What are the Different Types of Auto Diagnostics?

Troy Holmes

Auto repair is typically performed by automobile mechanics who have experience in auto diagnostics. Determining the issues of a defective automobile is a skill that takes many years to develop. There are different types of diagnostics techniques in use today. These typically include computer tests, road tests, customer interviews, and basic problem-solving techniques.

Since 1996, all new vehicles have been equipped with technology to aid in auto diagnostics.
Since 1996, all new vehicles have been equipped with technology to aid in auto diagnostics.

Automobile defects are typically divided into three primary categories. These are the motor, the drive train, and general electronics. Auto diagnostics requires an understanding of each category. The mechanic will use different diagnostics techniques depending on the category of the defect.

Auto diagnostics are performed by auto mechanics.
Auto diagnostics are performed by auto mechanics.

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Computer diagnostics is typically required for most modern cars. These computer devices are connected to the automobile with special software that reads the on-board diagnostic system. This automated diagnostic tool interprets system errors and reports mechanical issues with the automobile.

Electrical defects are found by tracking current from the battery.
Electrical defects are found by tracking current from the battery.

Most mechanics are trained to use on-board diagnostics software. This software is typically run on a laptop computer. It provides detailed information on all aspects of the vehicle. With computer diagnostics, mechanics can modify the performance of the automobile using the diagnostics software.

Testing a vehicle's battery is a type of auto diagnostic.
Testing a vehicle's battery is a type of auto diagnostic.

Unfortunately, computer diagnostics are not fool proof. At times, the computer will not interpret the true mechanical issue with the automobile. When this happens, the mechanic will need to use his problem-solving training to determine the root cause of the issue.

Auto diagnostics software interfaces with a car's computer.
Auto diagnostics software interfaces with a car's computer.

A road test is a hands-on form of auto diagnostics. This is typically performed when a customer complains about strange noises during a normal drive of his vehicle. A road test can uncover issues with tires, exhaust, and the brakes of an automobile.

Road tests are also performed after an automobile has been repaired. This is a validation process that is typically performed by the mechanic. With automobiles, it is always important to ensure the repair worked as expected.

Older automobiles do not have computer software or automated diagnostics systems. These cars require a mechanical understanding of all aspects of vehicle maintenance. True auto mechanics can manage both vehicles that have computer diagnostic tools and those that don't.

Auto mechanics are required to understand general defect symptoms of vehicles. This training is provided through hands-on experience. Determining a defect through manual auto diagnostics is an art. This requires more of an instinctive approach with trouble shooting than the automated computer approach of today.

An electrical defect is one of the most difficult auto diagnostics problems to resolve. This process starts by tracking electrical current from the battery source throughout the automobile. An electrical problem can take many hours to resolve and is typically a costly defect to resolve.

A road test is a type of auto diagnostic that can be useful for exhaust problems.
A road test is a type of auto diagnostic that can be useful for exhaust problems.

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