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CFMS kicks off with session on engine fault lights

TORONTO, Ont. -- Technicians and truck owners are growing increasingly frustrated and confused over the complexity of their engines and the fault lights that are seemingly always appearing on the dash of their trucks.

TORONTO, Ont. — Technicians and truck owners are growing increasingly frustrated and confused over the complexity of their engines and the fault lights that are seemingly always appearing on the dash of their trucks.

During a panel session dubbed Are Fault Lights Keeping You Up At Night?, experts from various truck and engine manufacturers shed some light on why fault lights are appearing so frequently in some late model tractors.

Garry Kellner of Canadian Kenworth said manufacturers, too, are being kept up at night over issues related to fault lights. He said most of the problems can be attributed to emissions systems mandated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Prior to 2007 and the introduction of diesel particulate filters (DPFs), Kellner said fault lights were rarely a concern. In 2007, aftertreatment indicator lights were added to the dash and in 2010, further fault lights were added for monitoring of the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). In 2013, new on-board diagnostic requirements have brought yet more fault lights.

The purpose of all these lights, Kellner said, is to “identify minor emissions control problems before they become major emissions control problems.”

Kellner told fleet maintenance managers in attendance that education about the cause of fault lights is paramount.

“We need to understand the lights,” he said. “We went through a real training program in early 2007 to understand them. We need to understand them even further. There are more lights and more bells and whistles going off.”

Kellner left attendees with a list of dos and don’ts. Do: technician training; use proper test equipment; use correct manuals, diagrams and diagnostic procedures; and use proper accessory harnesses. But definitely do not: probe with test lights; or cut and splice into the wiring.

“We have run into horrendous problems where people go and cut and splice into the wiring systems. It has caused big, big problems and in some cases, fault lights are going off all over the place,” Kellner warned.

He also suggested truck owners work closely with their body manufacturer/installer as well as the truck dealer and OEM, so that everyone who touches the truck is aware of what others will be doing to it.

Ron Meredith with Cummins Eastern Canada, also blamed EPA emissions mandates for many of the problems that are causing fault lights to come on.

“With EPA, the engine today is a chemistry lab,” he said. However, he added engine manufacturers are now bringing some relief.

“In 2013, we’re able to untax the engine a little bit; the subsystems that have been keeping you up at night such as the turbochargers and EGR coolers. We’re able to rely on the aftertreatment a little better,” Meredith said.

Engine manufacturers have also been able to almost completely eliminate manual DPF regenerations, which is a big relief for drivers and maintenance managers. The first trucks fitted with DPFs often required manual regenerations. They also had switches on the dash that would prevent a re-gen from occurring if delivering to a fuel refinery or other sensitive area, but when drivers forgot to flip the switch back on, the DPF would clog prematurely. By eliminating manual DPF re-gens, manufacturers have reduced the risk of driver error leading to problems…and more fault lights. 

Steven de Sousa, national fleet service manager with Volvo, said in some cases fault lights related to the latest OBD requirements on 2013 engines don’t go off immediately when a problem is repaired. He preached patience, as the lights may not turn off until after a pre-determined drive cycle or key-on cycle.

De Sousa said telematics is helping truck and engine manufacturers address issues related to fault lights more quickly and to reduce repair-related downtime.

For example, Volvo’s Remote Diagnostics program sends fault codes immediately to a call centre for analysis, and then the fleet’s decision-maker is notified of the appropriate course of action. If the problem needs to be tended to immediately, Volvo determines the closest dealer with the required parts and even books an appointment. According to de Sousa, Remote Diagnostics has reduced downtime by a full day per repair while reducing diagnostic time by 71% per incident.

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