Multitasking, speed and updates: Fresh features on the latest OBD II scan tools

Aug. 1, 2007

The variety of new OBD II scan tools offered by different companies gives technicians the power to choose a tool that is specific to his or her needs. They have the potential to drastically improve technicians' time and efficiency because they can provide more reliable information faster than was available in the past. Using them should be one of their Best Practices.

Here are some new products on the market.

Equus Products Inc. offers the Innova 3140 Scan Tool CanOBD2 & 1 Kit, its latest tool. The tool provides quick and easy access to diagnostic data for all 1996 and later vehicle models.

Data can be accessed in 15 seconds, and the tool's all-in-one screen can show more than 25 pieces of information at a time. The tool also has LEDs to show passing or failure on emissions tests.

Updates for the Innova 3140 can be accessed through the Internet, and technical support is offered by phone and e-mail. The company says there is free drive-cycle verification with its Emission's Readiness Advisor (other companies may charge more than $100 for this feature and require the purchase of a separate tool).

The scan tool comes with a training video and software. The video and information provided by the tool is offered in English, Spanish, and French (selected by a menu command).


The kit has a "plug and play" interface; color-coded System Status LEDs that show quick emissions readiness status; and a continuous link for performing drive cycles to verify repairs. It also shows valuable SAE-enhanced live and freeze-frame data, and lets the user not only record and playback live data streams but also perform bi-directional testing. It has complete coverage from "mode 1" to "mode 9," according to the company.

The tool also includes more than $100 in value-add-ons, including a durable nylon storage pouch, PC link cable and CD with OBD-PC Link Shopsoftware. The included software lets you download, save, print and e-mail additional information from the tool, including trouble codes, monitor status and freeze frame data.

Its free "shop in a box" feature also lets you generate reports that can be customized to include your customer's complaint; technician's evaluation and diagnosis; and parts, labor times and related TSBs for repair. It is also "flash updateable" via standard Windows PC and included OBD-PC Link software.

Bosch Diagnostics' line of professional scan tools are designed to work on all cars, from European to Asian to domestic. Some of its latest diagnostic tools include the MTS 3100 Mastertech, the KTS 200 and the new tool being launched, the Mastertech VCI, according to Jason Alexander, a company spokesman.

The Mastertech VCI is wireless. It is plugged into the electronic control unit (ECU) and wirelessly communicates with a PC. This tool was created to work with the new protocol that is being installed in 2008 and later vehicles.

Up until this point, a technician could really only do one thing at a time on a vehicle. With this new protocol, however, it is possible to multitask. According to Alexander, the protocol allows the technician to work with multiple vehicle systems at one time, which will, in turn, increase productivity and efficiency.

"This is the first tool ever designed that is able to address that and talk to and work with that new protocol," says Alexander.


Besides the ability to work with the new protocol, the Mastertech VCI also can work with 2007 and earlier domestic and Asian models like Bosch's MTS 3100 Mastertech.

The KTS 200, which is now debuting, is a user-friendly tool for diagnosing and repairing all European vehicles. "It's a multi-faceted scan tool. It doesn't do just one version, one car. It goes across many platforms: BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Audi," says Alexander.

There are two other tools designed to be used with European vehicles: the KTS 650 and the KTS 570.

The KTS 570 is wireless and works with a PC, much like the Mastertech VCI, but it works with European diagnostics. The KTS 650 and KTS 570 are used more by master technicians. The KTS 200, however, is "user-friendlier."

The new products, the KTS 200 and the Mastertech VCI, are being marketed for every kind of shop. They are reasonably priced (about half the price of other tools sold by Bosch Diagnostics), with more functionality, adds Alexander.

The latest product from OTC, a subsidiary of SPX Corp., is the Genisys. Although it has been out for years, it is updated each year. It is computer-based, which makes it "software updateable," and updates are simple, according to the company, thanks to compact flash card technology.

Free updates are posted on the product's Web site every quarter. However, information on the Web site is revised when needed, so the technician can go to the Web site and re-burn his or her flash card.

There also is a two-disc DVD set available for technical training on the scan tool.

OTC recently introduced software and cables for Class 7 and Class 8 trucks designed to give a technician the ability to scan automotive vehicles and heavy-duty trucks with one tool. Another new update, the OBD II Smart Cable, gives the technician the ability to communicate with all systems in a vehicle at once.

