Meet a real car expert

We speak to Jean-Charles Dahout, Mister Know-It-All (and Fix-It-All) at Citroën’s After-sales Division who says that driving an auto is murder

Having lived in Singapore for the last six years, Citroën’s Technical Specialist Jean Charles doesn’t consider himself an expatriate. “I hate Clarke Quay,” he said when asked what he enjoyed doing in Singapore when he wasn’t busy supervising technicians at local authorised Citroën workshop.

Instead, the Frenchman enjoys watching monkeys run amok at local national parks like MacRitchie. “It’s something you can’t do in Paris,” he said. With a background in literature, Charles had wanted to be an aircraft pilot. “But I was terrible at mathematics so I became a technical translator instead,” he said.

After seeing his first car race at the age of five, Charles developed a fascination for automobiles. That grew into a lifelong passion, prior to settling down in Singapore as part of the local Citroën team, Charles spent 10 years travelling the world and training mechanics to meet standards set by the French car manufacturer. We sat down to find out more about the man who probably knows more about what makes a Citroën tick than anyone on the island.

What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t fixing cars?
I save money to go racing in Sepang, for the Malaysian Super Series (MSS) 1.6-litre class. I hope to enter the 2.0-litre someday. Endurance racing is fun, big fun.

What was it like working here at the beginning?
The first couple of months I was going home in the evening half dead. Because of the humidity, when you aren’t used to it, is difficult. But I am okay now, I freeze when I go back to France.

What is your main role as Citroën’s Technical Specialist?
I spend a lot of time training the guys, the purpose is not for me to fix everything. The purpose is for me to train our guys so they can work without me around.

How much time do you spend in the workshop?
Things are getting better, hours are down to about 55 or 60 hours a week. Because of the increased number of trained technicians we have, we spend about 20 hours less a week at the workshop these days.

How do you maintain the highest standards in the workshop?
We insist a lot on training and technical certification. In the past the level of activity was small enough for just me to look after. But now that the workshop is getting bigger, we will need more specialists.

What do the technicians find most challenging?
The most challenging part for our guys in Singapore, or Asia, is knowing the electronics in the car. It affects the way we diagnose the car. If you have no idea how it works, and how the computers are organised, you just cannot fix it. It’s not yet part of the things you learn at school. So when our technicians start working, they basically have not seen the technology before.

What are these ‘electronics’?
For example, in the Citroën C4 Picasso we have about 40 computers that work on four different networks. It really is about IT support, it’s not so much about cars anymore. So if you don’t know the operating logic of all these computers, you just cannot diagnose the car.

Is there an upside to all these technologies?
The good thing about having so many computers in a car is that they have memory. They can record faults in the car, even a temporary fault that happened a month ago. They help us anticipate all potential future issues so that we can fix them before it they even happen.

How do you think customers view technicians?
There is something that every customer fears. And that it’s like we are doctors in the hospital. If you are the patient, you’d expect whoever that is attending to you to be taking utmost care of you. For the doctors and nurses, they look at you at a totally different way. You are just another patient.

So how do you deal with that?
We deal with cars every day. So knowing what a car means for our customers in Singapore, it being so expensive, is important. Because of this, we treat each and every car as if it were our own.

What is the trickiest problem to fix?
Noise perception, because it is very personal. Perception of the position of sound source differs if you sit in the driver’s seat as opposed to the passenger’s. This is why we have very specific procedures and equipment when it comes to diagnosing it.

What are the risks of going to an unauthorised mechanic?
This is a simple question with no easy answer. The thing is for many different aspects, the knowledge that we need to fix the cars comes only from the Manufacturer.

Could you elaborate?
For example, each model has an electrical diagram for us to trace all of the electrical functions. If you look at the electronic fuel injection of a car ten years ago, you had one diagram on one page. Take the C4 Picasso again, it has seven pages of diagrams. All of this information costs money and comes directly from the Manufacturer. Most external workshops aren’t willing to spend, and sometimes get fraudulent diagnosis systems from China that don’t work.

What are the consequences of going to an external workshop?
We had a car yesterday that we only managed to finish fixing at about 9pm. This was because the owner had brought the car to an external workshop after their warranty had expired. By the time the car got to us, it was a complete disaster.

How do customers show their gratitude?
They send us complimentary letters, Christmas cards, cakes and drinks. Something that doesn’t happen back home in France. Singaporeans are quick to criticise because their expectations are very high, but they are also fast to compliment.

What is the one thing you can do to keep your car in good shape?
You have to maintain your car by regularly servicing it, meaning it should be serviced every 10,000km. This is especially true in Singapore where high temperatures and humidity can easily damage parts in a car, like the timing belt. Keeping your car in good shape can also improve its resale value among other things.