If you are one of those people that have a great deal of respect for yourself, family, property and purchases you make, you might be somewhat confused by the recent finger pointing and innuendos from many auto industry leaders about protecting car computer systems. And more specifically which scan tool should be used by you or your mechanic to properly diagnose a problem
The purpose of all this effort by many so called industry leaders seems to be nothing more than a tactic they have used over and over again with great success for many years. That tactic of course is the "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt" tactic. The more of this rhetoric they throw out the more suspicious we all must become.
For the unsuspecting or limited knowledge person their statements seem to be directed to save you money and headaches. But is it really?
First we must have an understanding of what a scan tool is and how it functions. Then we will examine what two industry leaders are stating in detail
Most of us have used computers for some time now and have either used or heard the term Modem. It is a hardware component in the pc that is used to access the internet via dialup, send a fax, or answer your home phone. Even today with the high broadband speeds, most companies like AT&T, and Comcast still refer to their communications connection device as a Modem.
For the Modem to function it must have drivers that allow it to work with the hardware and it must have software to actually perform the data gathering and displaying. Think of these as separate pieces; Modem drivers from companies like USR and 3Com. Browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari.
A scan tool works the same way, it receives and transmits data in packets (think of packets like envelopes with a letter in it) to and from the carís computers, to either a handheld or laptop based software program.
So you can see that the two components of a scan tool are used to perform the function of diagnosing a car. They must work together to accomplish the task.
There are as always good points and bad to each design, hand held vs laptop based. Which choice is right for you or your mechanic is a matter of personal preference and your ability to research or understand the info presented. And of course how deep your wallet is!
In the case of scan tools like GMís they are self contained, others like Ford, Honda, Toyota, and the 2X80S they are separate components, hardware and software.
Each of the carmakerís scan tools will set you back several thousand dollars each for their base model. And if you have more than one brand of car they suggest you purchase a scan tool for each one. Considering that there are about 14 major car manufacturers that sell over 90% of the worlds cars, you can see quickly if you or the mechanic that services your car has to buy each one of their scan tools it could be a very tidy sum!
However a scan tool like the 2X80S, when combined with a professional grade software program that can access all the brands, not just the 14 major car manufacturers that are OBD II compliant for under $200. It becomes a no brainer!
Granted, that the manufacturers scan tools can access MOST of the computer modules on their cars and retrieve codes and limited datasets. Some perform bi-directional testing for you IF you know how to make it do this.
On the other hand scan tools like the 2X80S, can access the data on the PCM which controls the way the car runs, and maintains emission compliance. With the right software program, like ForScan it can perform very similar testing to the Ford scan tool.
Where a scan tool like the 2X80S shines is its ability to gather data at speeds above what is supposed to be capable. This small difference can enable you to see data dropouts, and spikes that would not be visible on the base model of the carmaker scan tools. To see this information on carmaker tools would require updating their scan tool with more options Ė which of course increases the price.
The important question here, is can you perform the testing like the carmakers scan tools with a tool like the 2X80S. The answer is YES. However you would have to perform several basic tests. To illustrate the point, we look at an Evap code that suggests a leak in the system.
With the carmaker tool, you would have the vehicle running and most likely have to push a few buttons for basic circuit testing and follow that up with a Smoke Machine test if required.
With the 2X80S, you would have the vehicle running and check vacuum manually on both sides of a purge solenoid. Of course in normal running mode, you typically have vacuum on one side only.
You would connect a DMM into the sensor circuit of the Leak sensor, record the reading. Then you would apply the ground to the purge solenoid with a backprobe and clip. When you do this, you would see a small vacuum drop on the engine exhibited by rpm, map or both. You would also see the reading change on the leak sensor.
Now you know the circuit is functional electrically except for the PCM control, and if you remove the purge solenoid ground you applied previously, the leak sensor reading should hold steady- even when the car is turned off.
You have now performed a pretty serious test, with only a small increase in cost IF you didnít already own a DMM. And you did not spend a couple thousand dollars to do this. You can use this procedure to test the Vent Solenoid as well. Yes, you will still probably need to use a Smoke Machine, if you found all the circuits and components worked.
And yes, you would need a data system like the factory service manuals or AllData or Mitchell, Bosch, Vivid or others to know where the components are located and which wires are grounds or signal.
Even if you own the carmaker scan tool you will still need to have the data available, if for nothing else other than identifying the component locations.
You saved yourself a few thousand dollars and Iíll bet if you donít know what to do with that savings, your spouse will!
In the next part of this, we will examine the statements on scan tools of Skip Potter, NASTF Executive Director and Bob Stewart of GM customer care and aftersales.
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