Nissan’s repair ninjas help dealership techs solve tough problems

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SMYRNA, Tenn. — The owner of a 2014 Nissan Pathfinder hybrid in Puerto Rico will likely never know of the high-level attention that fixed a vexing problem with his crossover.

The gasoline-electric Pathfinder’s engine would start, but stall after about 10 seconds. A service technician at the dealership in San Juan couldn’t figure out why. Neither could a master tech he consulted at Nissan North America’s Tech Line.

So the automaker summoned its last line of defense. Four of Nissan’s most experienced technicians huddled here, 1,750 miles from the dealership, and worked in real time with the shop tech to find and repair the cause of the stalling.

As part of a new program called “Fixed Right First Time,” Nissan has created what it calls its Last Line Defense Team. When a dealership shop can’t fix a vehicle, even after checking with experts who staff Nissan’s Tech Line, the last line goes into action.

Vehicle complexity continues to grow because of such things as electrified drivetrains and advanced safety and self-driving features. Nissan, like other car companies, is working to ensure that its dealerships can solve increasingly tough repair problems with a minimum of customer inconvenience.

In March, the automaker gave Fixed Ops Journal a rare behind-the-scenes look at how it is helping Nissan and Infiniti techs troubleshoot the kind of challenges that can defy factory-recommended solutions.

Nissan staffs its Tech Line with 38 master techs. They work six days a week in the automaker’s Field Quality Center in Smyrna, next to the sprawling Nissan assembly plant that produces such top-selling vehicles as the Rogue and Altima.

The most experienced Tech Line members, Nissan’s ninjas of auto repair, are assigned to the last line team. On this day, members gather around a computer that enables dealerships to display vehicle diagnostics and trouble codes in real time. Use of a nearby blackboard encourages team members to think out loud, share ideas and take notes.

“Problem-solving is its own reward for a lot of personality types,” says Brad Page, manager of Fixed Right First Time support. “The fact that it makes a customer happy is a huge benefit as well.”

Losing the path

The Pathfinder’s computers have identified several trouble codes. The dealership tech in San Juan followed Nissan’s diagnostic and repair procedures, but couldn’t fix the stalling. He contacted the Tech Line, which checked to see whether other Pathfinders had shown similar problems. When a solution remained elusive, the last line team took over.

Front line to last line

How Nissan North America helps its Nissan and Infiniti dealerships solve the hardest repair problems

  • Dealership tech follows Nissan’s repair flow chart but can’t find the root cause of the problem.
  • Tech sends electronic request for help to Nissan Tech Line in Smyrna, Tenn. A master technician reviews repair tech’s work, checks for similar problems with other vehicles and recommends a remedy.
  • If that effort fails, the Last Line Defense Team — composed of Nissan’s most experienced master techs — investigates the case, part by part if necessary, to identify the problem and define a repair.
  • The rare vehicle that can’t be fixed through this process may be repurchased by Nissan.

Source: Nissan North America

A further complication: The dealership technician doesn’t speak English. So Roberto Aponte, a technical support specialist, dons headphones and translates the tech’s comments as last line members Tim Greaux, Cody Collins and Paul Legnon examine the diagnostic data.

“Those guys are up for it,” Page says. “If they can’t get to the bottom of [a problem] after a while, there is an elevated stress level. That’s just their competitive nature. Eventually, they’ll work it out.”

Nissan North America’s 1,350 dealerships in the United States and Canada perform about 99 percent of all repairs without contacting the Tech Line. That center handles most problems quickly and easily; often, a tech has skipped a step or misdiagnosed a problem. But cases such as the stalled Puerto Rican Pathfinder demand greater attention.

Last year, a Nissan corporate directive made fast, correct repairs a priority. The automaker wanted not only to boost its dealerships’ customer satisfaction scores, but also to improve its internal processes for identifying problems before they triggered technical service bulletins, or worse, recalls. Nine times each day, Nissan reviews the data that service writers list on repair orders.

“As soon as that [order] is put in the system,” says Jerry Puetz, who manages Nissan’s field quality improvement, “Nissan headquarters can grab it and look at the service writer’s report, put it through an algorithm, and bounce it off all the data we know about already.”

Nissan assigns 22 technical service managers to visit dealerships, mostly examining problems on vehicles that are less than eight months old. Their reports go to company engineers, suppliers and plants. Tech Line members see the reports in as few as two days — down from a previous 30 days, Puetz says.

Detective work

While last line members puzzle over the problematic Pathfinder, 10-year master technician Matthew Mead fields a Tech Line request from Russ Darrow Nissan of Milwaukee. A new, diesel-powered Titan XD is displaying a slew of trouble codes. A warning light shows the diesel exhaust fluid to be low, even though the tank is full.

Mead exchanges notes with the dealership tech, reviews the truck’s diagnostic data and examines reports of similar problems. In about 45 minutes, he identifies the problem: a faulty fuse.

Members of Nissan’s Last Line Defense Team confer with a tech in Puerto Rico about a repair problem.

Another Tech Line case involves a Nissan Sentra with an engine compartment rattle at about 2,000 rpm. The problem is traced to loose bolts on an exhaust manifold heat shield. The plant in Mexico where the car was built gets a report within hours. Nissan instructs the plant manager to determine how the car had been shipped with the defect.

Finally, the last line team identifies what’s wrong with the Pathfinder: a slipping clutch in the transmission. The dealership tech will replace the transmission and ship the faulty component to Smyrna.

Nissan engineers will put the bad transmissionin a vehicle, test it and then disassemble it. They will look for a cause: possibly a supplier’s faulty part or a manufacturing error.

Several times each year, Nissan invites master dealership technicians to Smyrna to see how the Tech Line and last line team work. There are plant visits and a tour of Nissan’s consumer affairs call center, where agents field customer comments.

Nissan calls the program Corporate Immersion with Technical Information Exchange Shadowing, or CITIES. Its goal is to show dealershiptechnicians how best to use Nissan’s diagnosis and repair processes.

“We are trying to show them we are here to help them,” says Jackson Hisey, the manager of Tech Line. “We are not teaching them how to fix a car. We are not teaching them how to measure something.

“We are teaching them that they have resources behind them,” Hisey says. “And that we care. A lot of times, a tech thinks the factory doesn’t care — that we are just trying to take money out of their pockets. We’re not. We’re in the fight with them.”

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