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Scan Tool Clones What Are They

After the article “Scan Tools Which One Is Right For You” was posted on our site we received a lot of questions about “Clone” scan tools and many novices wanted to know how they should choose a tool and what accessories they should have.  In this article we will cover clones and in a future article I will offer some suggestions for novices.

Let us examine what a clone scan tool is and see if it really makes a difference. I personally define a “clone tool” as one that was not the original. Sometimes this is easy to decide other times it is extremely vague. Let’s use some history of scan tools as they were introduced by General Motors through the dealer service tool channel, since they were one of the early adopters of onboard diagnostics.

In 1980 GM introduced its first onboard diagnostics system, capable of easily transmitting data. That system had a very simple 5 pin molded connector under the dash. The required dealer essential tool was a scan tool from MPSI, with a rotating switch to view different parameters on a single line LED readout. 

The next model year GM introduced the Assembly Line Diagnostics Link (ALDL) 12 pin connector. This was later renamed the Assembly Line Communications Link or (ALCL) and it was included in every vehicle until the 1995 model year. This new system was so advanced over the old system that GM opted to change tool manufacturer relationships and the Otawanna Tool Company (OTC) Monitor 85 with better and more complete parameter selections was introduced and became the new dealer required essential tool.

So now was the MPSI the first and original scan tool or was the Monitor 85? I believe the OTC Monitor 85 was as it was extremely advanced over the primitive MPSI. The Monitor 85 was a co-operative joint venture between GM electrical engineers and OTC. So if you believe as I do you must conclude that every self contained scan tool since then is a clone. This includes names like Pegasus, Genesys, Tech II, Solus, Equis, etc.

During one of the many GM corporate restructurings some of the GM electrical engineers left and opened up their own scan tool design and manufacturing facilities.  One of these new companies was at the forefront of tool design to be used with a laptop and supplied many of the early vendors with tools. Since this company conceived, designed, and engineered this new laptop enabled scan tool, they should be credited with the designation of original and all others that followed are clones. This particular company became the original supplier to Auto Enginuity and consulted with or supplied chip code to many others including ELM Electronics.

The current scan tools from Auto Enginuity must therefore be considered clones of the original tool and the ACI that mimic Auto Enginuity are also clones. Now are the ACI tools clones of Auto Enginuity or the original? How about the VAG Hex CAN tools, or the F Super tools or the ELM Scan 5, Scan XL, OBD Link, the OBD Pros, or even our 2X80S, or all the other scan tools? Should all of these be considered clones?

Until recently one vendor was primarily selling a scan tool called ElmScan 5 Compact. The tool was a decent tool but had several design problems. I contributed to their forums for people to correct some of these flaws. They marketed the tool as containing an “authentic ELM Chip” and condemned other scan tools as inferior tools and clones. This negativity became one of their primary marketing strategies.  In their forums it became apparent to many long time forum posters including a scan tool software developer that the code being broadcast from the chips in their tools was not accurate for an “authentic ELM chip”. Seeing this and considering their “authentic ELM Chip” negativity marketing he was concerned that they may have been committing fraud. Before anyone brings up the question of “was that company committing fraud”, I believe that question should be left to those best qualified to answer it.

Through some research on the ELM electronics company to understand what an “authentic ELM Chip” really is yielded some important information. It clearly states on their site that they purchase their chips from MicroElectronics, so the thing that ELM Electronics adds is the code to the chip. A more accurate statement should be an “authentic ELM ‘Programmed’ Chip”.  Understanding this we must conclude the difference between their chip and the many other programmed chips is the code and we must question how much of the ELM code is really based on the original code supplied by the former GM electrical engineers?

As you can see it really isn’t simple to answer and the best judge of what is a scan tool clone is you. So should you as a purchaser of a scan tool concern yourself with whether or not a scan tool is a clone? The more important questions are; can this scan tool do the job as good or better than the tool it is similar to, is this scan tool built with as good or superior manufacturing, what does this scan tool offer you that the other tool it is similar to does not.

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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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