Thursday, 23 February 2012 17:17

Code Talkers: It Takes More Than Reading Codes to Be a Good Automotive Technician

Written by Gonzo Weaver

During World War II the US used a secret type of language to send and receive messages, so the enemy couldn’t find out what they were talking about.

They enlisted the help of Navajo and Comanche Native Americans as radio operators. These guys used a combination of their language and relative terms as a way to disguise the real message over unsecured radio waves during World War II.

Most of the coding was done by using a native word for each letter of the message.  Such as, if you were going to say the word “ARMY” they would pick one of the native words that represented a word in English with the first letter “A” and the same for each letter after that. In other words the letter “B” would be sent over the radio waves as, “Toish-Jeh” which means, “barrel” in English.

So the word “ARMY” would have been transmitted something like this: “Wol-la-chee” (Ant) – “Gah” (rabbit) – “Tsin-tliti” (Match) – “Tsah-as-zih” (Yucca)

Thus the word Army would have been spelled out and easily translated at the other end. A lot of times an entire phrase could be stated with one word, or a word that was often used had a selected native word that was used as a substitute. Then on other occasions an English word was thrown in just to confuse the whole thing even more. It was quite ingenious, and believe it or not, the code was never—ever—broken. To quote General Howard Connor (while at Iwo Jima), “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would have never taken Iwo Jima.”

Trying to sound out those four Native American words (correctly) and translate it into the actual word was easy for these guys. They understood it, it’s their language and they could send/translate and relay an answer faster than any machine available back in the day. They truly were code talkers.

So you might ask where am I going with all of this?  Well, think about it, doesn’t this sound something like the codes we have with today’s cars? It does to me.

I read a code, translate it into working data, and solve a problem, all with a language that isn’t understood by everyone out there. I guess you could call me a modern day code talker.

The big difference is you’ve got people with hand held scanners they bought at a local store or from the internet, and have the ability to “read” a code. Or some of them have been to a repair shop that has bought a scanner and read the codes for them. But, they can’t break the code. They can’t determine what to do with the information they have in front of them.

Think about it… it’s World War II, and you’ve just copied down a message from your secret hiding spot on the side of the hill. You are about to relay the message to your superior officers. But, you still haven’t a clue what that gibberish means. It’s like reading a code on a car these days, and not having a clue what all that information means. That’s where a qualified automotive technician, (aka code talker) is needed.

I have lost count of how many times a car has come into my shop with a customer standing at the counter. They have already been somewhere else, and the other shop has given them an invoice with the codes and the definition written down on it, and more than likely a big “goose egg” in the charge column of the invoice. And they still haven’t had their problem resolved.

“Oh I see they didn’t charge you to read the codes… how nice of them (said a little sarcastically I might add).  So, you need me to find out what it all means right?” I’ll ask.

“Yes, but I won’t need it diagnosed; that’s already done,” the customer will tell me.

Of course it’s already diagnosed, and you know what is going to happen next.  I’m going to tell them there is a charge to trace out the actual problem and determine the reason for the fault code. Any tests that are needed or extra equipment needed to diagnose the problem is all incorporated into the diagnostic fee, which of course ends up with a customer just about to grab all their paper work and head out the door. Because, oh you know what’s coming next, “It shouldn’t cost anything to find out what’s wrong with my car, because I already had that done.”

This is when I break into my “code talker” story and inform the customer of what the process takes to actually find out what that particular code means.

“There’s everything from a compression check to TSB’s that need to be considered when it comes to diagnosing a problem,” I’ll tell them.

Let’s face it, an oscilloscope ain’t cheap, and as far as I know they aren’t giving away these scanners, not to mention the hand tools, meters, and specialty equipment you’ll need to perform some of these tests.

I realize that the code information to them sounds more like “Comanche” or “Navajo” lingo than it does plain English, but then, I’m a modern day code talker. I can read it, I can interpret it, and I can translate it into English. That’s what I’m here for.

The next thing to do is make the customer aware of the level of sophistication that is needed to decipher these coded messages from the car. It still amazes me that there are still a lot of people out there who assume replacing a part will always solve the problem, and that intensive research isn’t necessary.

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I have a car in the shop that looks like it is on life support with the amount of gadgets I’ve got hanging out of the hood or from under the dash, and it all started off with a simple code. (This is one of those times a cell phone or a camera comes in handy and sending a shot of the owner’s car to them so they can see what you’ve had to do to locate the cause of that simple code number.)

I’m a modern day mechanic; I’m no grease monkey, nor am I the guy with a scanner who’ll read your codes and give you the definition. I’m the guy who will read the code, define it, and translate it into a solution. The cars of today are not the car of yesterday—nor are they the cars of the future. I’ve got to take care of what is here now, and that requires some understanding of the fundamentals of today’s cars. But in order to find out what that little service light means on your dash keep in mind… you don’t need a code reader, you need a code talker.

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