OE Scanners are quickly becoming a necessary tool, not just “nice to have”.
All modern cars have many on-board computers to control various aspects of operation — at minimum there will be an engine control computer, transmission control computer, an air bag computer, a body control computer, and usually an anti-lock brake computer as well. A scanner is a portable device that interfaces with the computers on your car. Every auto manufacturer works with a scan tool manufacturer to create a scan tool for use in its dealerships. These scan tools have diagnostic capabilities far beyond those of a generic OBDII scanner. A knowledgeable mechanic can still fix a car with a generic OBDII scanner, it will just take him a lot longer than if he had access to the additional information and testing capabilities of a OE scanner. With cars becoming increasingly more complex, and some diagnosis taking a quite a long time, access to the same tools the dealers use can make a big difference in the time diagnosis takes and the amount to have to pay for the diagnosis.
What is OBDII?
OBDII is acronym for On Board Diagnostics Two. It is a mandatory set of standards that specifies communications between scan tools and engine control computer, and information which must available through the diagnostic port. The idea was to improve the information available to independent repair shops and make cars easier to repair. All manufacturers must meet the minimum criteria set out in the OBDII standard. All 1996 & newer cars are OBDII.
What is CAN?
CAN stands for “Controller Area Network” and is the new standard replacing OBDII. The CAN bus (the bus is a data path connecting control units) allows much faster data transmission than was possible with OBDII. The increased speed makes it possible for systems like stability control & ABS to work. All 2007 & newer cars have CAN.
The basic scanner
The most basic scanner will pull engine codes. These types of scanners can be purchased for under $100, but do not provide enough information for a professional mechanic. They are a fun tool for the auto enthusiast and do-it-yourselfer with time on their hands. Most of these scanners display any engine control computer trouble codes, which then can be looked up on a chart to find out what the code means. Some provide an abbreviated description of what the code means. They usually offer no live data, bi-directional control, ECU reprogramming, oscilloscope, or information on systems other than engine control.
The non OE professional scanner.
This category would include the OTC Genesis / Mac Mentor, the Snap-On Modis, and many others. These scanners usually cost between $2500 & $6000 — in many cases as much or more than OE level scanners. Their strength lies in the ability to provide more than just codes with many makes and models of cars. However, they never provide as much functionality as the the OE scanners. These scanners are a good choice for shops that do not specialize in one make of car. Features usually include code descriptions & diagnostic tips, live data, limited bi-directional control, oscilloscope, and limited access to systems other than engine control.
We own the Mac Mentor, which includes a 4 trace scope module and a 5 gas module. We use this scanner for Mazda, since we have not purchased OE scanner for this make yet.
The professional laptop based scanner
There are a couple really good scanners in this category. We own the ATS Escan, and it’s a truly excellent generic scanner. In many ways it’s better than the OE scanners! It just lacks the bi-directional control and access to non-OBDII systems found only in OE scanners. It has features like mode 6 decoding by year, make & model, volumetric efficiency testing based on MAF and a few other PIDs, and converter efficiency testing. It also monitors fuel control, time to warm up, charging voltage, and a bunch of other stuff. In short, it can do a lot of testing in a very short amount of time. I’ve never regretted for a second the comparatively tiny amount of money we invested in the Escan.
The OE Scanner
This is the Vetronix MasterTech. Vetronix was the OE scan tool supplier for Honda until 2004, and still supplies Toyota (up to 2007). The MasterTech is fully functional with all Toyota software cards. Toyota offers this scanner and all software, including ECU flash updates on their website (through OTC/SPX).
Honda will not sell their version of this scanner (which they call the PGM tester) to independent shops. Honda-like, semi-OE software can be purchased through Vetronix, but this version of the MasterTech is crippled per Honda’s instructions, and will not run genuine Honda software cards, which Honda will not sell to independents anyway. The main difference between the Vetronix version of the Honda software and Honda’s is the lack of immobilizer access, as well as a few bi-directional tests.
This is the TechStream, the new Toyota/Lexus/Scion scanner for 2008. We’ve just got it (January 2008) and we’re still learning about its features, but it’s interface is very intuitive, and it’s easy enough to figure out how to do whatever it is you want to do. The laptop is a (overpriced) Toshiba ToughBook convertible tablet PC, although I was glad of this when the laptop came tumbling out of the docking station the first day we owned it. It has a touch screen, which is nice, since the mouse pad is painfully slow, even on the fastest setting. The main improvements over the MasterTech are the large screen, faster PID refresh on CAN cars, the ability to record, save, & print data, and a quick check for available ECU calibration updates. There is a lot more to like about the TechStream too. I wish the VIM was available separately, so we didn’t have to spend $8000 for the docking station & ToughBook, but even at $8000, it’s well worth owning. I think the TechStream is the best OE scanner I’ve used so far.
