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If you're in the market for a new scanner, read this first.

Over the years I had been hearing the stories of shops having multiple scanners, the highest

so far has been 12 (can you believe it?). Personally, I wrote it off as someone just wanting the latest and greatest on their shelves much like someone collecting Elvis Presley memorabilia. Go for it, if that floats your boat.

Like many of us, I cut my teeth, back in the 80's, on the Snap On 'brick', collecting codes and viewing numerical sensor data. Sometimes swapping out a sensor made me a hero but too many times I found myself tracing circuits and trying to determine if what I was seeing was a result or a cause and the volt meter certainly wasn't going to tell me. I spent many an hour in classrooms learning electronics, wave form analysis and digital 'whatchamacallits' to try and get ahead of this new technology because electronic fuel injection was not going away.

Oh, here's an interesting side note; During one class, the head trainer for GM was saying how busy he was because most all the dealers were sending their techs to the course because diagnostic times were way too long, 1 to 2 hrs. but were seriously disappointed when the diagnostic times climbed to 2 to 4 hrs after the course. Apparently they were now armed with more sensitive equipment and had the knowledge to use them and everything was tested. The problem now was too much information, noisy signals and small hiccups in wave forms sending them on wild goose chases.

I guess too much of a good thing is not a good thing.

 

Turning the page ahead ten years we saw the government step in and mandate OBDII for all vehicles sold in North America and we thought this was great; One easy to find connector and all available data in one location.

It didn't take long for us to find out that our existing scan tools couldn't (or wouldn't) make use of all the information available. If you worked at a dealer, the factory tool was your saving grace, but in the aftermarket, it was a totally different story. 

The tool companies were teasing us with newer and better features promising more functions on the "next update" or better still, the newer model of hardware. It's no wonder some shops were going 'underground' to acquire factory scan tools.

For many of us, buying multiple tools for different jobs and different models was just not an acceptable way to maintain profits, especially in smaller communities. So, using what we got and honing our diagnostic skills seemed to be the best course of action and when things really got rough, we could always refer them to a dealer.

Then the vehicles really started to get complicated.

Not having access to the data, the inability to update software, let alone the tooling to be able to do it, or not having the information needed to diagnose a problem was no longer an option.

So, we got together and created the 'Right to Repair" movement to force the vehicle manufacturers to release their foothold on the tooling and information they were keeping for themselves.

Hooray! Now, maybe we can get to work.

Not so fast.

We still needed the aftermarket tool companies to incorporate that into the tools they were selling us and the flood gates just didn't open.

For me, I just couldn't understand; Now that it's all available, why can't we have it? It's all just software

I guess you could say that, in their defense, their hardware and their own proprietary programs that they were evolving over the years, just couldn't handle the requirements we needed but they continued promising updates and adding features to keep us semi-satisfied.

Hey, if we didn't like it we could alwways go and purchase a factory scan tool.

There were a few companies like Ease Diagnostics and Auto Enginuity that took a totally different approach. They chose to present us with the premise the data was king and by using an existing operating system software, (example; MS Windows) the development time was a lot simpler than developing thier own and since we supplied our own hardware, like a PC or laptop, all they needed to do was to translate the raw data for the operating system. This meant they supplied the software and the connecting cables and you supplied the PC.

 

Well, here we are a few years later and things are really changing. Ford, GM and Chrysler, along with many of the top tool producers, have removed the limitations of their hardware in favor of PC based systems and because the manufacturers' software is now readily available, full access to bi-directional controls and translated Mode 6 data is now common place.

This is now opening up a whole new world of possibilities that we're only beginning to realize.

Unbridled with the constraints of hardware, the developers can now focus their attention to manipulating the data to create different programs to suite our needs out in the field.

For example, Chrysler's new wiTech system gives you a graphic representation of all the modules in the vehicle, checks the health of each module, its latest programming and can update the software, all from the same touch screen.

Other companies have merged their auto repair websites with code retrival to present you with possible solutions at the same time you're viewing codes.

In addition,with the power and speed of PCs, lap-tops and tablets, testing equipment like oscilliscopes, 4, 5 and diesel gas analysers are now becoming just additional plug-in modules.

"What about the cost?"

So far, from what I've seen, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than I was expecting. But, again, it depends on the level of software, the periphials and options you want and most have removed (if they had it) the incorporated testing equipment like graphging multimeters and oscilliscopes in favor of upping the manipulation of data. In addition, since you are suppliying the PC or laptop, it further reduces the costs, although some companies like Texa and Chrysler are supplying tablets and laptops built to military specs and modified to enhance thier abilities as a scan tool.

There are additional costs (there always are). These will be in the form of maintenance fees, service contracts and program licensing. Check with each company for the details.

Some might be thinking "Hey, I've got an OBDII plug for my laptop. All I need is to get a pirated version of the software."

How many years of on-line software sales have there been? I'm pretty sure they have their security systems well in place to prevent unlicensed users. Ford, for example, needs to connect with your system every 29 days to ensure you are legal. If not, they can just turn it off. Others will check every time you turn it on. It is a wireless world.

What About the After Sales Service and Warranty Repairs?

Hmmm. Think about it, for a moment. Since most of these new systems are only supplying you the software and a plug, there's no need of a service depot because there's no hardware to repair. You are supplying your own PC, laptop or tablet. So, have a local computor store handy.

Here's a point to keep in mind; some of these might supply you with a license for only one computor. This means if that computor is out for repairs, you have nothing until it returns. Make sure you ask if there is a provision for that scenario.

I have seen where a couple of companies, that also supply the hardware, will also supply a loaner while yours is out for repairs.

If there are software glitches or required updates, it's all done on-line. Many of them automatically update themselves when they get turned on, just like Windows.

Training on how to use these new programs or someone to talk you through a particular maneuver, is another story. For that, you would look at each company on what they offer to make you satisfied.

Now, Back to the Beginning

A short while ago, the shop I'm working in was tired of spending money on one of our three scanners that was a pain to use from the get-go. So I took it upon myself to start shopping for a suitable replacement.

I knew there were a few choices out there; Snap On, OTC, Mac and a couple of PC based like Auto Enginuity and Ease Diagnostics, but what I was really after is some real-life reviews from existing users on what was good and what to stay away from. IATN and LinkedIn Groups (ASE, ASBN, Motor Age Magazine and Automotive Repair) were good places to start and in short order I started getting some answers. Then I found Mike Christopherson from JS Products R&D, a true Scan Tool and Diagnostic Guru who really opened my eyes as to what's out there along with his thoughts and personal experiences with each of the tools. Most of them I had never heard of before. So, I started doing some research on these 'new to me' tools which have been around for some time and took a fresh look at the old standby's.

I quickly realized "There's a new page of evolution happening right under our noses and we don't even have a clue."

I talked to Mike and he agreed that everyone should be made aware of the different choices that are out there and even more important, to be able to see for themselves this new evolution of diagnostic equipment that's going to take us into the future.

So, he agreed to collaborate with me in creating a catalog of all the tools we could find and fill it with information and links to give people of our industry the knowledge needed to make better buying decisions.

That new catalog is called the Diagnostic Prortal and it's free to use by all members of the ASBN Network.

(If you're not a member yet, click here to register.)

But it's not stopping there....hell no!

I'm going to build a Reviews and Rattings system so that anybody that has experience with this new phase of tooling can post their honest opinions on the ones that are great along with the ones that are not so great.

In addition, there are a lot of articles, blogs, tips and how-to's that we're going to source, sort, catalog and present to you in a special section of The Tool Room.

This is information we all need to know and it's ASBN's job of being your resource center.

 

Do you remember this?testing equipI used to have one.

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