Foreign service

Foreign service

Marinucci, Dan

In this second part of a three-part series, Dan gives us a rundown on what traditional scanner platforms have to offer for Asian and European OBD II diagnostics.

Eventually, technicians who specialize in Asian and/or European vehicles will have to equip for OBD II diagnosis. Last month we talked about the SAE-specified functions an OBD II tester is supposed to perform. This time around we’ll give you a brief rundown on traditional scanner platforms available for OBD II diagnosis on foreign cars.

Before we begin, it would be helpful to refresh your memory by skimming over August’s Foreign Service column first. At the very least, remember that OBD II fault codes are called DTCs (Diagnostic Trouble Codes). Vehicle manufacturer-specific DTCs, which may provide more detailed diagnostic information, are usually called enhanced codes. When we refer to enhanced codes here, we’re talking about manufacturer-specific powertrain DTCs. Also remember that computer capabilities change quickly. By the time you read this, some manufacturers may have updated what they offer.

Basic Hand-Held OBD II Testers

There are two stand-alone, hand-held units designed specifically for testing OBD II systemsthe PST5O from Interro Systems and the QuikCode from EASE Simulation. Both are basic products for technicians seeking a lowcost entry into OBD II testing.

If the Interro name sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s the same company that brought us two MOTOR Top 20 Tools winners over the years-the PDA lab scope/multimeter/engine analyzer (also sold as the Matco InSight and OTC Vision) and the ECVu electronic breakout box option for the PDA.

The PST500 is a totally generic tester that performs all the SAE-specified tests on OBD II-compliant vehicles. However, it doesn’t read enhanced DTCs. This tester, which has a tenline liquid crystal display (LCD), has a plug-in program cartridge that makes it easy to update if the need arises. As of this writing, suggested user price for Interro’s PST500 is $895.

EASE Simulation’s QuikCode can read enhanced powertrain DTCs on any OBD IIcompliant vehicle, and suggested user price is only 295 bucks! But QuikCode is a very barebones unit with just a one-line LCD display, which means you have to patiently scroll through one item at a time. Also, it cannot perform all the SAE-specified tests discussed last month. For instance, it doesn’t show freeze frame data or define any DTCs it retrieves. So you have to refer to a separate source to learn what each retrieved code means. Nonetheless, QuikCode is still the most affordable tester we know of that retrieves and clears OBD II DTCs.

Traditional Scan Tools

There are several generalizations we can make about scan tools. First, any new scan tool we know of has OBD II capability already programmed into its software. Second, some units retrieve only generic DTCs, while others read enhanced codes, as well. Third, the various equipment manufacturers package the OBD II test functions very differently, and some tools have a larger display than others. As a result, some units route you into and out of more menus and force you to make more selections than others do.

You can usually send data from a scan tool directly into a printer of some kind. And when you buy the appropriate software and cable kit, you can download information from a scan tool into a personal computer (PC) for storage, further analysis or making printouts. Also, a typical scan tool can record a limited amount of data-usually several minutes’ worth-for playback and review. Most traditional scan tools do work on serial data-equipped Asian vehIdes prior to 1996. Some access more Asian serial data than others, however.

Finally, you can usually update an existing scan tool to OBD II with a simple software upgrade. But you may need to buy an optional cable or terminal adapter “key” to go with it.

Let’s take a look at the specific scan tools currently on the market. Autodiagnos makes the factory scanner for Volvo dealers and sells an aftermarket version of it called the Multitester Plus, which we cited as a Top 20 Tools winner in 1994. Last year, we recognized the company again for its Windows-based ACE software program and smart breakout box setup for European ECMs.

You can add OBD II capability to a Multitester Plus by sending the unit to the nearest Autodiagnos equipment distributor. Or you can purchase the software and a cable directly from a Volvo dealer. The only enhanced DTCs this upgrade will access are Volvo’s.

Micro Processor Systems, Inc. (MPSI), released the very first GM factory scanner around 1981 and later brought us the Pro Link scan tool. As we reported seven summers ago, the Pro Link was especially newsworthy because you could plug it into MPSI’s IBOB, the only smart breakout box with broad coverage on popular Japanese vehicles.

Today, MPSI includes OBD II test capability in its new domestic vehicle cartridge. What if you’re a Japanese car specialist who already has a Pro Link/BOB combination? If so, you can buy a separate OBD II cartridge or an updated EPROM for an existing cartridge from MPSI. However, its OBD II capability is generic only for Asian and European vehicles.

Equipping the venerable OTC Monitor for OBD II work requires a new software cartridge, but the cartridge gives you only generic info on nondomestic applications. Plus, this OBD II capability is included in OTC’s Asian application cartridge as well as in the standard software package on new Monitor models. This tool accesses Asian serial data on pre-1996 vehicles. Note that the Enhanced Monitor 4000 (released in 1995) already has the hardware needed to support an OBD II cartridge.

Besides being an extremely popular aftermarket scanner, Snap-on’s MT2500 also happens to be Hyundai’s dealer scan tool. Snap-on includes OBD II in new domestic and Asian “primary” scanner cartridges. You can purchase this Asian cartridge separately or in a kit that has a separate Asian troubleshooting cartridge. This second cartridge provides specific test and repair tips-including wiring diagramsfor Asian OBD II systems.

According to Snap-on’s technical guys, its OBD II software can read enhanced DTCs on the following Asian vehicles: Chrysler imports, Geo, Hyundai, Infiniti, Lexus, Nissan and Toyota. Plus, this scanner pulls serial data from earlier Asian vehicles.

Vetronix is known for supplying the Tech 1 series scanners to GM dealers as well as to independent shops. The Mastertech, which won a Top 20 Tools award in 1994, is an aftermarket version of the scanner Vetronix has been building for Honda, Toyota, Isuzu, Suzuki and Kia. Although both Vetronix scanners can read pre-1996 serial data, the Mastertech is the more sophisticated, more Asian-oriented of the two units. What’s more, Mastertech has a much larger display screen and includes a very basic lab scope.

If you already have a Vetronix scanner, you can add OBD II capability by sending in the program card for an upgrade. You can also do it with your PC and the appropriate floppy disk, or through a modem download directly from the company. New scanners, company sources told us, can test all OBD II-compliant vehicles with just one cartridge and cable. The blockbuster news is they also said Vetronix OBD II software retrieves enhanced DTCs from all Asian and European systems!

Next month we’ll conclude our series on OBD II diagnostics with a look at the newest generation of testersPC-based scan tools. See you then! [

Copyright Hearst Business Publishing Sep 1998

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