This is a rebranded Vetronix MasterTech formerly sold by MAC tools. It was purchased before Honda required Vetronix to cripple their scanners, and it will run genuine Honda software cards, provided you can figure out how to get them.
When Honda switched from Vetronix to Teradyne in 2005, they also made arraignments for independent shops to purchase scanners and software updates without sneaking around. Nice! However, when we tried to order the Teradyne tablet, our Honda dealer was kind enough to tell us to they were having frequent problems with their Teradyne tablet, and that Honda & Teradyne had ended their partnership. It saved us from spending $6900 on a scanner that might be buggy and may lack support in the near future. It’s good to have a dealership that looks out for you! We opted to purchase our HDS (Honda Diagnostic System) in the HIM (Honda Interface Module) format because it was less expensive and offered all the same features except for the bar code reader. The HIM is a box with two cords coming out of it. One goes to a laptop, the other to the OBDII port. Software and ECU calibrations are provided via email every 3 months. It’s a nice setup! Well done Honda! I do think there is a lot of room for improvement in the interface and capabilities, but it’s miles better than the PGM tester.
These are the program cards and software available (or in some cases, not available) from Toyota and Honda. In 2007 some new legislation takes affect which seems to end the crippling of scan tools and hoarding of immobilizer access, and provides independent shops access to the same tools available to the dealers.
Car theft is a real problem, but denying independent mechanics access to tools necessary to replace an engine control unit or copy a key will not solve it. The immobilizer systems will stop 100% of the thieves stupid enough to steal a car to drive, and 0% of serious car thieves with tow trucks and plans to harvest parts. An organization sophisticated enough to ship whole cars out of the country would be also be able hire a black hat to crack the 40 bit encryption used for the immobilizer, but they wouldn’t need to because all the gray market tools they’d need are available on EBay. Denying independents mechanics necessary tools to fix cars provides the dealerships an unfair advantage, but does nothing to stop auto theft.
Nissan Consult II
It is made for Nissan by Vetronix, but is totally different from the MasterTech. We held off purchasing the Consult II for a long time because we to not repair as many Nissans as we do Hondas and Toyotas, but now that we have it, we wish we had bought it sooner. This scanner provides so much more information than does generic OBDII scanner and an unbelievable amount of bi-directional control, even on older pre-OBDII Nissans. You can activate the EGR, change the timing, change the coolant temp sensor input value to whatever temperature you want, turn on the wipers, roll down the windows, the list goes on and on. All this and a built in printer and dual trace scope. Nissans have always been difficult to diagnose using the “without Consult 2” procedure in the manual. This tool is by far the most capable of the OE scanners and was well worth the $5000 we paid for it. Now we’re going to have to work on getting more Nissans in the door so we can use it more often : )
Subaru Select Monitor III / HDS3000
Starting in 2007, auto manufacturers are permitted to provide independent mechanics a “work alike” scan tool instead of selling the same scan tool used by franchised dealers. The HDS3000 is the aftermarket work-alike alternative to the Subaru Select Monitor III.
There is an article about Subaru’s presentation at the OEM Tool Forum at the Congress of Automobile Repair and Service, supporting their claim that the HDS3000 is as full featured as the Subaru Select Monitor 3, not a watered down version as some (like me) suspected.
Below are Power Point presentations of Subaru’s comparison of the Select Monitor III, and the HDS 3000.
The scan tools look pretty similar in the presentations, and after having used the HDS3000 for a couple days, it seems like a really nice scan tool. The interface is similar to the TechStream’s, but the bring-your-own-laptop setup is similar to Honda’s HDS, which is nice, because you are not forced to buy an overpriced notebook & docking station.
If you’d like to buy and HDS3000, follow this link to OhioDiagnostics LLC, distributor for Blue Streak Electronics, where you can purchase the HDS3000. Last time I checked, the old scanner was pictured, but I’m sure that will change soon. You can also call 330-668-1518 for more information.
Luckily, there are new rules concerning the availability of diagnostic equipment and software to the aftermarket. Hopefully manufacturers will get behind the spirit of the law, and we’ll finally have access to tools and equipment without a bunch of sneaking around.
Below is part of the text of 40 CFR 86.1808-01 with the key points highlighted in orange.
(1) Manufacturers shall furnish or cause to be furnished to any person engaged in the repairing or servicing of motor vehicles or motor vehicle engines, or the Administrator upon request, any and all information needed to make use of the on-board diagnostic system and such other information, including instructions for making emission- related diagnosis and repairs, including, but not limited to, service manuals, technical service bulletins, recall service information, data stream information, bi-directional control information, and training information, unless such information is protected by section 208(c) as a trade secret. No such information may be withheld under section 208(c) of the Act if that information is provided (directly or indirectly) by the manufacturer to franchised dealers or other persons engaged in the repair, diagnosing, or servicing of motor vehicles or motor vehicle engines.
