Editor's Note: This article was orginally published Oct. 13, 2017. Some of the information may no longer be relevant, so please use it at your discretion.
Some of the tool types have been around for quite some time, but advances in their technology have increased their value to you, your technicians, and your service advisors.
Many technicians do not fully utilize a tool for various reasons, but the primary reason for not using all the features is that they do not understand how to utilize the tool to create the best value.
Let’s take a look at some of the different tool categories, how those tools have changed and how your shop can benefit from adopting these new technologies.
Scan tools may not seem as if they have changed significantly, other than having the ability to interact with more vehicle platforms. That is true to some point, but one of the most significant changes is most scan tools have gone to either a PC or mobile platform, allowing other applications to work with the tool. Having multiple applications on a scan tool can expedite the diagnosis and repair by having repair information, interaction with your shop management system, and a web search engine right at the technician’s fingertips. All of these features can assist the technician to be more productive.
Other benefits to PC-based scan tools will be revealed shortly when Right to Repair (R2R) rules come into effect in 2018. In short, R2R mandates vehicle manufacturers to provide individuals or shops the ability to access dealership level software. Installing OE vehicle software onto a laptop will provide a technician the ability to have the same repair information, scanning capabilities and programming capabilities as the dealership.
One of the potential drawbacks to installing OE vehicle software on a laptop has been some of the vehicle specific software does not work if a competing OE vehicle software is on the same computer. An example has been Nissan or Jaguar software having issues if Ford software is on the same laptop. The most common fix for this has been to send the computer out to an expert to partition the hard drive, separating the different programs. I have found a simpler fix for this by installing each OEs software onto a separate external hard drive (external hard drives have come down in price, and are relatively inexpensive now), and plugging in the appropriate external hard drives as I need them.
Other improvements in scan tools is their ability to graph multiple PIDs, additional bi-directional controls and complete Mode $06 data and definitions.
Innovations in remote diagnostics, like Launch Tech USA’s Tech-to-Tech installed onto their Pad scan tools, allows a technician to remotely log in from their scan tool to another Launch tool to perform remote diagnosis. This can be useful for shops that have multiple locations, or you could even place a scan tool in a customer’s vehicle and remotely connect to diagnose intermittent issues, provided you have an internet connection.
Lab scopes and accessories
Scopes have been used to diagnose issues in vehicles for many years. The first ones that were used were the “big box” oscilloscopes used to analyze ignition systems. Later, features were added to test batteries and test for resistance using voltmeters and ohm meters. Some other testers added fuel pressure and vacuum gauges for additional capability.
Further improvements incorporated digital technology into their testing ability, which allowed technicians to obtain more data quickly in order to analyze issues. The other benefit of digitizing the data was having the ability to store data and images in order to compare test results with either known good, or known bad, test images.
These oscilloscopes were very useful, but not unlike today, many of the features were not utilized by the technicians using the tool. The good news as far as scopes go is there have been quite a few improvements to the tools, including more channels and tutorial features included in many of the newer lab scopes.
In addition to tutorials, there are many how-to videos and comparative waveforms available from various resources that may assist a technician to both connect a scope and information based on test results to determine what the issue is on the vehicle.
There are now many accessories available along with information on how to test individual components with these accessories. Some of the most popular accessories and their uses are:
- Inductive pick-up probes for RPM signals are very good for quickly analyzing signals that sync to a specific event, such as checking an ignition event compared to the actual crankshaft position.
- Pressure transducers for measuring vacuum and pressure can be used to analyze each cylinder’s pressure throughout its cycle and compare it to other cylinders on the vehicle, or known good vehicles. This type of test can easily determine if an individual cylinder has a problem, or if there is something like a timing belt issue, affecting all of the cylinders. Tests with transducers can also be conducted in the intake or exhaust systems to determine if there are pressure pulses that could be an indication of an internal mechanical issue with the engine.
- Current clamp probes, both for high and low current applications, can be a great asset for your lab scope. Using a current clamp allows you to connect to a circuit without cutting or piercing the wires. Observing a waveform with a high amp clamp is useful for checking starting and charging systems. By adding an inductive pickup on the number 1 cylinder, you can use a waveform to perform a cranking test showing relative compression. Low current probes are useful for checking for irregularities in fuel pump current, fuel injectors or primary ignition waveforms.
Another relatively new addition to lab scopes is software and hardware for Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH). Using this feature, a technician is able to place probes throughout the vehicle and analyze waveforms to pinpoint the source of noise or vibrations. This can be very helpful in saving time locating intermittent or inconsistent issues.
During the last few years, lab scope technology has been able to reach many more technicians by both reducing the size of the tool and by adding features such as self-setting or auto-set.
One benefit to smaller lab scopes is the transition from larger standalone devices to software accessible via apps for tablets and phones. These advancements have provided many more technicians the ability to obtain a single- or dual-channel scope, maybe without all the features of a full-sized one, but due to their relatively low price, they are able to see the value of using a scope in their diagnostic process.
Auto-set features have allowed technicians without much experience using lab scopes to quickly connect and use them for diagnosing issues. In my opinion, both smaller scopes and auto-set features will pave the way for technicians to use scopes more often and purchase larger full-feature scopes.
Borescopes and other cameras
Camera technology has come a very long way in recent years, mainly in the size of the cameras, the quality of the images and the number of images you are able to store and send. For automotive uses, providing images of faulty components to your customer can go a long way to communicate the reason for suggesting a repair.
For diagnostic testing purposes, using a GoPro camera or similar camera mounted to the vehicle to capture images under driving conditions can save time and validate a diagnosis. For instance, we once used cameras to record images of suspension movement on both sides of the vehicle in order to determine if there was a mechanical condition causing a rough ride. Using a camera aimed at a dial indicator on both sides of the rear axle suspension showed less movement from one side than the other, which was due to the suspension bottoming out.
