Assuming you decide to start doing some or all scans in house, your scan tool choices include OEM and aftermarket tools. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
OE scan tools:
- Coverage limited to specific manufactured vehicles
- More than one may be required for each manufacturer
- Contains the latest and most complete functionality
- Validated by the OE manufacturer
- Updates released frequently
- May provide capabilities that aftermarket tools don’t, such as build data, freeze frames or frequency counters
Aftermarket scan tools:
- Wide range in capabilities and cost from the best units to most modest ones
- Some provide coverage for most vehicle brands and models
- Some provide procedures and functions for diagnostics and calibrations equal to OE tools on many vehicles.
- Cost effective
- Updates may not be as frequent
- Information may not be as current
The big picture
It’s most important to consider the basic function and design of these new technologies. It was mandated that all 1996 and newer vehicles have an On Board Diagnostic system II (OBDII). Included in that requirement is the use of a specific 16-pin connector that is universal to all models and is to be located within two feet of the steering wheel. (See photos) The system monitors an incredible number of functions and when something goes awry, it creates and stores a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC), often referred to as a fault code. The purpose of the DTC is to aid technicians in locating the source of problems, presumably leading to a corrective repair. Depending upon model and options, systems can be capable of producing hundreds or even thousands of different DTCs. Very few of them will light a dash warning indicator.
“Clearing codes” is a phrase that has become common in the collision repair industry. Unfortunately too many people have the impression that it is our job to make the codes go away, and then everything is fine. Instead, we need to understand that the code is an indication of something wrong and therefore it is our job to identify the source and address it accordingly. The process of the scan identifies the codes. Determining what the codes mean may require additional research of factory data and repair information from sources such as OE websites or ALLDATA. It can be time consuming. If the source of the DTC is unrelated to the accident, the consumer — and perhaps insurer — should be informed.
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If they elect to not correct the issue, it is best that the code be left in the system for diagnostic purposes at some potential later date. (It is prudent to have the consumer sign a release before starting the repair that allows the repairer to obtain their vehicle’s data and share it with the insurer.) If the code is related to the accident, steps should be taken to correct the issue and clear the code before handing the vehicle back to the customer. If the code is not cleared, you leave the vehicle with a potentially permanent record of the accident and/or repair, which may have negative implications for the customer in the future such as from diminished value at trade-in time.
Think of the scan as the only way that you can look into the system. Visual inspections are very limited in the problems you may detect. If you have a good understanding of all the systems, a road test may identify if most systems are functioning. Yet so many systems are so complex that it is difficult to know how all systems on all vehicles behave. And even if you identify a malfunctioning system, you will in all probability need a scan to pinpoint the issue. A scan is by far the best tool to identify potential issues and the best tool to assure the health of the systems.
While scanning is the most thorough way of checking the health of these new systems, there is more that one needs to understand and consider. Calibrations are a key issue. A scan may identify that a camera or sensor is working and that there are good electrical connections in its system, but it may not tell the technician that the camera or sensor is in proper calibration. If a windshield mirror-mounted camera was pointed in a direction out of its prescribed range of vision, it potentially may not see what it was intended to. If an adaptive cruise control was engaged, it may cause the vehicle to drive up on a small vehicle it didn’t see such as a motorcycle because it was only seeing a larger vehicle, such as a truck, in front of the motorcycle.