Keeping Current

Scan tool updates are an essential purchase to keep expensive diagnostic equipment current and applicable to a shop's customer base.

With today's updates offering "more-bang-for-your-buck" and promising compatibility with more vehicles than ever before, it's essential that owners and technicians make the right decision for them.

Several professionals said that, in purchasing updates for their scan tools, they are most concerned with things like limited availability and applicability. These are areas where a jobber needs to know what he's selling, as the more he can offer in terms of service after the sale is sure to go a long way.

Whenever Chuck Svitak, owner of AutoTech in Boca Raton, Fla., finds himself in the market for new updates, it's because he's "trying to stay up with what [he has] coming through the door.

"I've updated two of my tools just within the past month," said Svitak. "With the OTC Genisys, I updated both the Euro and the Asian coverage. And then, in my [other] scanner, it's basically just one update for everything that you happen to have in the machine, which would have been Euro, Asian and domestic.

"I buy more than I should to be honest with you," Svitak said. "I know a lot of guys out there who'll let their scanner go two to three years … and with the money they've saved along the way, they don't care what it's going to cost them when they have to do it again. That's just another way of looking at it."

Because scan tools can be a pricey investment, and also because the technology behind them is constantly changing, it's no wonder that buyers keep an eye out for the best deal — and wisest choice — for their needs.

"I would like in spending my money for updates, spending no more than $4,500 or less, keeping in mind [updates] are constantly changing," said Bruce Lunsford, a technician and instructor in Mooresville, N.C., who uses a variety of testers.

"I usually use the Genisys as my first choice," said Lunsford, "because it fits most applications. When you start to get dealer-specific, some features are only available on the factory updates, and certain diagnostic areas are in aftermarket tools."

Svitak admits he looks for "as close to OE-level software as you can get." One of the reasons he updated his Genisys European, was to gain access to a specific Volvo model.

"After I had spent 500-some dollars for the update," said Svitak, "it turned out that that particular Volvo was not part of the information that Volvo had released to OTC, so even after spending the money I couldn't run the test.

"But at the same token, I was able to get information out of the vehicle to give to OTC so that they could then give that to Volvo and say, 'Hey guys, we need that information.' A lot of the time, when there's stuff in a vehicle that is not accessible in a scan tool, they don't know it. Also, there are certain nuances on some vehicles and systems that they don't release for whatever reason."

And how often are they looking to purchase updates?

"I usually don't buy scan tool updates yearly," said Lunsford. "I generally buy every second year. In aftermarket, usually you'll have a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty on a car. That gives you time to wait for any updates that might come about.

"With all these sophisticated cars coming in, I know I will absolutely be buying more updates in the future. It's like a drug — you're going to need more and more of them."

Both Lunsford and Svitak let on that if a distributor can tout a scan tools' best features, and how it will save them money, that's what makes a sale.

"It's like Christmas – every time you buy an update, it seems you get added features and options," said Lunsford. "Dealers sometimes start releasing information as cars get older, [so we as techs] know it usually pays to hold out a little."

"I bought [one scan tool] from a distributor that I've had a long-standing relationship with," said Svitak. "And I think at the time I purchased it, which was a few years ago, they had some special promotion going where I saved some money on it."

This is where a little personal touch can definitely beat out an online deal.

"Even though the Internet's a good place for reference and market … you have to be very careful," said Lunsford.

"It's not unheard of for techs to order updates off the Internet. But when you start doing that, you can't complain to anyone if something goes wrong. With this equipment especially, it's important to be able to look the dealer in the eye and ask him questions. If he doesn't have a good background in the equipment, or if you find out later that the equipment won't transfer, you end up with a tool that won't benefit you as much as it could."

If it's Christmas they want, give them Christmas.

To be a pro when it comes to selling updates, wrap up some wide-ranging software that will best fit your customers' needs; then personalize it by throwing in your own signature service and incentives.