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Scan Tool Generic or Enhanced What Is The Difference

Unfortunately there is a lot of confusion being caused by different definitions of generic and enhanced scan tools being put forth by some marketers. Some are even using industry jargon to add to the confusion. It is unknown whether this is on purpose to make their product appear to be better or if it is from a lack of knowledge.

I will attempt to clarify these issues from the perspective of a professional mechanic and how he defines the differences based upon capabilities. Code readers will not be discussed as they are simply not worthy of the time as they are mostly a sales tool of parts houses and such.

First, all modern scan tools are a combination of hardware and software. The hardware part of course is the part that you can literally hold in your hand. The software is actually in several places.

The hardware has software programming in the chips inside it which allow it to perform its job. The software that provides the user interface and functions may be contained within the scan tool on other chips or within a pc connected with the scan tool.

In this article I will refer to the scan tool and user interface software as simply a scan tool for the sake of discussion.

Most scan tools whether they are generic or enhanced can read the codes broadcast from the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) and most can retrieve the sensor data as a live stream of ever changing information.

Some people call this last function ‘data logging’ but from a manufacturer perspective it is not. Data logging is the process of recording the live data for playback at a later time, such as recording data on a test drive for analysis in the shop.

Some scan tools have this data logging capability. Those that have it can record data in varying time segments from a few minutes to years. Of course this recording time is controlled by the user interface software.

The codes that can be retrieved with almost any scan tool are all the P0xxx generic and many P1xxx manufacturer specific codes. This ability to retrieve these manufacturer specific codes does not make the scan tool an enhanced scan tool.

The definition of an enhanced scan tool is its ability to not only read the ‘enhanced parameters’ data stream, but to also perform bi-directional testing. There are people claiming that their ability to read the enhanced parameters makes their tool or software program an enhanced tool. This is simply not true.

These enhanced parameters are usually a math calculation of several sensors within the PCM as provided by the car manufacturer to make diagnosis for their mechanics easier and more accurate. Keep in mind that manufacturers are some of the most efficient (cheapest) companies around and this is another way they control warranty cost.

This data for these enhanced parameters is typically already there, it is simply within the separate parameters and must be combined either by the PCM or the mechanic.

There are some scan tools like the 2X80S that with the correct software such as ForScan or ScanXL Professional can currently perform limited bi-directional testing such as the Ford KOEO and KOER testing. Currently the bi-directional testing is limited but with improvements in the software, the day of scan tools like the 2X80S being an enhanced scan tool are not too distant.

However to qualify as a truly enhanced scan tool it must be able to perform the other bi-directional tests such as controlling the EGR valve or Evap solenoids apply for testing. When the software makes this possible it will then be classed as an enhanced scan tool. Until that time, the mechanic will simply perform these type tests manually and watch the data stream for the results.

There is another segment of the scan tools that is the scan tool that can interface with the other computers on the car and retrieve their codes and data, and perform bi-directional testing. Some examples of these other computers are the Body Control Module (BCM), Antilock Brake Module (ABS), Supplemental Restraint Module / Event/ Crash Data Module and others. Perhaps there should be a third scan tool classification for these scan tools.


As you can see simply being able to read the enhanced parameters does not make a scan tool an enhanced scan tool. Until that scan tool can perform ALL of the bi-directional testing required and can display ALL the enhanced data parameters it is still a generic scan tool. So don’t be fooled by claims from unscrupulous marketers, or marketers using industry jargon to confuse you.

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Comparing our 2X80S to competitors

Controls Data Corruption
Improved Data Speed
Enhanced Software Included
Phone Tablet PDA Capable
Multiple PC Applications
Multiple Phone Tablet PDA Applications
2 Wheel Vehicle Applications
Component Specs
OBD Training
Legacy OS Support
  Yes or Included           No or not included              Some or limited
All above information is based on published information as of 01/2015 or products purchsed to confirm

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