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I'm working on a "requested" article from one of the magazines I write for. They want an article on CAN systems (Controller Area Network) I need some feedback as to what you think of this article. I have several different ideas on how to simply the workings of a CAN system, but this one seemed the most "overall" explanation of it. Your reply and ideas is greatly appreciated.


Can do CAN:

A simple look at a complex system: Controller Area Network: CAN


Ever wonder how your cable TV comes into your home on that single coaxial cable? In simple terms… it’s like a CAN system. A good definition of a CAN system would be: High speed communication sent via data lines to and from components. Just like your cable TV, as a signal is sent down the wire from one communication device there needs to be another at the other end that can “descramble” that information and turn it into readable information. These “lines” are generally referred to as BUS lines, or Data lines.


Most of the time they are in pairs of two wires that are twisted together (less RF interference). Some manufacturers use a 2 speed CAN. One line is for low priority information such as radio, windows, etc… and a faster 2nd speed for things like transmission, theft, etc… both system moves along the same wires at the same time. What each of the “modules” that are on the BUS line do is only use the information that they are programmed to read all else is just ignored and not read by that particular module.


What to expect:

The direction of these CAN systems are not going to go away, they’re with us for now and most likely even more complicated in the future. Scanning is the key to working with these systems. Proper scanners and not just a “code reader” is the necessary tool to see these “TV” channels on your little screen (your scanner). A dealer equivalent scanner is the best way to “look” at these systems. Mode $06 is another option but one thing you don’t want to do any more is stab a wire with a test light looking for current or ground… it ain’t there.


Imagine stabbing your test light into your cable TV line. What do you think you would find there, nothing that a test light would help with. Also, I don’t advise sending voltage or a solid ground down a data line. Would you try that with that coaxial cable coming into your house, I think not..! My advice when it comes to diagnosing power windows, gauges, or for that matter just about anything these days. Get your scanner out and look for codes, look for a class 2 serial data line on your GM, read the mode $06 information, and or whatever that particular manufacturer is calling their CAN line information. These data information screens will give you the clues as to what to be looking for. The next stop is to your PC and look up the wiring diagrams. Codes are only a starting point; remember… you still have to diagnose the cause of that code and what it means.


Here is an example:

03 Cadillac DHS

If you used the driver’s side window switch the driver’s window and the passenger front window would go down simultaneously and would go up the same way. If you tried the front passenger window switch nothing happened at all. The driver’s side rear window switch from the driver’s door switch if pushed would operate both the rear windows exactly like the front set. The car was clean, well kept and had no signs of any recent damage. As far as the owner knew there was nothing out of the ordinary that might hint at a possible reason for this strange window fiasco.


Scanning the car led to several history codes that could be related and some codes that couldn’t be related to the problem, that is until I went to the class 2 serial data line information. It listed where the trouble was at… corrupted information and loss of communication on the BUS. Looking at the four door modules showed that the scanner couldn’t communicate with either passenger side modules. Using the scanner to operate the windows without having to move the switches showed no difference between the scanner and the actual window switch from the driver’s door. Pulling the prints showed that the serial data lines ran from door to door and back to the BCM. There were no obvious wiring issues to be concerned with but I did notice several slight whitish droplets dried onto the inside of the door. It looked to me like “Bondo” or sanding dust mixed with water. But the owner knew nothing of any body work ever done to the car. Opening the FPDM and examining the circuit board showed no water damage. With the data lines showing no communication with the modules and the wiring looking perfect the next best thing was to change the FPDM and RRDM (Front Passenger Door Module, Right Rear Door Module).


It worked like a charm. After replacing the modules I went back into the scanner to see if the communication had been restored, sure enough it was… another job out the door


I never picked up a test light like I would have on an older car and I didn’t have to pull out the old trusty tap hammer and start banging around till something moved. Using the scanner and the CAN lines showed where to go to make the repair.


History lesson:


1983 Bosch Corporation introduced the CAN system to the world as a preparation to what they saw as an increase in the automotive electrical system advancements. In 1987 the first CAN system was officially called “CAN” but it wasn’t till 1992 Mercedes Benz that a CAN system was accepted as the true first CAN system. Early GM’s had a system that could have been called CAN back in 1987 but the only references were to call the lines “data lines”. It still worked about the same way but wasn’t diagnosed the same way as we do today.


1995 GM introduced Class 2 serial data lines which run at a speed of 10.4 kbps. In 2004 Gm went to their next generation system called GMLAN (local area network) which had a 2 speed system: low 33.3 Kbps and a high at 500 Kbps. Mercedes Benz uses several BUS lines; on one car I counted 5 different CAN speeds.


Closing: With the speed and flexibility of these electronic systems the manufacturers can create in today’s cars I can only imagine how far all this information is going to go. It could be at some point in time that wiring will be a thing of the past too. Everything in the car could someday go completely wireless; modules will get smaller, faster and less likely to failure. Scanning could be done without even seeing the car in a repair shop. Just dial your cel phone to your shop of choice and a complete diagnostics could be done right then.


I know it sounds a little “out there” but just imagine what a mechanic from the 50’s would think of today’s cars.

Gonzo 2010

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