The Genisys can run an Automated Systems Test, which runs about three or four minutes and communicates with all of the systems in the vehicle. The test will provide the technician with a summary of what it finds, complete with codes.


"The issue in the field is that technicians don't take the time to go out of one system, into another system, look at it, go out, go into another one, check it, because it's so time consuming. So they miss a lot of stuff," says a company spokesman. This test is a solution to that problem, because it provides information on all systems in about five minutes or less.

Tied to this product is the company's InfoTech. It works with the Automated Systems Test to provide further information when a problem is found.

Once the technician gets into a system and it shows a code for that system, he can just highlight it and hit "enter" for help, and it will go into the InfoTech database and take him to specific areas detailing reasons why that problem would be there.

According to Pat Pierce, vice president of hand-held electronics for SPX, the Genisys has the "most powerful capability in the industry... covering all the cars for all the years."

The NGS 8008FXLC scan tool with WebFlash is the latest product from Hickok Inc. It is compatible with Ford and Lincoln/Mercury vehicles. With the NGS scan tool, diagnostic functions can be executed quickly. The technician has full access to the factory suite of on-board diagnostics, and pinpoint testing can be done quickly and efficiently, says the company. The bi-directional unit can verify circuit and component operation, and "the on-board power balance feature can be a tremendous help in pinpointing variations in cylinder power contribution that cause random OBD II misfire trouble codes," according to Tim Bauman, marketing representative.

Also new is the 90067 NGS-PC with WebFlash, which is the PC-based version of the NGS scan tool. It is compatible with Windows-based hardware platforms, including laptops, desktops and portable PCs.

Blue Streak Electronics Inc. provides two models of its new product: the BDM X10 and the BDM Pro.

The BDM models are bi-directional graphing scan tools. They are used with cartridges, which allow technicians to purchase only the coverage they need.

The cartridge is inserted into the BDM, which is plugged into the OBD II connector. The technician then is provided with a variety of options to perform diagnostic tests and view system information. The display screen allows the technician to view up to 16 data at one time, graphically, numerically, or as a combination of both.

"The BDM Pro model features a built-in two channel oscilloscope and digital voltmeter," adds Robert Bolton, marketing manager.

Software updates are available on the Internet for customer convenience.


'Traveling' scan tool: Unit also records driving behavior

Davis Instruments produces the CarChip, a product that can track both vehicle performance and driving behavior.

The CarChip is kind of a traveling scan tool, which allows a technician to test-drive a car and experience the same problem that the customer is experiencing firsthand. About the size of a nine-volt battery, it plugs into the OBD II port, under the dash of the car.

As soon as the car starts, the CarChip begins recording data. The trip details, among other things, duration and speed, and the resulting data can be viewed through the unit's software.

For fleet owners, the CarChip can track driving behavior such as hard and extreme accelerations and braking. It also monitors speed; the fleet owner can set a speed limit on the tool, and then, according to John Crook, marketing specialist, "in a graph format in the software, in a report form, it will show you how long you went over that speed limit."

Also, an alarm can be activated to enforce this speed limit, so that if the driver exceeds a certain speed, the alarm will sound until he or she falls below that set speed again.

The CarChip has similar functions to regular scan tools as well. There are 23 parameters that can be monitored, with speed as a constant.

"So speed is a parameter you can't change, but you can change a number of different engine parameters, like if you want to check throttle position or fuel pressure or battery voltage," says Crook.

Davis Instruments also offers CarChip Fleet, which can include historical GPS products and wireless downloads. With the fleet management software, fleet managers can wirelessly download driving information for all vehicles throughout the day.

Best Practice Tips: Time-saving 'toy'

Rich Lynn, a service technician at Parrish-McIntyre Tire Co. in Akron, Ohio, uses two types of scan tools in his work - OTC's Genisys and Snap-on models.

The diagnostic tools save valuable shop time by retrieving the vehicle's information quickly, giving you a heads-up on what needs correcting, he says.

"It's basically a PC interfacing with a car," Lynn says. "And it's easily updatable."

An optional printer lets you print out information to show your customers to help them see why the service needs done.

Scan tools are "very nice toys" in a technician's arsenal for fixing vehicles efficiently and accurately, says Lynn.