Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2010   by David Halpert, Assistant Editor, With files from Tom Venetis, Editor

In Good Repair

Diagnosing the Scan Tool Market

The diagnostic scan tool is without a doubt one of the single most important pieces of equipment in any given shop. Long gone are the days when the only electronic component in a vehicle was the radio in the dashboard. Today’s vehicles are internally complex and the number of onboard computer systems operating everything from the firing of the sparkplugs to operating the door locks is mind-boggling.

OBD-II ushered in a new era of standardization when it comes to on-board diagnostics, and now nearly fifteen years after its introduction — as OBD-II applies to vehicle models made after 1996 in the U.S. — an entire equipment market has sprung up to help technicians with arguably the most important aspect of a repair: the diagnosis of the many trouble codes ODB-II produces.

The trend over the last several years by diagnostic tool makers is to make the myriad of codes a vehicle produces simple to understand and quickly point to the problem with the vehicle.

Simplicity, Faster Access

In 2008, OTC Tools released its Pegisys Wireless Automotive Scan Tool. The device is capable of reading and clearing codes on domestic, Asian and European vehicles. It features include communicating with the vehicle wirelessly through its AirBridge Wi-fi technology, accessing training and repair information (either through the Internet or some other subscription-based service), a touch-screen interface, an integrated high-speed scope and the ability to reflash a vehicle’s ECM.

“What the Pegisys does is put a multimedia device in the hands of the technician. Meaning that apart from reading codes and clearing codes, and providing repair information, this Pegisys essentially is a ruggedized computer,” says John Mills, national technical trainer for SPX Canada Inc. “It also has audio capabilities, stereo speakers as well as earphones and microphones jacks on the tool. Most shops have access to computers but by developing the Pegisys it puts [the computer] right there on the tool for the technician. Through wireless communication the technician can access the information right on the tool without having to go to another computer elsewhere in the shop.”

Wireless capabilities are becoming a key feature in most new diagnostic tools for an obvious reason: technicians work best when they can access information quickly wherever they are. Being tethered to a standalone PC or laptop plugged into an Ethernet connection means valuable time is lost as the technician moves back and forth from the vehicle to the computer. As well, the tools also utilizes multimedia capabilities for getting technical information and training to technicians faster, thereby speeding up the vehicle diagnosis and repair.

Simplification of complex diagnostic data is behind Bosch’s KTS 670 scan tool, launched at the 2009 AAPEX show. The KTS 670 is a successor to the company’s KT 650. Using a tablet design for ease-of-use with a touch screen interface, the KTS 670 includes a dual-channel multimetre that allows a technician to check two oxygen sensors are at once and a dual-channel multiplexer for better control of the diagnostic oscilloscope which facilitates analysis of the signals on the communications lines to the control unit. As well the dual-channel multiplexer supports all combinations of diagnostic interfaces, such as K/L Line, SAE and CAN varieties, and the tool makes things even simpler by automatically detecting the control unit and reading out to the technician the actual data, fault memory and control unit-specific data. The KTS 670 can also be networked with other diagnostic testing tool through its LAN/WLAN connection and speeds up diagnostic work through the improved ESI diagnostic and information platform.

“The goal is to get the car in the shop, repair it and charge for the service,” says Charles Gonwa with the Bosch Diagnostic Business Unit. “The ability to do scripted-testing of individual systems and their components has streamlined diagnosing. The ability of the tool to ID the vehicle properly and thus retrieve the correct diagnosis software has helped.”

To further speed up and simplify the diagnostic process for technicians, Bosch also announced at AAPEX 2009 that Bosch and AllData adopted the iShop3 standard for the Bosch Shop Foreman Pro portal. Under the moniker “Enhanced Diagnostics Solutions,” the system allows technicians to use a vehicle’s DTCs to automatically get repair information from AllData Repair and then incorporate this information into Shop Foreman Pro. The benefit in this seamless integration of service information into diagnostic tools is faster access to service information, which means having to turn away fewer vehicles because of a tricky diagnosis or unusual trouble code.

