Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2009   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Diagnostic Tools Get Savvier, Communicative

Wireless connectivity allow for technicians to get information faster, open up new revenue opportunities

What is the most important tool in a technician’s arsenal? If you say it is the scan tool, then you are right. Because vehicles are relying on an ever-growing number of computer systems, sensors and electronic devices to run even the most mundane of operations, diagnostic scan tools are a must for successful maintenance and vehicle repairs. Similarly, diagnostic scan tools, if used correctly, also provide a way for independents to generate new revenue by giving technicians a wider array of maintenance and repair work through the greater, more detailed information these tools are able to provide.

Welcome to the wired world

When technicians and shop owners arrive for work each day, they are carrying with them a variety of wireless devices: cellular phones, Blackberries, laptops, etc. Wireless connectivity is essential to getting on with one’s workday. Try to imagine for a moment working without a cell phone or sitting in a caf unable to access your Blackberry or laptop? Twiddling one’s thumbs now takes on a new meaning.

John Mills, national technical trainer for SPX Solutions, says diagnostic tool makers are meeting this need for constant connectivity by building wireless connectivity into their newest lines of diagnostic scan tools.

Take the Pegisys scan tool for example. It comes with what the company calls the “At the Fender” feature allowing a technician to use the tool’s Air- Bridge wireless technology to connect to OTC’s Direct-Hit Technician by Identifix to find diagnostic information for the vehicle being worked on. The wireless technology also lets the technician communicate with the vehicle’s electronics more easily through a Vehicle Communications Interface (VCI), which pulls the necessary information they need to track down problems and relates that information to technical bulletins, wiring diagrams and archives of repair information.

“We are trying to make the technician as efficient as possible while working on the vehicle,” says Mills. “Through the tool’s wireless connectivity, the technician has access to all this information.”

One thing technicians are finding critical to have access to today is the ECM of the vehicle for reflashing.

Chuck Gonwa, senior product manager, diagnostic business unit with Robert Bosch, says flash reprogramming is becoming more critical for vehicle maintenance and a revenue generator for shops that have the ability to do the work. Recently Bosch announced two new additions to its group of J2534 reprogramming tools, the Flasher Pro and the Flasher LT.

“Since it is understood that new vehicles may have drivability issues due to ECM and PCM calibration deficiencies, J2534 reflashing capability is a must to have for shops,” he says. “As more and more of OEM calibration upgrades become available, technicians with TSB library access, J2534 tools and Internet access are in a better position to correct these drivability issues and to be profitable doing so. The return on investment for the shop is attractive as well.”

Another profit centre that shops can tap into with the right diagnostic tool is the growing popularity of hybrid vehicles. These require specialized tools and have a variety of challenges for technicians in charge of their servicing.

“The primary challenge with hybrid vehicles is the extremely high voltage, sometimes as much as 600 volts, which can really do a number on any technician who doesn’t take precautions to protect themselves,” says Gonwa. “And it can wreck your test equipment if improperly used.”

The MMD 540H (Hybrid Multimeter) is made to safely handle that electrical issue, coming with proper test leads and RPM clamps, and using internal fuses and thermistors to protect the meter and the technician against overloads and wrong voltages in different modes. Often technicians will mistakenly try to measure voltage while the test leads are in the current terminals.

“In most cases, internal fuses will prevent damage, but not always,” says Timothy Stumpff, product manager, diagnostic business unit with Robert Bosch. “You must hook it up to the hybrid vehicle using only CAT III 1000V test leads. If you don’t have these test leads, you cannot work on the hybrid electronics safely.”

Once hooked-up correctly the MMD 540H can measure not only amperage, voltage and resistance, it can also measure capacitance, frequency, continuity and dwell, as well as diode checks, duty cycles and pulse width.

No One-Size-Fits-All Scan Tool

Just as there does not exist a single universal hand tool – one that can take out screws, bolts, cut metal, etc. – there is no single scan tool that can do everything or provide every kind of information for every situation, make and class of vehicle, foreign or domestic.

Bruce Ruhf, director of operations with Ross-Tech LLC, producers of the popular VAG-COM diagnostic scan tool (recently renamed VCDS), says technicians often find standard OBD II scan tools sometimes cannot get all the information they need when dealing with foreign nameplate vehicles. Domestic vehicles are required to report everything the engine is doing related to emissions and performance to a diagnostic scan tool; that is not the case with many European vehicles.

“The problem with OBD II standards is that they do not necessarily point to all the problems that can exist in the powertrain,” Ruhf says. “OBD II says that anything that can affect the tailpipe emissions has to be reported. If you went to Ford, Chrysler or GM under the OBD II standard, they will report everything with the engine. The Europeans will not do that. They will only give the absolute minimum that they are required by law to report.”

So what will often happen is a technician will hook up their OBD II tool to a European nameplate vehicle with drivability problems and the scan tool will say there are no problems, because it can’t pull the needed information. That is why Ruhf says shops need to look at the kinds of vehicles they regularly repair and invest in a set of diagnostic scan tools that cover that range of vehicles to give technicians the information they need. A shop must never rely on one set of tools.

His company’s scan tool is made to work on a range of European vehicles and it recently released a beta version of its upcoming software for the VCDS (,which has a range of new features and functions.



SPX Solutions

Robert Bosch


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