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The move to laptop diagnostics

Thursday, February 1, 2018 - 09:00
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How many times have you heard a customer come in the shop and ask if you “have that computer that you hook up to my car that tells you everything that’s wrong with it?” Over the past 20 years or so I have heard this phrase or something like it, more times than I can recall. It started back when vehicles started to incorporate the ALDL (OBD I) or DLC (OBD II) test port inside the vehicle that we plugged a scanner of some sort into. While a scanner was technically a computer, its processer, RAM and internal storage was limited at best. Nowadays it has come full circle. I find myself daily with a laptop in one hand and scan tool interface in the other. So I ask you “Do you have a computer, laptop or tablet that you plug into a vehicle to aid in its diagnosis?” If your answer was no, I would be curious as to why not. 

Many of us grew up on the handheld scan tool like the venerable Tech2 or DRB III, or an aftermarket one like the Snap-On “brick."

In this article we will examine the shift by the OEMs and scan tool manufacturers away from the traditional handheld scanners of the past to a laptop or tablet based systems. Don’t get me wrong, I still use handheld scanners like the DRB III or Snap On Solus Ultra from time to time. Handheld OE tools like the GM Tech II in years past were almost surgically attached to my hand, nowadays I find myself still using a virtual Tech II by utilizing GM’s Tech2Win software and a MDI interface.  


Tech2Win has almost all the functionality of its predecessor less Tech II remote programming. Moreover, the boot time is much faster, the screen size is much bigger and the ability to make screenshots and archiving data is much easier. The only downside is that you have to have a current subscription to use it. You must have either a three-day, short-term subscription, an add-on to the TDS programming package or the Global A vehicle laptop based diagnostic software Global Diagnostic System II (GDS II). Tech2Win has a 29-day subscription timer that counts down and will lock you out if you do not renew. The Modular Diagnostic Interface (MDI) 1 or 2 can be used as an interface as well as any Drew Tech J2534 device including the inexpensive USB-style Mongoose GM Pro interface. 

Laptop or PC-based scan tools are becoming the norm, and offer a variety of added benefits to the tech including “point of need” access to service information and diagnostic resources.

The Tech2Win laptop setup with a MDI 1 or MDI 2 or approved J-2534 device eliminates the need for the requisite CANdi module for the handheld unit. It can be installed on more than one laptop and is touchscreen compatible on Windows-based touchscreen laptops and tablets. It shares all the same functionality as the handheld Tech 2 like DTC reading and clearing, reading data, recording snapshots, bidirectional control, as well as all the special functions like misfire graphic, injector balance and EVAP service bay tests. It’s only shortcoming, if there is one, is that it doesn’t have the ability to do Tech2 remote-style programming where the information is inhaled into the Tech2 and then exhaled into the vehicle for module programming.  I see this to be a moot point considering the Tech2 remote programming ended about the time CAN vehicles emerged on the scene circa 2007 or 2008 and considering you can SPS flash (SPS subscription required) much faster with the laptop setup. All the information regarding purchasing a subscription, step-by-step instruction on software installation and how to update the Tech2Win software are available at www.acdelcotechconnect.com.

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Another very powerful and relatively inexpensive laptop-based OE scan tool that has made some major changes and become more affordable than ever is the Toyota Techstream Lite. Toyota switched from a handheld platform based on the Vetronix MTS3100 platform to join the laptop ranks with the introduction of Techstream. The original Techstream came with a Panasonic Toughbook, carbon fiber cradle and Denso VIM or Vehicle Interface Module that was very expensive, with a cost north of 10K when it was introduced. This was cost prohibitive to small shops and large shops requiring multiple units. Toyota wanted to come up with a way to put an OE scan tool in each tech’s hands for under $1,000. They partnered up with Drew Technologies to design a low cost interface to use with Toyota’s Techstream software. The result was Techstream Lite. This was the origin of the Drew Technologies USB-style Mongoose MFC interface, which was a low-cost ISO 9141 interface (< $500) that could work with a Windows-based laptop with a USB port. Toyota offers the Techstream Lite package with Mongoose and a year’s subscription that includes scan tool updates, flash files, service information and Identifix Direct Hit for Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles for an extremely reasonable price. If you already have a Toyota validated J-2534 compliant device one can have an OE factory scan tool with OE service information and flash files for a reasonable price. Information regarding Techstream Lite can be found at https://techinfo.toyota.com

Laptops also allow techs to expand their diagnostic arsenal with add-ons like the DSO shown.
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