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Which OBD2 Scan Tool?


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#1 jj_jeep

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Posted 20 July 2013 - 01:56 PM

Curious which scan tool people like/recommend. I see there are now Bluetooth units that talk to your smart phone or PC. Are these a nice way to go so you can read all the sensors, log data, and get easy software updates for scanning?

#2 Moses Ludel

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Posted 20 July 2013 - 08:33 PM

JJ, I just received the latest Actron offering for testing: the U-Scan 9599.  (Follow the link for all the details!)  OTC/Actron/SPX/Miller are now all under the Bosch umbrella, which is a real plus for consumers. 

 

U-Scan is a Smart Phone view device and has a number of available upgrade apps that include real time sensor readouts.  You do need the app upgrades to take full advantage of this technology.  You need a Smart Phone, too!

 

Technology is advancing rapidly.  U-Scan's upgrade "apps" are trendy and fit the Smart Phone culture.  Be aware that code readers and even their advanced apps are still talking only one way: from the PCM to the reader, whether receiving simple OBD-II or CAN BUS numeric codes or "watching" the sensor functions in real time graphic simulations or various graphs.  These simulations are essentially continuous reads of streaming data.

 

The next diagnostic scan tool tier is well over $1000, 10X the cost of the basic U-Scan reader.  From $1000 up would be programs that allow uploading information for permitted re-flashing of the vehicle's onboard computer.  Tools like the Chrysler DRBIII dealership level Chrysler/Jeep scan tool can actually reprogram elements of the onboard PCM or ECU/ECM software. 

 

I borrowed a DRBIII scan tool from friends at OTC/SPX Miller tools to produce the HD video on speedometer recalibration.  Click on the link and take the time to watch this video.  You'll see the difference between uploading and downloading data.  Speedometer calibration was just the tip of the iceberg for functions you can perform with higher end, interactive scanners and diagnostic tools. 

 

OTC offers Genisys, Snap-On has its programs, tools in the $5K or higher price range, aimed at shops doing pinpoint diagnostics and troubleshooting beyond code reader-based technology.  DRBIII and other high end dealership level programs can actually operate and test the engine's sensors and other fuel-and-spark management devices in real time, paired with the PCM/ECU functions.  They also offer ABS, air bag and other systems troubleshooting.

 

As you discovered with your OBD-II scan reading for the "#1 Cylinder Misfire", scan tools can sometimes be limiting.  However, that is no reason to pass up the new generation, advanced code readers and data streaming devices!  You can often pay for a tool like the U-Scan, or even a $29 code reader from Harbor Freight, with the very first DTC (diagnostic trouble code) readout.  For many troubleshooting projects, the stored MIL codes serve well.

 

I'd like others to comment on their scan tool experiences.  This is an area of real interest, and the best judges are actual users with insights to share!

 

Moses



#3 biggman100

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Posted 21 July 2013 - 01:18 PM

I have a friend who uses one of the bluetooth scan tools, not sure which model or make though, with it linked to his smart phone, and it seems to be an ok idea, except for a couple things his does im not to fond of. One is that his alerts you if the MIL, or check engine light, comes on, by an audible tone, even when you are driving, which i think would be a bit of a distraction, especially while driving. Im sure you can turn that option off, i have just not messed with it enough to find out. The other issue i have with it is, you cant always retrieve the data for later evaluation, or in my case, because i have a short memory and dont always remeber what codes show up.

 

I myself use the innova series of scanners and readers. I like them because of the wide range of functions you can use them for.  My current one is the innova 3160B, which not only does standard code retrieval, but also does ABS and airbag codes on certain vehicles, and can be upgraded online to cover almost any vehicle made after 1996. It also has a data storage function, that will let you retrieve any codes that were present, even weeks after you read the data from the vehicle, as long as the batteries stay charged. Another function it has that i like about it, is that if you connect it to your laptop or home computer, you can print the diagnostic results. You can also get software upgrades, and adapters for most pre-OBD2 domestic vehicles, and some foreign vehicles, namely toyota and VW. One thing im not sure it does, is allow pcm reprogramming, but it may, i just never looked into it, as i dont need to do that alot. It is also kinda of bulky compared to some of the other scanners out there, but, not as big or bulky as the Snap-on and MAC scanners, and a lot less expensive. I paid $199.99 for mine, plus shipping, through wal-mart online.

