Scanning for Errors

OBD II changed maintenance forever--OBD III is set to do the same.


According to their product website, autotap.com, B&B feels they are addressing something that is a problem of high cost and complicated technology in the diagnostic tools market: "Because of their investment in the equipment required, most repair shops charge a fee, sometimes substantial, to attach the scanning equipment and diagnose problems using the OBD-II system signals. Home mechanics and small shop technicians have been restricted from working with these signals by cost and technical complexity of the equipment. With the introduction of more economical and user-friendly scanning devices, it is now practical for almost anyone to access OBD-II signals and use them for their own testing and repairs."

According to Williams, fleets adopting this new technology found "hundreds of real-time parameters flooding OBD-II, but after five, six, or seven, they went 90 percent down the value curve." Williams suggested that offering all of these parameters, most of which B&B saw as only marginally useful, "cascades down into the overall cost. We took a few key parameters" the aim of which was for "an elegant, simplified product that hits those parameters. The concept was simply to drive down cost without giving up the bulk of the value proposition."

Snap-on Diagnostics has its own, highly comprehensive scan tool, MODIS. Gerry Beronja, director of global marketing for Snap-On highlights the benefits beyond simply emission controls: "MODIS provides a breadth and depth of vehicle communication coverage—codes, data, and tests—for the majority of passenger vehicles and light trucks on the road today.

Snap-on 'Troubleshooter and Component Tests' software contains over nine million tests and tips that integrate scan tool, lab scope and digital multi-meter capabilities." Beronja goes on to describe Snap-on's commitment to both training, which he sees as "a huge concern," and future diagnostic technologies.

"CAN" THEY AFFORD IT?

So the beneficiaries include the environment, and the aftermarket distributor. Is there a loser in this game? Arguably, it's the fleet managers and technicians, and for several reasons.

Greg Gilseth, fleet maintenance manager for Hennepin County Public Works in Minnesota, explains why: "I guess even though the EPA is trying to unify all the systems, each manufacturer still has their own individual characteristics as to how they try to accomplish certain things as far as emissions, driveability; those types of things. That's one of the things we struggle with, is having to purchase multiple scan testers so we can test all the different makes and models of vehicles that we have. It is very costly."

Cost is not the only hurdle for fleets dealing with this new and evolving technology. "Another problem would be training for my mechanics," Gilseth says. "It's hard for my guys to be experts all the time in every type of system. (They're) learning something new virtually every year, just like a factory or dealer would have with their mechanics, but, like I said, I'm kind of at a loss as far as receiving the training and also—quite specifically—the materials, or access that I would need to be able to diagnose these vehicles. So it's a struggle at times."

For a large fleet like Gilseth's, the hope is that this technology will eventually show its clear benefits. "It may be more complex as far as the way it operates, but as far as diagnosis and repair, the potential is that it could make it easier," he says. "Until the bugs are worked out, there may be some struggle for a short time. There will probably be some learning and adapting for all of us, but chances are it'll be for the best in the long run. If all the advances make it easier to diagnose and repair, that equals less down time for my vehicles. My desire would be to have a scan tool that's easily adaptable to all makes and models. That would be a huge help for us."

Rio Hondo's Frala sees the future of the technology, in its advancement into OBD-III, as addressing those concerns exactly: "From what I'm seeing, and from the guys I've talked to at American Honda, it's all going PC-based, and it's wireless, so you can plug in the node in the car and walk around with your laptop and read all the scanner stuff. It will be a huge benefit; I just bought six computers from Dell and I paid $1,200 a piece, top-of-the-line, so my students have six brand-new computers instead of six different scan tools. Then you can go from car to car without having to be required to switch tools. Now the tech can learn one system. With OBD-I they had three protocols, with OBD-II they went to two protocols. OBD-III will be a universal protocol."

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