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The move to laptop diagnostics

Thursday, February 1, 2018 - 08:00
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Techstream has many useful features like Health Check that it will query every module on the vehicle, check for DTCs, as well as freeze-frame data, info codes and all the module calibrations numbers once the vehicle has been identified and communication started. In addition, in some instances, it will record stamps of the failures and when the scan tool has access to the internet it will check for any calibration updates available. It can even record the tire pressure readings via TPMS. The Health Check results are conveniently displayed on one screen, color coding the modules that have DTCs stored. The Health Check data can be archived for later viewing. Moreover, a detailed diagnostic report can be printed and shared with the customer or generated for pre/post scanning records on collision vehicles.  

Techstream Lite has all the other features one would expect like scan data monitoring and recording snapshots. It harnesses the power of laptop processor and graphs well. Subsequently, it has bi-directional control of actuators and has the ability to run several special functions such as Toyota’s 11-step evaporative emissions diagnostic test which can be graphed making short work of interpreting the data from the test. 

Aftermarket moves to PC 

It’s not only the OEMs that have embraced utilizing the power of a laptop and using a USB-style interface. Tools like the Ross-Tech VCDS (former known as Vag-Com) have been doing this since the early 2000s. Around May of 2009 Vag-Com simply changed names and is now known as Ross-Tech VCDS (Vag Com Diagnostic System). This is, in my opinion, possibly the biggest bang for buck in laptop-based scan tools. The scan tool platform runs on Windows-based laptops. It is for VW/Audi/Skoda/Seat vehicles only and lacks immobilizer and programming capabilities. But what it does it does extremely well. The price of this tool is comparable to a quality of ½” drive socket set in some cases. Moreover, it is the only scan tool I have ever purchased that did not charge me for updates. That’s correct, updates for the Ross-Tech VCDS are free! 

(Photo courtesy of Delphi) Tablets are an increasingly popular “handheld” platform, allowing touchscreen convenience and intuitive navigation.

The VW VAS 5051/5052 was the tablet-based OE tool during the time Vag-Com introduced. Simply put, the VAS5051/5052 is extremely slow and complicated to run unless one was a trained VW tech or had access to factory publications detailing the numbering of module addresses, measuring blocks and basic settings functions. Vag-Com was a game changer in the fact that they labeled the modules along with their addresses and listed the data blocks in Measuring Blocks to help in identifying the data PID for the module that you were monitoring. VCDS (Vag-Com) also did something extremely helpful, which was to do an auto scan based upon the vehicle’s VIN that generated a “log file” that displayed all of vehicle’s modules by their address and listing the module’s coding, any DTCs stored and freeze-frame information with time stamps in most cases. This auto scan process was much faster than the factory tool, especially if you added in the boot time, largely because VCDS queried the suggested modules by VIN code rather than checking every possibility. However, CAN-equipped vehicles run the scans much faster than their non-CAN counterparts. This log file could be archived for later use, as well as printed for documentation for pre/post scans or showing the customer.  

VCDS also can perform adaptions, reset Service Reminder Indexes (SRI), check TDI pump timing, graph scan data and force readiness monitors to run. Perhaps the greatest feature of VCDS is its ability to code modules and their slaves’ offline. Coding is essential when a module has been replaced to unlock the software inside of it for the appropriate vehicle options. It isn’t programming — in the VW/Audi world it is SVM or Software Version Management — but it is an essential configuration/setup of a replaced module. The VCDS log file can be saved including the coding data and it can be referenced later. This is helpful when a scan has been performed and saved and later a module was replaced with the old module is no longer present to extract the coding from it. Furthermore, VCDS has a unique feature known as coding helper, which will suggest or give the options of the module’s coding choices and the configurations they represent. In addition, the Ross-Tech Wiki is a web-based information site that is extremely helpful in all facets of VCDS operations, but it really comes in handy when trying to figure out the appropriate coding for a module that has been changed and the previous coding or correct coding is not known.  

The VCDS offers most of the OEM features at a much lower cost and is easy to learn how to operate.

The Ross-Tech VCDS- NET Pro® is now available in the wireless WIFI interface, which shares all the same functionality as its predecessor and will now work on non-PC platforms. According to Ross-Tech, it is compatible on devices with Microsoft Windows® versions from XP through the current Windows 10, Apple iPad®, iPhone®, most Android® phones and tablets, Blackberry Z10®, Q10®, Microsoft Surface® and Windows Phone® and Kindle Fire®. The same interface will also work hardwired with a USB cable. It acts as a dongle when plugged into the DLC. The activation of the full VCDS or new VCDS mobile software is built into the interface. There are customer loyalty incentives that allow past VCDS owner to upgrade to the VCDS-Net Pro via a trade in. Ross-Tech also offers an annual support package which is extremely reasonable. I have owned their products since the early 2000s, as well as the VW/Audi factory tools, and regularly grab my VCDS for quick scans and function that do not require online functionality or Guided Fault Finding (GFF), which VCDS does not have. All things considered this is a very affordable, powerful, intuitive and well supported diagnostic scan tool. Further information regarding Ross Tech VCDS can be found at

Capability beyond the scan 

Up to this point we have examined laptop based scan tools; however, the move to technicians having laptops in the service bay can also incorporate access to service information, pay sites like www.iATN.net, invoicing software, digital vehicle inspection (DVI) and other power tools such as a PicoScope® lab scope. 

The newer Mongoose Pro, coupled with the Toyota software, provides techs with the Toyota factory tool at an affordable price.

Think of the time saved by having your service information (SI) or wiring diagrams right at your fingertips via a laptop or a tablet as the tech works on a vehicle. Traditionally shops that I worked at had SI on a desktop computer, usually the invoicing computer in the front office. If not, there was a separate desktop setup in the shop that all the techs shared. Wiring diagrams and test plans were printed out and carried to the vehicle. If someone else was using the desktop, it created a roadblock. Nowadays with each tech having their own laptop and wireless access to the internet, techs can access the information they need right at the vehicle. Many systems allow the techs to look at the vehicle’s service history and share invoice information such as VIN, odometer reading and plate number and put services and parts direct to the RO. DVI allows the inspections to incorporate photos to the inspections and emailing or texting them to the vehicle’s owner. These are all tremendous time savers and increase efficiency. 

So the question remains, have you or your shop integrated this not-so-new technology? If not, what is keeping you from making the leap? Change can be scary for some folks. But if you think about it, our industry has always been in a state of technological flux. We live in interesting times where time equals money. Harnessing the power of laptop based diagnostic tools and systems is just another way that we can increase our efficiency and productivity.

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