(2) Emission-related information includes, but is not limited to: (i) Information regarding any system, component or part of a vehicle that controls emissions and any system, components and/or parts associated with the powertrain system, including, but not limited to, the fuel system and ignition system; (ii) Information for any system, component, or part that is likely to impact emissions, such as transmission systems; and (iii) Any other information specified by the Administrator to be relevant for the diagnosis and repair of an emission failure found through the Inspection and Maintenance program, after such finding has been communicated to the affected manufacturer(s).
(3) All information required to be made available by this section shall be made available to persons referred to in this section at a fair and reasonable price, as determined by the Administrator. In reaching a decision, the Administrator shall consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to, the cost to the manufacturer of preparing and/or providing the information, the type of information, the format in which it is provided, the price charged by other manufacturers for similar information, the differences that exist among manufacturers (e.g., the size of the manufacturer), the quantity of material contained in a publication, the detail of the information, the cost of the information prior to August 9, 1995, volume discounts, and inflation.
(4) Any information which is not provided at a fair and reasonable price shall be considered unavailable. Manufacturers shall make the information required under this section available to persons specified in paragraph (f)(1) of this section at the same time it is made available to dealerships, except as otherwise specified in this section.
(5) Each manufacturer shall provide in a manner specified in paragraph (g)(9) of this section an index of the information required to be made available by this section for vehicles which have been offered for sale; this requirement does not apply to indirect information, including the information specified in paragraph (g)(10) of this section. This index shall: (i) Be updated on the first and third Monday of each month; (ii) Provide titles that either adequately describes the contents of the document to which it refers or provides a brief description of the information contained in that document; and (iii) Provide the cost of information and where it can be obtained.
(6) Manufacturers shall make the information required under this section available to persons specified in paragraph (f)(1) of this section at the same time it is made available to dealerships, except as otherwise specified in this section.
(7) Each manufacturer shall maintain the index of information specified in paragraph (f)(5) of this section on FedWorld or other database designated by the Administrator. Manufacturers shall inform persons specified in paragraph (f)(1) of this section about the availability of the index in a manner prescribed by the Administrator.
(8) Each manufacturer shall be responsible for paying its pro rata share of any costs associated with establishing and maintaining the index of emission-related service and repair information provided for in paragraphs (f)(5) and (f)(7) of this section.
(9) Manufacturers or their designated distributors must mail requested information within one business day of receiving an order, and shall provide overnight delivery if the ordering party requests it and assumes the cost of delivery.
(10) All emission-related data stream information made available to manufacturers’ franchised dealerships (or others in the service industry) shall be made available to the persons indicated in paragraph (f)(1) of this section either through provision of manufacturer equipment and tools or through provision of such information to equipment and tool manufacturers.
(11) A manufacturer shall only provide bi-directional control to its franchised dealerships if it provides equipment and tool manufacturers with information to make diagnostic equipment with the same bi- directional control capabilities available to the dealerships, or if it provides such capabilities directly to persons specified in paragraph (f)(1) of this section by offering for sale at a reasonable cost through manufacturer tools.
(12) Manufacturers shall make data stream information and bi- directional control information available as specified in paragraphs (f)(10) and (f)(11) of this section.
(13) Manufacturers shall make available to persons indicated in paragraph (f)(1) of this section in the manner described in paragraph (f)(16) of this section reprogramming capability for all emission- related reprogramming events (including driveability reprogramming events that may affect emissions) that are issued by manufacturers at the same time they are made available to dealerships.
(14) For all vehicles, reprogramming need not be provided for any recalibrations performed prior to vehicles entering the stream of commerce (i.e., sale to first purchaser).
(16) Manufacturers shall either offer for sale at a competitive market price a reprogramming tool that interfaces with a substantial majority of generic portable computers or make available to aftermarket tool and equipment companies information that would enable them to manufacture such a tool. Any method adopted by a manufacturer by which reprogramming is made available to persons specified in paragraph (f)(1) of this section shall not impose a significant burden on such providers beyond that experienced by dealerships.
(17) Manufacturers shall be responsible for ensuring that persons specified in paragraph (f)(1) of this section shall have access to reprogramming services at a reasonable cost and in a timely manner.
(18) Manufacturers shall provide persons specified in paragraph (f)(1) of this section with an efficient and cost-effective method for identifying whether the calibrations on vehicles are the latest to be issued.
(19) Manufacturers shall either make available to aftermarket tool and equipment companies no later than the date of model introduction any and all information, except calibrations and recalibrations, needed to develop and manufacture generic tools that can be used by persons specified in paragraph (f)(1) of this section to diagnose, service and repair emission-related parts, components and systems or manufacturers may sell their own diagnostic tools and equipment to persons specified in paragraph (f)(1) of this section if the price of such tools is reasonable.
(20) A manufacturer is subject to a penalty of up to $25,000 per day per violation for failure to make available the information required by this section.