Unauthorized diagnostic tools harm the aftermarket’s integrity; do your part to raise awareness

It’s hard to understand why anyone, particularly a professional, would take a gamble on an unauthorized diagnostic tool. But peruse some aftermarket forums and you see there’s no shortage of shops and techs willing to do so in the hope that they might save money by buying counterfeit tools.

Some of the experiences shared on the forums about “clone” tools not working right should be enough to make buyers understand the importance of buying from sources that provide service and upgrades.

Scot Manna, a shop owner and auto tech instructor in Des Plaines, IL, understands why some of his colleagues buy unauthorized tools. “They’re very attractive to a shop that wants to dabble in some stuff,” such as foreign vehicles that require very expensive scan tools. But Manna, who has numerous OE and aftermarket scan tools at his four-bay shop, MB Automotive, thinks it’s a mistake to buy counterfeits. Eventually, these tools lose their functionality and must be discarded.

Don’t be fooled

Manna recognizes that some shops buy counterfeit tools thinking they are originals. While some “clones” closely resemble original equipment, Manna says the reduced price is usually a giveaway; unless you know the owner, anything priced low is a counterfeit. He notes that all a shop needs to do not to be fooled is to buy from an authorized source.

Independent shop owners sometimes justify buying OE “clones” thinking the OE manufacturers overcharge for their tools to make a quick profit from independent shops, or they want to make it harder for independents to compete against their OE dealerships.

This type of thinking ignores the fact that the major OEs, both foreign and domestic, have taken a big role working with the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) to improve the service capabilities of independent shops. NASTF formed in 2000 to identify, communicate and resolve gaps in the availability and accessibility of automotive service information, service training, diagnostic tools and equipment.

Clones hurt the industry

The theft of intellectual property hurts the entire aftermarket. Counterfeit scan tools have been known to damage a vehicle’s electrical system. Some have incorrect information that can cause misdiagnosis. And, losses suffered by legitimate manufacturers ultimately get passed on in higher costs to the aftermarket and the customer.

“Each clone on the market makes our product more expensive to the end user, and costs tool manufacturers millions annually on a global basis,” says Ed Lipscomb, senior product manager of global diagnostics at Bosch Automotive Aftermarket. “As a manufacturer of both OE and aftermarket tools, our team benefits from OE relationships and understands exactly what the end-user and tech needs are in the field. Clone manufacturers not only lack this relationship, but also often fail to meet the quality and longevity standards for overall manufacturing and testing.”

Some think the Internet has made it impossible to protect intellectual property. They are wrong. While the Internet has facilitated unauthorized commerce, it will also be part of the solution.

Charlie Gorman, executive manager of the Equipment Tool Institute – whose mission is to advance the vehicle service industry by providing technical data and open dialog between the manufacturers of transportation products, government regulators and the providers of tools, equipment and service information – puts the issue into historical perspective.

OE scan tools are expensive because the manufacturers imbed their proprietary data in the hardware, Gorman notes. But Internet-based technology is making it possible for OEs to manage proprietary data more efficiently and hopefully, more economically. Gorman thinks aftermarket providers will play a role in making OE diagnostic information more accessible.

In the meantime, shop owners would do well to pay attention to what aftermarket specialists have to offer. And to buy from authorized sources.