Auto Service World
News   April 29, 2021   by Allan Haberman

How to choose the right scan tool for you and your shop

This article first appeared in the January/February issue of CARS magazine. Click HERE to access the digital version.

Scan tools no longer require a complete software overhaul to effectively diagnose a vehicle.

When smart technology came to market, scan tools moved away from hardware-based models in favour of tools that support a software bundle. With the introduction of OBD II, for example, the need to swap software and change cables from one vehicle to the next was eliminated. Eventually, we started to see a shift that moved away from hardware to software-based scan tools.

Scan tool manufacturers began adding more features, and many aftermarket scan tools now offer near factory-level functionality. However, even the best scan tool can’t do everything, and many independent shops use multiple scan tools to perform specific functions. Still, sometimes the only tool that will do the job is the factory scan tool.

Subscription-based services are on the rise

Just like the aftermarket tools, factory scan tools have evolved, and many vehicle manufacturers offer subscription-based versions of their scan tools that are compatible with J2534 pass through devices. Now, technicians can use the same universal J2534 device that is currently used to reprogram modules to also access factory level scan tools in independent shops. Many of them are available with short-term subscriptions, and if shops already have access to a compatible J2534 pass through, the cost is very reasonable. Some vehicle manufacturers have shifted from downloadable software that can be stored on a PC or tablet to Cloud-based software that requires an active internet connection as well as a subscription for the scan tool to function.

For example, the wiTECH 2.0 scan tool used by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles requires an active internet connection as well as a current wiTECH 2.0 subscription for the tool to work. An interface device, either a microPod II, the factory VCI (Vehicle Communication Interface) or an approved J2534 device is also required. An account and a password are required for authentication to access the software. The scan tool can only be accessed via a live internet connection, so any vehicle road tests will also require a mobile device with internet access. As securing on-vehicle data becomes a growing concern, all manufacturers are implementing changes to systems that could be used to access vehicle networks. With the addition of infotainment systems as well as internet access to vehicles, it is critical to isolate vehicle onboard networks from outside sources.

Using cloud-based tools

The use of cloud-based scan tools is one way to reduce the risk of unauthorized access to critical onboard systems, and as manufacturers add more and more electronic features to their vehicles, new networks also need to be added to accommodate the increased data traffic. These networks also need to be faster than the current CAN network, but faster networks may also require new VCI’s to accommodate the higher data transfer rates.

Starting with the 2021 model year, FCA will be introducing a new network topology – Atlantis High architecture – on limited models. Atlantis High architecture incorporates two new protocols, CAN-FD and Ethernet (DoIP – Diagnostics over Internet Protocol). These changes necessitate the introduction of a new VCI (Vehicle Communication Interface), the MDP (Mopar Diagnostic Pod) to replace the microPod II which is not compatible with the new higher speed networks. The new MDP supports all vehicles currently supported by the microPod II as well as Atlantis High architecture vehicles. The microPod II will continue to be supported by wiTECH 2.0 and wiADVISOR and is compatible with vehicles not equipped with Atlantis High electrical architecture. Initial rollout of the MDP to North American dealers is fourth quarter of 2020.

Subscription-based diagnostics might soon grant a universal access to the onboard vehicle diagnostic system. The aftermarket scan tool will be around for a long time but as technology evolves, tool manufacturers will need to adapt to this new technology.

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