 

Before i got my new one, i had a basic one, that i got from autozone, and is also available at most other parts stores, and sometimes sears, is an actron CP9575. It was good for basic code reading and erasing, and some basic live data functions, but it didnt do ABS or airbag codes. If all you are looking for is a scanner that you can monitor functions, and read and erase codes with, ones like the cheaper actron work very well. I used mine for almost 2 years, and it worked very well for what it was designed for. After i bought my new one, i gave the actron to a freind, and he uses it quite a bit, so even though they usually run between $99 and $150, they are still very durable, and last quite awhile, so depending on what you are using it for, you will definitely get your money back just in how much you save having a dealer do scans on your vehicles when needed. The big downside for me with them was no battery backup, and no ABS retrieval, and the one i had didnt allow software upgrades.

 

The best way to find out which scanner would work for you, is to go to the manufacturers websites, and look at what each one does, and then decide which one would be best for you. I have posted the websites for the few that i do know of, someone else might know of others.

 

http://www.equus.com/   Equus, makes Innova diagnostic tools, and Equus gauges.

 

 

 



#4 Moses Ludel

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Posted 21 July 2013 - 01:55 PM

Very helpful, biggman100, you've drawn some lines on what can be expected from the different levels of basic readers and scan tools, and as you aptly describe, an increase in price does not necessarily guarantee more functions.

 

It's important to note that scan tools have far more functions than a very simple code reader.  I bought a Harbor Freight basic code reader to carry in my off-road tool box.  This very inexpensive device came with a code book (hexadecimal) for OBD-II. 

 

I would describe the Harbor Freight tool as simply an alternative to those vehicles that enable you to read a MIL stored DTC by cycling the ignition switch:  Three times on-and-off in succession, and our '05 Dodge Ram/Cummins 3500 will deliver an instrument panel LED readout of the stored DTC(s).  The Harbor Freight reader will even erase the stored DTCs; maybe not a big item, as disconnecting the battery will do the same; however, disconnecting the battery also means having to reset the clock and other battery powered time functions.

 

So, like biggman100 clearly shares, if you want actual data and useful stored or streaming information, including the PC download option, make sure you're getting those features.  Thanks, biggman100, for leading the discussion forward!

 

More experience and insight to share out there?  Join us!

 

Moses



#5 jj_jeep

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 12:01 PM

Thanks for the testimony on different scan tools.  I checked around the net this afternoon at some of the models you mention as well as the competing models.  Numerous consumer reviews of these items indicated a theme of the "extra" features on the scan tools (SRS and ABS) not working on some vehicle models even though they were specified to work on those models.  Didn't seem to matter which scan tool brand or model.  Or for some of the models that work with smartphones, you often had to buy additional software to unlock additional features.  I would be interested in a model that scans airbag lights as my airbag light is on, but based on the reviews I'd be better off buying a low cost, very base model just to get OBD2 codes otherwise I might be paying for more than I am advertised to get.  Any comments on scanners you are using and whether they have been compatible with OBD2 Jeeps for OBD2 codes in addition to SRS and ABS codes? 



#6 Moses Ludel

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 01:59 PM

Would like to hear from more actual users, comments like biggman100, especially on the smart phone models.  You're right about "apps" being the wild card, the smart phone is even more gimmicky, as one device can host a variety of apps, and the functionality grows with for-pay downloads or at least apps and subscriptions.

 

I just stumbled onto Controller Technologies' new DRB III emulator tool, promoted at the Mopar TechAuthority site.  This is an OBD-II scanner that has functions like the dealership DRB-III, which is true two-way communication.  Not sure whether you must use this in conjunction with Wi-Tech from Mopar, a J-subscription is mandatory for downloading any re-flashes.  Here's the PDF brochure for more information on the DRB-III Emulator:

 

http://shop.networkvehicle.com/media/DRB%20III%20Emulator(1).pdf

 

I'm inquiring about the scope of this package at the $2,495 price tag.  Smaller 4x4 and Jeep shops, dealerships and tune-up shops would find this affordable.  A DRB-III tool, if you can find one available, runs $6K plus periodic update software.  Leasing has become the option.  Both Mopar's Wi-Tech and DRB-III Emulator are PC based.

 

Moses  



#7 biggman100

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 09:36 PM

I have used my Innova 3160B on a 1999 wrangler, and it would do OBD2 codes, as well as ABS, but not airbag codes. It also wouldn't do airbag codes, and was spotty on ABS codes on a 1999 grand cherokee. It did however do OBD2, ABS, and airbag codes on a 2003 Grand Cherokee 4x4.

 

I have found that most scanners tend to be spotty on reading some ABS systems, namely chrysler, jeep and ford before 2000, and most, including mine, wont read airbag faults on anything made before 1999. The more expensive models can be upgraded through software updates to read ABS and airbag codes for almost any model and any year. One thing i did forget to mention in my previous post, is the Snap-On and MAC series of scanners. There are quite a few of the older Snap-On (mainly the solus line) and MAC scanners on ebay, some for pretty reasonable prices, but you have to be careful there. Read the listing very carefully, and see especially when it was last updated, and what updates were applied. While they aren't the newest and greatest models out there, for people who are only looking to interface with one or two vehicles, or maybe a few vehicles a year, they do come in handy, and do offer a broad range of features that most of the handhelds cant do.

