Auto Service World
News   March 28, 2022   by Adam Malik

Taking a closer look at car scanners

A look at the future of scan tools and what challenges technicians can expect to face

The world of car scanners keeps changing as the technologies used in cars get more advanced with the addition of new electrical components and computerized functions.

There’s a need to examine how the use of vehicle scan tools has evolved and the direction that the industry is heading. So we’ll take a look at the functionality and application of car scanners below.

Furthermore, with a change in the industry comes certain challenges that have to be dealt with. We’ll also take a look at those and how the industry can adapt to them.

Functionality and application

How does an expert choose which car scanner to equip their workshop with? Will it be the generic OBD-II (OBD2) type, the aftermarket multi-line scan type or one from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM)?

Your decision will be based on the type and range of repair and maintenance services you offer — including the product’s affordability. Your choice needs to be matched with the functionalities the product can provide. It would be a waste of money to buy an expensive tool that offers a wide range of functions you won’t ever need.

It’s advisable to go for the ones that are frequently updated and are compatible with the type (brand) of cars you service. Of course, OEM scanners give the most advantages, especially in areas such as regular updates and re-flashing modules.

There’s a pressing need for sophisticated scan tools that can help in rendering most repair and maintenance services, especially collision repairs. Auto technicians can integrate more diagnostic capabilities by equipping their workshops with the latest scanners. Techs can also decide to purchase more than one product — one making up for the inadequacies of the other.

The importance of OBD2 ports in electric cars has decreased significantly because OBD2 diagnostic data isn’t necessary for most repair and maintenance work done on such vehicles.

Car scanners in the future

What should we expect in the future from car scanners? There are plans in the works for OBD3 (OBD-III) to be introduced. The system will make use of telemetry — the collection of data through sensors — to incorporate more functionality such as two-way communications during remote diagnosis. OBD2 scanners will become less useful by the time this system is widely implemented.

There’s also the embedded diagnostic method which facilitates smooth communication with electronic control unit (ECU) networks. The system enables guided/remote diagnostics and predictive/preventive maintenance.

Embedded vehicle diagnostics can be of benefit to OEMs in the sense that there’ll be a decrease in no-trouble-found (NTF) backed warranty claims as well as expenses related to car recalls. It will be an advantage to mechanics who are looking to reduce service expenses and duration, boost fix-first-visit ratios, enhance efficiency, increase productivity and promote customer satisfaction.

The importance of OBD2 ports in electric cars has decreased significantly because OBD2 diagnostic data isn’t necessary for most repair and maintenance work done on such vehicles. Even some electric car makers have permanently removed OBD ports from their products.

OBD ports may only become useful in the world of EVs in instances like a regulatory body conducting an emissions standards test or an assessment of a client by an insurance company.

Aftermarket scan tool manufacturers are seeking to provide full-range remote diagnostic services. Many car makers are offering subscription-based versions of their scanners with J2534 pass-thru device compatibility.


Challenges and how to tackle them

The advancement of modern car systems to become more computerized means that auto technicians will find them more complex to handle in terms of diagnostics. Let’s not forget the addition of more control modules. It will be a continuous task for aftermarket scan tool providers to match the sophistication levels of various diagnostic systems.

While car scanners are some of the most essential equipment that technicians have in their workshops, they’re often not utilized to their complete potential. Aftermarket and OEM scan tool brands need to find a way to regularly educate and train technicians on the use of their scanners.

Take, for example, tech-service bulletins. Seamless feedback or a two-way (bi-directional) communication channel should also be made available to repairers.

Technicians can also form a network where knowledge is shared, such as the iATN (International Automotive Technicians Network).

The intuitiveness of scan tool interfaces needs to be enhanced for auto technicians to understand them better and to go through each scanning process with ease. What about the standardization of user experience so that the diagnostic protocol can be the same regardless of the vehicle the scanner is connected to? This will make things far less complicated for the expert.

Tools can be connected to the internet for faults to be researched, and compatible mobile or PC apps related to vehicle diagnosis should be developed. Crowd-sourced diagnostics and analyses of repair orders should be made available with the aid of proprietary CANs (controller area networks). There can be as many as multi-millions of reports in an ever-growing database.

The use of conventional diagnostic tools by technicians means that scans need to be conducted while being physically present with the vehicle. This makes repair and maintenance periods longer, work expenses higher and customer satisfaction lower. However, the use of remote diagnostic tools will pave the way for an easier, faster, better, more robust and convenient service delivery by the technician.

Security breaches are also a problem that industry stakeholders are concerned about. The utilization of cloud-based car scanners will help protect analytic onboard systems from hackers.

Final thoughts

There could be a time when most cars will have remote diagnostic systems that are supported by cloud-based technology. Carmakers will try to offer all the necessary scanning functionality with such setups. Vehicle owners will only need to subscribe to the remote diagnostic services of manufacturers to get unlimited access to OBDs. Such could be the case instead of buying aftermarket car scanners.

The presence of display screens in each vehicle will make the system more useful and effective. Auto technicians and tech providers will have to move with the trend as quickly as they can adapt.


Tim Miller is an auto mechanic and the editor-in-chief at


This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of CARS.

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