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The silent WARRIOR
PC Based Test Tools and Diagnostics

In the past 10 years major advances have taken place, from the front counter to the back shop. These include customer appointment procedures, work orders, parts purchasing, diagnostics, repair information, alignment functions, and many others. Without dispute, however, the single tool which has been integrated into virtually every aspect of shop function is the computer. One of the most important changes the technician has seen in recent years is the changeover from hand-held dedicated devices to computer based tools.

Bob Greenwood


The introduction to the aftermarket of dedicated hand-held tools, by Snap-On, OTC, and other manufacturers was aimed at producing an established platform for all makes into which dedicated software cartridges could be inserted into the generic hardware. It was a simple way to control the user functions and abilities of the tool, and to profit from cartridges or quarterly and annual updates. If a technician had a problem with the tool not functioning the way it should, a call to a help desk could quickly guide them back on track. This proved to be a very successful process as the technicians found it convenient, and the tool manufacturer saved time in their tech help department.

With all good things there is, of course, a disadvantage. In this case one of the major drawbacks occurred when a glitch proved to be a software problem or hardware problem with the hand held device, resulting in the need to send it to the factory for repair, which could take weeks, or, in some cases months. Also, the dedicated hardware would only be able to perform to the limit of the memory, and the drivers and navigation system were limited by the capability of the tool.

This caused technicians to start asking what the dealers were using, which resulted in a push for factory scanners, because this seemed to be the only source of factory level information at the time. When this happened most techs started to discover that even dealers were turning to PC based tools, and more and more manufactures were using standard computers for their platforms.

The main reason for this elimination of dedicated hardware is the simple concept, “why reinvent the wheel?” Loading software and a connector into a PC purchased over the counter at a local computer store seemed to be a good solution. It would allow a technician with problems to be back up quickly and if something happens to the tool, operating software could be reloaded onto another computer with little, or, no down time experienced, other than the simple transfer of data. Also, if and when an update is needed the user could access the internet and download the update without waiting for delivery of a cartridge or card for the update.

So where does this leave us? Computers seem to be the solution to the problems found with dedicated hardware machines. Certainly, computers have their downsides too, one biggie being the need to use a laptop in the shop in order to gain reasonable portability. You will also have to understand the operating system and navigation of a computer to access the programs,and, be able to navigate with a mouse. But, with the abundant availability of reasonably priced laptops, this still seems the best and most cost effective solution.

If coordination of a mouse is your issue, many laptops can be purchased as touch screen units or even as tablets. Also, other advantages of PC based tools include much larger screens, more memory and file storage capability, and the ability to “toggle” with other devices including scopes, such as PICO, and information systems like ALLDATA.

So are computers perfect? So far they still have a mystical side to them, almost like “silent warriors” which we continue to use and rely on everyday.

Imagine you access the vehicles PCM with your laptop and discover a cam sensor code. You open up your ALLDATA information to search TSBs and wiring info, and from there you access your scope program, such as PICO, to get a waveform from the sensor. Based on this information, you can now input the needed repairs onto the work order you received via wireless transmission from the front counter 15 minutes before!

Yes, there are hand held units which try to duplicate the PC’s ability but these come at a premium price, yet still fall short of the PC abilities. Many technicians now have their own laptop which allows them to work with the software on their own PC. Programs like VAG-COM, Autoenginuity and PICO will actually allow you to download their software directly to your PC.

The ability to access the internet in your shop leads to new ways to obtain information. Sites like the NSCC website, with an auto video training reference library (AUTO-VRT) allows direct communication for just-in-time information and faster, easier, vehicle repair. This is done by a technician accessing a data base of short video clips on “how to do different procedures.” AUTO VRT will also give a technician attending a training class a “reminder” series of videos which they can reference at a later date. For example, if a technician was attending a scan tool class, reference videos from the class would be online for him/her to access. This type of information along with service information programs like ALL-DATA or, Mitchell on Demand can help a technician perform tasks quicker and easier.

So are computers perfect? So far they still have a mystical side to them, almost like “silent warriors” which we continue to use and rely on everyday. What we lack in knowledge computers can help supply, providing of course someone has already inputted the information. Computers perform multiple tasks simultaneously, and without error - how many times have you seen a calculator make a mistake?

Special thanks to Dave Giles, Automotive Training Business Development, Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), Akerley Campus, Dartmouth, NS. Dave may be contacted at 1-902-491-7346.

About The Author: Mr. John Cannella highly experienced contributor to Auto Atlantic.

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