 

I do quite a few 1992 to 2003 vehicles, but, i don't have a big budget to play with, so i bought an older Snap-On MT2500 that was originally set up for all domestic and Asian cars, for $300 on ebay, and then had a friend who owns a shop have it updated for me for German cars, because i do work on some of those at times, and so far i have had no complaints with it. It all depends on your budget, and what you expect your scanner to do, when deciding the best purchase for you.



#8 Moses Ludel

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 10:48 PM

This is helpful, biggman100.  I've thought about used OTC and Snap-On scan tools, wondering whether the software updates are available.  These are near-dealership tools that can do some two-way data exchange and flashing. 

 

You're right, it's all in what you need, and I like your point about volume of use.  Of course, I'd like a DRB-III scanner, but at $6K or a rental/lease fee plus a $6K deposit at TechAuthority, do I really need that caliber of scanner?  Certainly not for recalibrating speedometers if I can access that same function on a pre-owned Snap-On or OTC setup. 

 

Do we really need expensive equipment, designed for shops and dealerships that can amortize the cost at labor rates of over $100 per hour?  This topic has real value, helping us understand what we need and want in diagnostic equipment.  So what, exactly, can you do with your Snap-On MT2500?  It's a terrific buy, how will it pay for itself? 

 

Moses



#9 biggman100

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Posted 05 August 2013 - 07:53 AM

Moses, i agree with you. I would like to have the new DRB-III, but, at that price, it would take a long time to recover the cost. As for what i can do with the MT2500, i have so far found it very useful for doing the things that my Innova 3160B doesn't do, namely the ABS and airbag stuff on older models. It also seems to have a broader range of data that it can access. One upside i have found with it is the ability to read data on the go, so it also functions in the manner of an onboard computer, which can be very useful. It will also store data for later retrieval, which helps when you are on a test drive and can't keep looking at the unit. From what i understand, it will also allow for things like speedometer reprogramming, as well as reflashing of certain functions, depending on the make and model of the vehicle. I have never used it for speedo calibration, but i have used it for other functions, such as changing factory rev limiter points, and shift light functions on my wife's rally car.

 

I mainly bought the MT2500 for pre 1996 vehicles before i bought my Innova, and found i could get software and adapters for the Innova for the older vehicles, because i didnt like the idea of carrying manufacturer specific OBD1 tools for each make around with me, especially since most OBD1 scanners were very limited function wise. I have used the MT2500 quite extensively though on a 2002 chevy 2500 4x4 that was a complete rebuild, and was able to calibrate the ECM to the truck without having to go to the dealer. My father in law used his, which is the same model as mine, to reflash the ECM in his 1999 wrangler, so it does have the capacity and ability to do those things, im just not totally sure to what extent.

 

There is one downside to the MT2500, and that is that all of the vehicle specific software is stored on removable cartridges for each make, instead of in the unit itself, but the cartridges are still widely available for any make or model, and the unit itself has a large following, so Snap-On does offer updates, but only up to either 2007 or 2008, when the new Solus pro came out. There are also reprogrammable cartridges that you can get, but some of those are extremely pricey. There are also manuals and books dedicated to the MT2500, the most notable being the How to use the Snap-On Mt2500 series of books by Mandy Concepcion, that explain in very good detail how to calibrate and use the unit. You can find those books on amazon for less than $30.

 

If anyone else has used the MT2500 in a shop setting, or quite extensively, i would like to hear from them about what they have used it for, as my experience is very limited. Everything i do vehicle repair wise, is on my own time, and mainly either for myself or a few family members and friends. I stopped working full time in a shop 10 years ago, and started working in the computer field.



#10 biggman100

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Posted 05 August 2013 - 07:57 AM

And, one point i keep forgetting to respond to, from JJ's last post, is that most of the scanners out there, except for the Snap-On and MAC line of scanners, all seem to use the same basic software to program the units, and then just modify it some for their unit, which is why most of the scanners seem to have all the same functions and limitations as to what they can and can't do.



#11 Moses Ludel

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 09:42 AM

biggman100, this is valuable insight.  Your combined computer/IT skills and past automotive shop experience are a real asset.  Summed up, the MT2500 for $300 on eBay sounds like a bargain for what it's capable of doing.  The diagnostics are model-specific and sound similar to what you would get from a DRB-III scan tool. 

