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Code Talkers -- It takes more than reading codes to be a real technician


Gonzo

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Code Talkers

 

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 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 (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 todays' 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.

 

 

Working on new stories all the time. Adding a little survey to this story... Which magazines do you see my articles in? Leave a comment ... love to hear from ya. Gonzo


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Not even realizing it but when I was in the Marine Corps my primary MOS (Military Occupation Status) was a 2531/2542 "Field Radio Operator/Teletype Operator" I guess that's why I know how the code was used, because it was taught in some of the classes. It wasn't my intention to write about US Marine radio operators... I was going for the "code readers" we run across in our daily business and how I generally deal with them. But, don't worry none of the info I provided is anything to be worried about... it's all been declassified... We're not leaking national secrets here.. LOL

 

Glad ya liked the story... Gonzo

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thanks Joe, as always you see the inner meaning of the story as I write them down. And yes the BP meds better be close by. LOL

This is one of those articles that I think would be a perfect one to have on a bullentin board or on the wall of the waiting room in every shop.

I'm betting this article is picked up really fast and goes into print before a lot of other really good ones do. This one just hits a nerve for every decent shop out there that has to deal with the cutthroat logics of the free "diagnostics" when in fact.... their idea of diagnostics is simple code reading. But that doesn't make you a code talker.... thanx again your insight is spot on... U Da Best Joe!

 

 

Well Gonzo, you did again. My blood pressure is up, thanks...

 

First, let me tell you, the analogy you make to the code-talkers of WWII is brilliant. My issue here is how little most of the public thinks of us, with respect to what it takes to test and diagnose and the modern automobile. I don't know how it started, but pulling codes is not a diagnosis and we need to be careful of the perception the public has on check engine lights and other hi-tech testing.

 

I have an AutoZone opening up around the corner from me soon, which is in walking distance of Advanced. Both stores promote free check engine light code reading. This only serves to diminish the complexity of that code and what it takes to understand the code, the equipment and the information data base. To be truthful, I can teach a monkey how to pull a code.

 

Repair shops have enough trouble getting the money they deserve, let's not jeapordize perhaps our future and reduce the check engine light to a commodity.

 

Great article, sorry for being so passionate....now let's see, where's my BP medication....

 

 

 

 

 

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I'd like to say also the industry is lucky to have someone like you Joe... ASO is something you should be really proud of. I'm very glad to have made that phone call to you so many years ago... I'll bet ya never thought (at the time) that I wasn't kidding when I told you I had a few stories to tell... LOL

Don't worry I've got more stories and more articles to go.. I'm no rocket scientist... I'm no CEO ... I may not be as strong as a bull... ... ... but I did stay at a Holiday Inn once... I guess that means I'm qualified... ROFL... :) :) :rolleyes::DB):lol::P

 

I tip my hat to you, keep these article coming...our industry to lucky to have someone like you to bring up these sensitive issues in a way that is both informative and fun.

 

And, I do hope this strikes a nerve in the hearts of every shop out there. To be a shop owner and tech todays requires the strength of a bull, the intellect of a rocket scientist and the management skills of a top CEO, it aint easy...

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Very nicely done Gonzo. I too love when the local "Chepo" parts stores that read codes and send them on thier way knowing what the whole problem is. Makes our lives so much easyer when they provide was with thier findings doesn't it. LOL U.S. Marine huh, I knew there was something I liked about you. Semper Fi brother, myself also.

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Thanks Gary... semper fi... you'll find a lot of stories related to my GI days. Makes some great stories.

 

 

Very nicely done Gonzo. I too love when the local "Chepo" parts stores that read codes and send them on thier way knowing what the whole problem is. Makes our lives so much easyer when they provide was with thier findings doesn't it. LOL U.S. Marine huh, I knew there was something I liked about you. Semper Fi brother, myself also.

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The radio systems they used in WWII were still on the training schedule when I was in the service (late 70's). Cryptographic radios pretty much put the code talkers out of business, the next thing is... what technilogical advancement puts the "code reader" of today out of business.

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      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.
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