Scan Tools And Scopes: Diagnostic Needs

Scan Tools And Scopes: Diagnostic Needs

With some enhanced scan tools, it feels like I am opening Pandora’s box (or module) in some cases. The newer the car, the bigger the box of codes, PIDs and bi-directional tests. The difference in just a decade is staggering when you compare a 2005 model to one from 2015. Being an undercar specialist, you realize just how critical the right scan tool can be because most cheap OBD-II tools do not communicate with ABS, steering sensors and air suspension modules.

Andrew MarkelThese past two months, I have been trying out a lot of new scan tools while trying to get better with my scope. I am quickly realizing how fast things are changing with tools, vehicles and diagnostics.

With some enhanced scan tools, it feels like I am opening Pandora’s box (or module) in some cases. The newer the car, the bigger the box of codes, PIDs and bi-directional tests. The difference in just a decade is staggering when you compare a 2005 model to one from 2015.

Being an undercar specialist, you realize just how critical the right scan tool can be because most cheap OBD-II tools do not communicate with ABS, steering sensors and air suspension modules.

scan-tool-scope-diagnostics-1Scan Tools

What really amazes me is the ability of some scan tools to perform bi-directional tests and the number of PIDs that can be monitored. Activation tests could be as simple as checking that the windshield washer pump is working or as complex as checking the activation of the ABS pump.

Codes and PIDs are getting even more complex. On a 2014 GMC Acadia, the amount of data for the HVAC system was almost overwhelming. Most of these proprietary codes that are stored will not set off a check engine light, but they can cause a failsafe mode for a few key cycles. This information can be used for diagnostics or by engineers to monitor the system in the field using telematics.

scan-tool-scope-diagnostics-2Scope Skills

In theory, all scopes operate the same: voltage graphed against time. But, scopes have become more intuitive and faster. Even a cheap one-channel DSO scope can capture a misbehaving waveform quickly with automated triggers and sensor presets. Some new four-channel scopes can help to observe phenomena that was impossible to see before such as the different outputs of a three-wheel steering position sensor.

If you do not have the right scan tool, a scope might be the only way to diagnose an issue with a vehicle (providing you can find a decent “known-good” waveform). But the one skill I am having to use a scope and multi-meter for is on ABS, BCM and ECM communication codes. Being able to verify the condition of a serial data bus and the wiring going to a component is starting to become the new battery voltage check.

The Future

Scopes and scan tools are powered by voltage, but they operate on information and knowledge. Information and knowledge require money and time in the form of subscriptions and training.

Being able to charge and profit from performing diagnostics will be the key to survival over the next five years. This will require a shift in thinking in the bays and the front counter. In the past, the main product was the repair (parts and labor). In the future, it might just be the diagnosis that accounts for a lot of your revenue and profit. Your shop is also not a charity for diagnostic time. If a shop is not able to sell diagnostic time, it will be the slow death of your business. Why? Because every time you send a vehicle to the dealership, you swap parts instead of performing proper diagnostics, or an older vehicle is retired, a little bit of your business dies, never to return.

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