Borescope technology has also come a long way. Relatively inexpensive models can be attached to mobile platforms or laptops to capture and save images that can be saved or shared. There are many models available that work in high-heat areas such as a warm engine. Camera heads that are more flexible with attached LED lighting allow these tools to reach into smaller areas than before with much better image clarity.
Typical uses for borescopes go beyond looking at the condition of an engine cylinder; they can be used inside door panels to check window linkage or in HVAC ducting to check the operation and condition of ducts and doors.
Thermal imagers are another camera technology finding its way into repair shops. These imagers allow a technician to visualize the heat signature of components to see how well they are working compared to others, such as engine cylinders.
Voltage that is flowing generates heat, so using an imaging camera is also a quick way to determine which fused circuit is allowing voltage to flow. This is a great and efficient way to determine the cause of a parasitic drain.
Digital inspection tools
All of us have performed inspections at some level on our customer’s vehicles. The process for some shops is to perform the inspection and record the results on paper, or a pre-printed form, then share the outcome of the inspection with the customer. Many other shops have done inspections and only report the items they feel need attention during the current visit.
Today, your customers understand more about their vehicles and desire to be more involved and informed about maintenance and repairs. Additionally, many of your customers are comfortable in the digital world and want information quickly, and in a digital format.
One of the best ways to accommodate your customers’ request for more information is to provide them with the results of a digital inspection. There are a few companies that have products, such as Bolt On Technology and Auto Vitals, available to incorporate customizable inspection reports directly into your shop management system. Many digital inspection formats allow technicians to use a phone or tablet to record the results, as well as take photos of reported faults during the process.
According to Bolt On Technology, the primary benefit of digital inspections is gaining the ability to have clearer and more communication with your customers. An additional advantage of performing inspections and recording them digitally is it creates an opportunity to perform more consistent and complete inspections by every technician.
Other benefits include the ability to share the results via a text message or via email instantly with your customer, show them before and after inspection results and maintain records of maintenance and repair recommendations. A long-term benefit of this process includes helping to build trust between you and your clients.
Vehicle information sources
For many years, repair information has been relatively consistent with few changes. Recently though, providers such as Mitchell 1, ALLDATA and Identifix have incorporated much better search functionality, correlating repair data into their database that shows the most likely cause of an issue. Using these sources for symptom-based fault analysis can save a technician a lot of time by showing likely causes of failure. But, you need to remember that probable causes do not always relate to what is wrong with the vehicle you are working on.
The best and most efficient way to utilize information like this is to create a starting point for your diagnostic tests. For instance, if you were to look up a code P0420, a typical diagnostic fault tree would take you through tests for the fuel delivery, oxygen sensors and catalytic converters. Using a fault-based, vehicle-specific format, the probable fault may indicate multiple vehicles had issues with an exhaust leak near an oxygen sensor. Following this approach, you could check for a leak and either discount that as the issue, or quickly find the cause.
There are also some information sites that could be categorized as “social network” sites. These are mostly organized by “chat” subjects for specific issues with specific vehicles. These sites can provide great insight for pattern failure issues. One site in particular, iATN, has an outstanding resource library of waveforms for various systems and components.
As always, replacing parts is not a quick solution without performing diagnostic tests or testing individual components.
We have been hearing “telematics” is coming for quite a few years. Many of your customers hear about the ability of their vehicle communicate electronically with their dealer. Others have installed telematics devices into the OBD port for use by their insurance company.
Knowing that, there is still a lot of confusion, mostly from the aftermarket repair shop side, on how to access vehicle data, how to store it, how to utilize it and maybe most importantly, how to monetize it.
There has been quite a bit of effort from various sources to integrate this process into an aftermarket shop and with the vehicle owner’s acceptance. Realistically, there has been very limited success for the processes and products currently available. I believe there is a need and desire both from a shop management side as well as from your customers to create a low-cost solution that works to meet everybody’s needs. There is a rumor that Mitchell 1 has been working on a solution and will soon be releasing a product that meets this need.
Tools for calibrating ADAS
Somewhat new to the industry, but a process that is becoming more commonplace, is the need to calibrate Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS, typically pronounced “A-DAS”). Calibrations of these systems may be necessary when components are replaced, or after a collision has occurred.
Most ADAS use radar reflectors, or modules and/or cameras placed throughout the vehicle to determine if there are obstacles that could cause a collision, or even to relay information for adaptive cruise control or braking. Any time a camera or radar unit angle has moved, it will need to be recalibrated. In some cases, even a four-wheel alignment may require a calibration of an ADAS.
Every vehicle is different, and you will need to obtain specific vehicle information prior to starting the process, but in most cases a static calibration, followed by an active calibration, will be required.
Static tests start with placing the vehicle in a level spot with specific clearances around the vehicle. Next, levels may need to be placed on cameras or radar units in order to angle the camera or radar module properly. In many cases, targets will need to be placed on or around the vehicle, and a calibration process using onboard systems or a scan tool will need to be followed.
Active tests may include a test drive that allows the ADAS to recognize obstacles during a road test. An active test can take 20 to 45 minutes all while driving under very specific conditions. Some issues that can arise during active calibrations are the inability to drive at a consistent speed, or weather conditions like snow ice or rain or even road markers that are missing or inconsistent.
Collision shops are facing many of the ADAS issues now, but this creates an opportunity for independent repair shops to perform this service for collision shops and their own customers by purchasing the tools to do the job.
All in all, as technology advances in vehicles, tool technology will need to advance along with it. Technicians willing to invest in obtaining the tools will be able to not only keep up with the vehicles, but be able to set a standard consumers will look for when choosing their shop.