What to Look For When Buying a Scope

What to Look For When Buying a Scope

If you're in the market for a new scope, Underhood Service Editor Andrew Markel has provided his recommendations on how you can get the most bang for your diagnostic dollar.

A scope is by definition just a meter that can plot the information on a graph. But, today’s scopes are so much more. Faster processors, better software and new sensors are allowing scopes to capture more detailed patterns and they can help you to interpret them.
If you’re in the market for a scope, it can be confusing. A full-feature scope with all the accessories can cost more than a scan tool. To get the most bang for your diagnostic dollar, here are six items you should look for when buying a new scope.

1. Automotive Scopes Only
This tip is for the newbies. It’s easy to find a single-channel scope for less than $200. These are not designed for automotive technicians. Cheap generic scopes have very low sample rates and can’t buffer enough information for faster waveforms like serial data bus circuits. Also, the refresh rate of some cheap scopes can leave you looking at a blank screen when there actually is a lot of activity.
Some automotive scopes have a “glitch snare” function that can capture waveforms to expose abnormal signal patterns.  

2. Look at the Manual Online
Many scope manufacturers have the manuals for their scopes available online in PDF format. This is very valuable for evaluating if a scope will meet your needs. If a manual is not good, chances are the scope will not be good.

3. Automated Tests
Some scopes have built-in testing modes for primary ignition circuits, cylinder balance and alternator signal patterns. These special modes can guide you through the correct connection, leads and what procedures to perform on the vehicle. These can be a real time-saver and help you to perform a more accurate diagnosis.

4. Bundles
Many dedicated scan tools offer a scope as an option. Many of these ­simply plug into the scan tool or slide into a slot as a module. Some new scan tools interface with the scope module via Bluetooth. Ask your scan tool provider what they offer for a companion scope.

5. Computer Connection
One of the most valuable features on diagnostic tools is the capturing and sharing of information. Being able to transfer waveforms from the tool to a computer allows you to build a waveform library and share online to analyze the information.
A computer connection can also be used to update the firmware of the scope. This can increase the functionality of the tool during its entire life.

6. Online Support
Before you buy a scope, visit the manufacturer’s website to see what support they offer for users. Some manufacturers offer reference libraries of waveforms and user forums to interact with other users. Using these features can help you get the most of your new scope. 

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