Auto Service World
News   July 28, 2010   by CARS Magazine

Are you getting the most out of your scan tool (July 28, 2010)

While the scan tool is one of the most important and powerful of the tools that a technician has in his or her...

While the scan tool is one of the most important and powerful of the tools that a technician has in his or her arsenal, it is often, sadly, the one that is not used to it fullest potential.

Now, with any kind of general or sweeping statement, such as the one just made, there are caveats. Getting the most out of a scan tool comes down to the comfort level of the technician with the tool, the training they have had and how easy the tool makes it to get at the necessary vehicle information.

Meet all three of those requirements and you have a shop and a technician that is getting the most out of an expensive equipment investment; and helping customers receive the highest quality of care and service for their vehicles, all the while generating valuable revenue.

Miss those key points and you have a tool that is not being used to its full potential and a technician who grows increasingly frustrated with the job and the tool at hand.

Training and information

The greatest hurdle a technician has to deal with today is the complexity of vehicle electronics and what information can be had from the ever-increasing number of computer systems and control modules.

“There are systems today that have never appeared in cars before,” says Darryl Scott, division supervisor with Versatile Automotive Diagnostics. “Today you have navigation systems, TPMS and functions such as headlamps that will aim themselves when the vehicle is making a turn; and many systems now are coming under computer control that once were manually controlled. It is becoming even trickier now to understand all the complex voltages used and the numerous fuses and their placements. Simply, there is a very steep learning curve with today’s vehicles because of all the electronics and computer-based systems onboard.”

“Even for basic maintenance tasks, like changing the brakes, a technician will need for some vehicles the support of a scan tool to release the brakes,” says Ruediger Hirschmann, senior product manager, regional business unit, diagnostics, for Bosch. “With more and more computerized systems in a vehicle, the modern vehicle is indeed becoming more of a computer on wheels, and enhanced diagnostic functions are needed in order to perform a repair or maintenance.”

For a technician, this means the scan tool resting comfortably in their hands or mounted on a table has also become more complex. That tool now pulls out an ever growing amount of critical data, fault codes and mechanical and computer system information that has to be sorted through and understood. Sometimes, however, just getting that information can be challenging. This is where training comes in.

Makers of scan tools insist technicians take the time to get some training on the tools in order to understand how to best use them, and more importantly, how to extract the needed data from the vehicle using the tool. Sometimes it is not obvious, at first glance, what the tool can do and what information it can pull out of the vehicle.

This is especially important with tools that are made to work with foreign nameplate vehicles.

Bruce Ruhf, director of operations and marketing with Ross-Tech, makers of the VAG-COM system for Volkswagen and Audi vehicles, says some technicians forget that while North American vehicle makers do make a lot of information available through common ODB II scan tools, using those same scan tools on a Volkswagen or Audi will not give them all the information they will need to successfully find and fix a vehicle problem.

The problem lies in the fact, Ruhf says, in how technicians are trained. Many have been trained on using standard ODB II scan tools whenever there is an ODB II problem, so they naturally gravitate to the ones used on GM, Ford and Chrysler vehicles. The solution is that they need to be trained on knowing how to use the right tool for the specific vehicle at hand and how to get the tool to give them the information they are looking for; and, more importantly, for companies to be available to give guidance and answers to technician’s questions.

“We are a VW-certified service centre and we have access to (VW’s) tools; and because of their tools, we have access to such things as tech-service bulletins and all kinds of stuff that would normally go along with being a factory-authorized service centre,” Ruhf adds. “By taking that information and gleaning what we can, we can find a solution and publish it for technicians.”

Bosch has in place a range of training mechanism and information for technician to get a handle on the capabilities of their scan tools, and to have questions answered. Bosch currently offers training clinics for its various scan tools and videos. In fact, technician using the Bosch KTS 200 and the new KTS 340 scan tools can go to with or for online training on the tools and to have specific questions answered.

Making things intuitive

To make things easier for a technician, almost all scan tool makers have taken a page from designers working on consumer-based software: they are making their interfaces more intuitive.

It is not as straight-forward as it sounds and it requires a lot of careful thinking about how technicians do their jobs and spending time getting input from technician as what information they need and how they can get at it easily. When done successfully, the diagnostic tool being held becomes an invaluable resource.

Bosch’s Hirschmann points to the KTS 340 as an example of designing a tool to be more intuitive. The interface is made to eliminate the problem of some older scan tool interfaces where the technician was forced to jump through ever more complicated menus to reach the information needed.

As well, the tool was specifically designed for the North American aftermarket, taking into account that technician on this side of the pond take the VIN number as their first step of any diagnosis.

“The very first step in diagnosing a vehicle problem is the identification of the vehicle with the scan tool,” says Hirschmann. “Due to the variety of makes and models this can be a very time-consuming. The Automatic VIN Identification allows (the technician) to identify the vehicle with one click (and) without ‘jumping’ through complicated selections. Even our Module check allows the technician to scan the vehicle network and generate a list of all in-built systems.”

Ross-Tech’s Ruhf says in today’s vehicles, the most critical information is the ‘live’ data. His company’s scan tool is designed to pull out that ‘live’ data right away so the technician does not have to spend time searching for that data and slowing down the diagnostic and repair process.

“Another important piece of information needed right away is the ‘freeze frame’ data form the control modules,” Ruhf adds. “Those modules can tell you at what mileage a fault occurred and what is going on at that moment. That is incredibly helpful.”

John Mills, Canadian national technical trainer for SPX Corp./OTC says the company’s popular Genisys and Pegisys scan tools operate under what Mills calls a “Code-to-Fix” schema whereby the tool is able to pull all the codes a vehicle either through an Automated Systems Test or an All Systems Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) test.

“If a technician want to look at all of the codes in a vehicle, they can do an All systems DTC scan while the Automates Systems Test looks at the codes from the different modules on a vehicle, including calibration IDs and provides an accurate snap-shot of the engine data.”

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