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TOOL TEST: The Mac TaskMaster

Monday, August 1, 2005 - 00:00
TOOL TEST: The Mac TaskMasterTOOL TEST: August 2005
The Mac TaskMaster

THE TOOL:
The Mac TaskMaster is advertised as being "powered by Mac Mentor technology." This means it uses the same scan tool software as the Mac Mentor, a tremendously capable diagnostic tool that most shops would consider a capital investment. By eliminating the Mentor's gas analyzer and scope functions, the company was able to price the TaskMaster within the reach of individual technicians. 

The tool is much easier to use than its big brother. About the size and weight of a paperback book, a strap on the side makes it easy to hold the tool and push the buttons with the same hand. The 3.75-inch screen displays text and graphs in a fine but clear resolution. The unit can be configured for English, Spanish or French, although many OBD items are defined in English anyway. 

The software includes on-board tutorials and a Quick Start Guide intended to get a new user up and running fast. It will only read powertrain, ABS and air bag systems, and its coverage of import vehicles is limited. But in generic mode, it supports all OBDI, OBDII and CAN communications, and it displays live data both numerically and graphically. It will record data for playback or downloading to a PC (software is included), and it's designed to be updated from the Internet. A built-in Compact Flash port hints that there will be additional options in the future.

THE TESTERS:

Howard Pitkow
Shop Owner
Wagenwerx Inc., Wyndmoor, PA 

Thirty years in the trade, shop owner for 15 years. ASE-certified in Engine Repair and Service Consultant. ASA Mechanical Operations Committee member.


Derek Spohn

Shop Foreman
Rad-Air of Westlake, Westlake, OH

Nine years in the trade.
ASE certifications: 
A1, A3, A4, A5, A6, A7, A8, L1


1. VISUAL INSPECTION:
Pitkow: When I opened the molded plastic carrying case containing the Mac Taskmaster, my first thought was "here is one more 'toy-like' code reader." I suppose I first thought this because of its size. 

As it turned out, the small size was the tool's best asset. I liked the way it fit in my hand. The included hand strap on the right side kept the scanner secured to my hand at all times. The screen was easy to view both inside and outside, and the user buttons were well placed. 

Storing the Taskmaster was easy as it fit very well in its custom carrying case. The included instruction manual is clearly written and easy to understand.

Spohn: The unit appeared and felt too light, which [in my opinion] equates to cheapness with cheap-looking plastic.

The instructions were clear and easy to follow, and they "dumbed down" the more complicated options.

2. PERFORMANCE:
Pitkow: The Taskmaster is very easy to use. The 4-foot-long OBD II cable (included) is a good length, although it does not reach to the front of the vehicle. The available screens are easy to navigate and the start-up boot time is minimal. The included software installed on my notebook computer but failed to do so on my desktop computer. Both are the same major brand and use Microsoft XP Pro. Along with being a code reader, [the device] also provides the user with freeze frame and live data.

THE COMPANY

Currently owned by Stanley Tools, Mac Tools of Westerville, OH has been in business since 1938, and most of its hand tools are still manufactured in the United States. The company was one of the pioneers of mobile tool distribution - the now-familiar tool truck - and the current product line includes more than 8,000 items. The Mentor and the TaskMaster are both manufactured by SPX Corp., another company with a long history in the automotive service industry. Most of Mac's products also are available from its online catalog.
Spohn: It was easy to use as instructed. [The instructions] saved me time accessing the more hidden options that are found after accessing five or six windows. No more looking for Mode $06 under two or three main headings and 65 subheadings. However, this tool does not allow me to do anything new due to its overlap with my Snap-on's capabilities. [Editor's note: Spohn usually uses a Snap-on MT2500.]

3. EVALUATION:
Pitkow: After testing it on more than 20 Volkswagen vehicles, I found it to be unreliable because several times it reported incorrect diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs). If I did not have another scan tool to compare it with, I may not have known this. 

This is a generic code reader reporting generic P codes. Some of the accompanying data is abbreviated and not easy to understand. Because the Taskmaster has difficulty reporting correctly and has no bidirectional ability, I would not recommend it as a first choice tool. In fact, until the software problems are corrected, I would not recommend it at all. [Editor's note: Wagonwerx is a Volkswagen specialty shop.]

Spohn: The tool did much more than I originally expected. Even though it looks cheap, it is quite powerful. The directional buttons (left, right, up, down) could be larger and not recessed into the tool to improve the usability of the tool. A quicker boot-up would improve it. 

Not considering the price, I would buy the tool because it's easy to use, small in size and has full function as long as you don't work on many imports. I looked into the price only after I learned and used the tool quite a bit. The price was $500 less than I expected, considering what the tool is capable of. The question of what scan tool to buy and use has been a hot topic in the trade. The cost involved in any scan tool purchase makes you nervous about buying the wrong one. 

Would you like 
to join our team of 
Tool Testers? 
We are currently accepting applications from working technicians who would like the chance to test-drive a new tool. E-mail us for details.

This tool has full [generic] coverage for all OBDII cars. How much it will do depends on the vehicle, but to access and clear codes, get some sensor readings and properly diagnose any car 1996 and newer, this tool is it. All for a tool truck price that most techs can pay off in a year.

Tech Editor's Comments:
Jacques Gordon: Like the official Tool Testers, our first impression was that the tool's weight was light, which made it seem more like a toy. However, this impression faded the moment we plugged it into a car and discovered that we were able to use many of its features immediately, without even reading the instructions. 

Of course, we did read the instructions and learned more about the tool's true abilities. The screen can display many lines of data and is very clear, although like all tools of this type, it can be difficult to see in bright sunlight. 

The tool can read enhanced (manufacturer-specific) data on most domestic vehicles, especially Ford. While it worked well in generic mode on Asian imports, it was difficult to establish communication with some European models. 

The carrying case is useful, although if you don't need any of the older-style cables or connectors, the tool is small and light enough to be kept in a drawer. All in all, we think this tool should be a good seller for the company.

 

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