Lab scopes open a window of opportunity for sensor testing

When electronic engine controls first emerged on a large scale in the early '80s, some saw the new technology merely as a passing fad.

Which scope is best for your needs? Everyone has different needs, so that's a question you'll eventually have to answer on your own through some careful guidance. Of course, your financial resources will also play a major role in your buying decision.

Don't be hasty and buy the first thing that comes along. Talk with as many manufacturer's reps as possible and ask a barrage of questions. Then, get as much hands-on time with different scopes, and note your likes and dislikes.

If possible, take a class at a local technical college on using a lab scope.

The question often arises about whether to choose a single- or two-channel (sometimes called dual-trace) scope. Though a single-channel scope will do the trick in many cases, a two-channel does have some advantages. You can compare two signals and compare their timing to make sure that events are properly synchronized. You can also use a two-channel scope to check cause-and-effect relationships, like checking the input signal to a certain component and seeing if it makes the proper response.

Though a 10-mHz scope is fast enough for automotive testing, manufacturers sometimes include other features with their faster scopes. It's like ordering air conditioning on a new car and getting tinted glass with the package. Don't shop for the sake of speed alone.

Make sure the manufacturer recommends and stands behind a given scope in the arena of automotive testing. Since there's a lot more radio frequency interference (RFI) present in your shop than in a laboratory environment, the right scope will need some healthy shielding.

Finally, make your decision on the information you've gathered and your experience. In the long run, you'll be happy you waited.

The real beauty of the lab scope is that it brings all cars — regardless of make, model and system — down to a common denominator.

A lab scope also needs no application- or system-specific software. And, since you're looking at signals in their native form, a lab scope won't become obsolete in the foreseeable future.

See more about lab scopes in Diagnstic Review.

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