“If the shop continues to pass on repair jobs because they do not have the proper means to diagnose complex vehicle systems, the might as well close shop,” adds Gonwa. “Knowledgeable technicians plus the proper tools equals profits.”

Specialization, New Revenue Opportunities

While functionality, access to information and simplicy will play into a shop owner’s decision on which scan tool to invest in, an owner’s choice of scan tool will still be based on the majority of vehicles they work on in their shop. If the shop works on all makes, all models, then the tool will obviously have to work on a wide range of vehicle. However, a service centre looking to expand the type of vehicles they service or to specializes in Asian or European vehicle repairs exclusively will lean towards specialized diagnostic scan tool.

It has to be remembered that OBD-II only applies to domestic vehicle nameplates, mainly the Big Three. Much of the standards for North American vehicles (fault codes, diagnostic test modes, operating standards for scan tools, etc.) are set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Cars manufactured in Europe, however, follow EOBD (or Europe On-Board Diagnostic), a comparable, albeit different, version to OBD-II that has been in effect since model year 2003 for diesel vehicles and 2001 for gasoline vehicles.

But it isn’t so much a difference in standards that deters shop owners from working on foreign nameplate vehicles so much as it is having access to information from European vehicles during the diagnostic phase of a repair.

“The simplest thing to talk about is the mindset of the manufacturer. North American manufacturers are more open with information to the technicians in the aftermarket. For instance, when they go and bring the information out the OBD-II ports, the U.S. government requires certain criteria are met,” says Bruce Ruhf, director of operations and market- ing for Ross-Tech, “Ford, Chrysler, and GM say ‘We can add a lot more information out of OBD-II.’ Basically, they want to supply more information to the technicians.

“The European manufacturers take a very different approach. They say, ‘The law says I must provide this, and that’s all we’re going to do and everything else is proprietary to us.’ So the big difference between North American versus Europe is that the Europeans are much tighter with their information and they hold their information [more so] than the Big Three.”

So what does this mean for the technician? In simple terms, a generic OBD-II scan tool when hooked up to a European car may present no fault codes, but the car still runs poorly.

Ruhf illustrates the following example with Ross-Tech’s VAG.Com Diagnostic System (VCDS) that specializes in Volkswagen and Audi models: a fuel pump relay has been pulled from a 2001 Audi TT producing a no-start condition in the car. If you were to run a generic OBD-II scanner on that car you’ll likely get zero faults. However, since the car’s not running it reports to the scan tool that the problem is not emissions related and therefore, there’s no report on OBD- II. Hook up a factory scan tool specific to that vehicle make, and you’ll get 15 faults in the car.

So specialized tools have an advantage for shops whi
ch is why Ross-Tech’s tools works on Volkswagen and Audi vehicles manufactured from 1990 to 2010 and can access those codes that will be missed by generic scan tools. The same goes for Autologic US’s own scan tool, which is made to work with such European vehicles as BMW, Volvo, Land Rover and Mercedes Benz and provide greater depth of information for a range of specialized diagnostic codes unique to these foreign nameplate vehicles. An added feature of the company’s’ tool is regular software updates that can be customized to meet specific technician requests.

“Let’s say a technician is working on a Mercedes Benz and the seat weighing sensing device needs to be calibrated on the passenger side, and it is on a 2009 or 2010 vehicle and it is not on your tool yet,” says Gary Deluca, president and CEO of Autlogic US. “We will work with our engineering group to add that functionality and download that update. The updates are made two or three times a day.”

Deluca adds working on all makes, all models are becom- ing more difficult because of the increasing number of tools needed to diagnose and repair vehicles. Specialization offers an opportunity to not only to reduce the number of diagnos- tic tools needed, but to charge for such specialized service. So having the right specialized tool can be a profit centre, one that can pay handsomely over the long-run. SSGM



Bosch Diagnostics

OTC Tools, A Division of SPX



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