Scan tools have become a necessity for diagnosing and servicing today’s high-tech vehicles.
Today’s vehicles can have as many as 50 computers on board and 150 electrified devices and sensors. We are basically rolling around in mobile networks. Cars have far more capability today than they did even 10 years ago. When it comes to analyzing diagnostic trouble codes on late-model vehicles, you need a whole lot more than some hand tools and duct tape (although some still use this method).
Using a basic scan tool can handle a lot of initial diagnostics, and they are budget-friendly, too. But, these basic tools are just that: basic. They can tap into the OBD II port and pull generic codes, and even some OEM-specific ones for much less than a professional scan tool, but they have limited features and capabilities. These tools work great as a first step in resolving misfire codes and catalytic efficiency codes. It may lead the technician to visually inspect the problem or use a scope to look at a waveform. But testing things like body control modules or ABS modules is outside of their functional range.
More expensive tools will have added functions such as the ability to check emission-monitor statuses, freeze-frame data and faster display rates of data. And, more tools are available to reprogram or “reflash” these modules. Most independent shops today are limited by one thing more than anything else – access to OEM-level data. But that’s changing with these new scan tools that are subscription-based.
One advantage of many professional-level scan tools is the ability to access repair information online. These scan tools function like a tablet computer, allowing access to repair-specific videos, OE service information and real-world repair databases. Having the information in the shop can save technicians time, and for them, time is money.
Most OEMs have switched from using stand-alone scan tools to PC/internet-based equipment. However, some of the equipment is still pretty expensive. One tool company offers a flash tool that allows shops to reprogram modules in-house instead of sending it to the dealer. It is a subscription, but the fee can be applied per vehicle, so shops only pay for what they need.
One shop owner said he was shipping cars to the dealer regularly and had to wait for days to have a module reflashed. A tool that allows a shop to do it saves them time and money. This tool also comes with technical support that the shop didn’t have before. If the shop has a problem flashing a car or the flash doesn’t work for some reason, tech support can plug in and see what’s going on and offer solutions.
With the complexity of vehicles increasing by the day it seems, the aftermarket is at a crossroads. Shops not only need the right tools but also the right data – and knowledge of how to use the tools (and the data). Today’s vehicles are changing from mechanically
driven to software-controlled electronic devices, and the electrification of cars is encouraging manufacturers to increase the number of electronic components to meet regulatory and consumer demands. CM