of us propeller heads.”
And there’s nothing more frustrating than the news that a supposedly “compliant” computer application will only work with a specific type of adaptor.
The good news is that there are steps to troubleshoot most VDA challenges:
1. Have a clear idea of the application you want to use before buying an adaptor. Remember that some applications will only work with specific models of connectors.
2. Look to see if the application can even be configured for your adaptor. Some applications require users to select between a J1708 and J1939 communications protocol.
3. Check the condition of the “ini” file on a shop’s Windows 3.1 computers. “If you have an application, and that application cannot see the adaptor you installed, you might be dealing with a mangled . ini file,” DeGrant suggests. The problem comes in the form of extra commas and spaces that can sometimes appear between the names of the various adaptors. Simply remove the extra commas and spaces with Windows Notepad, or download a program that will clean the file automatically.
4. Accept the installation wizards. If a USB adaptor is plugged into a different port on a Windows computer, a “hardware found” wizard will appear. Instead of choosing “cancel” because you have installed the adaptor in the past, keep selecting “Next” to allow the wizard to do its job. Each port will require its own driver. Granted, this step presents one significant challenge for fleets that use Windows Vista operating systems, Lackey warns. Technicians may not have the right to install the software.
5. Ensure the USB driver did not “flake out.”While this is not exactly a technical term, it describes a situation that can happen to some USB drivers, Degrant says. Unplug everything, wait five seconds, and then reconnect the adaptors to see if the connection is recovered. Then try to reboot the computer before calling an adaptor supplier.
6. Close other applications. Some VDAs can only support a single application at a time, so ensure that other computer applications are not simply minimized.
7. Be prepared to realize that this may be your computer’s fault. The makers of VDAs can all refer to a specific model of Compaq computer that had troublesome ports in early 2000. “Windows was never built as an operating system to do these kinds of things. It was really meant to be an office,” Lackey adds.
8. Always use a hard-wired connection since the signal from a Wi-Fi device can be affected by everything from a fluorescent light to the cycling of a nearby air conditioner. “We all have wireless versions of adaptors,” DeGrant adds. “We recommend you don’t use it to flash the (Electronic Control Unit).That’s an easy way to turn an ECU into a toaster.”