 

I am curious how far the re-flashing goes.  For example, I was able to do speedometer recalibration with the DRB-III because the software matched up with ABS module/revolutions per mile tire sizing.  (See my HD video of those steps for details on how the DRB-III drilled down from hookup to the OBD-II port through actual re-flash of the revolutions per mile:  http://www.4wdmechan...alibration.html.)  So, this is a basic function within DRBIII.  Is the MT2500 this accommodating if you have the Chrysler/Dodge Ram software cartridge? 

 

Since I'm not versed on MT2500 or OTC Genisys, my basic question is whether these types of diagnostic tools are a true alternative to DRBIII.  I do understand that ABS and other module checks require added software, but is that included or available with the Snap-On, Mac and OTC programs?  To the point, can you get just as much functionality from these aftermarket packages as DRBIII? 

 

Also, when you mention a reflash on a 1999 Wrangler (OBD-II, the perfect scenario for a dealership using the DRBIII tool), is the Snap-On software all that is required for the reflash?  Or do you need proprietary software from Chrysler for a full "reflash"?  As such, is the MT2500 software encrypted, or whatever, to allow a reflash or PCM reprogramming that involves emissions or other functions that require a vehicle VIN match?

 

Chrysler's current Wi-Tech platform, which uses a PC computer, is a great idea, essentially streaming downloads or reflashes directly from Chrysler.  This offers simpler interface for CAN on later models.  Unfortunately, Wi-Tech will not work for OBD-II from the pre-StarSCAN era. 

 

On that note, I have a nearly new StarSCAN tool drawing dust.  Unfortunately, we do not have StarSCAN vehicles, the magazine's "fleet" is DRBIII era OBD-II:  a 1999 XJ Cherokee (same as your father-in-law's '99 Wrangler project) and the 2005 Dodge Ram 3500.  I have friends at Miller/OTC who shared years ago that the StarSCAN tool's architecture could support DRBIII; however, that software has, to my knowledge, never been available.  (I'm inquiring about an update on this or whether Genisys and other OTC software can be loaded into a StarSCAN tool.)  Here was an FAQ comment made by Daimler/Chrysler upon the release of the all-new StarSCAN tool to dealers:

 

"Will I still need my DRB III�?
Yes. Upon its launch, the StarSCAN scan tool will communicate only with vehicles that utilize CAN as the communication protocol. In the future, support for both new and legacy vehicles will be added."

 

Would be nice if the "future" were now for StarSCAN.  This tool will not work on DRBIII applications nor will it work forward into the Chrysler Wi-Tech vehicle era!  This reminds me of the IBM Quiet Writer typewriter I bought in 1986 for over $1,000, alleged to be the "future" for typing with its 6K character memory.  The very next year, the editors at Argus Publications insisted that I submit manuscripts in PC word processing edit files on 5.25" floppy disks.  I bought a Hyundai Blue Chip PC computer for $768 at Target, software beyond MS-DOS was extra.

 

Catch-22:  StarSCAN will not work with Wi-Tech vehicles, but by moving to Wi-Tech, there is legacy back to StarSCAN vehicles;  dealerships must still use DRBIII for pre-StarSCAN vehicles, and that includes models as recent as our '05 Dodge Ram 3500 or a Jeep TJ Wrangler through '06. 

 

If it were available, DRBIII "legacy" software for the StarSCAN tool could permit its use backward into the DRB, DRBII, DRDIII era.  As a point of interest, while you paid only $300 for your used Snap-On MT2500, used DRBIII units sell for $3K and more with all of the peripherals, and there are plenty...It would be interesting to know how many Chrysler dealerships have StarSCAN tools collecting dust in the wake of PC-based Wi-Tech.

 

Here are models supported by StarSCAN: http://www.oemtools....12_AppChart.pdf.  Note that StarSCAN will not support vehicles from 2010 up.  (There is mention of Bluetooth (HFM) flash use after MY 2010, otherwise nothing.  Do you know about Bluetooth HFM flash?)

 

Is this a mess or what?...StarSCAN was an expensive, well-engineered "Next Generation" tool that may only work on 2004-2009 Chrysler CAN vehicles—and Chrysler's CAN vehicles really didn't kick into gear until the 2005-2007 models!  A tool for three to five years of model coverage?  Really?  StarSCAN sounds like the IBM Quiet Writer typewriter...and both were replaced by a PC computer and software!

 

Moses



#12 biggman100

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 03:22 PM

Moses, the Mt2500, in my opinion, after reading about the DRBIII, should be pretty comparable. It looks like the MT2500 will do all the same functions, and like the DRBIII, wont do most CAN vehicles, which is why Snap-On came out with the newer Solus Pro. The main difference i see, is where the DRBIII is strictly for chrysler and jeep, the MT2500 is, with the right cartridge and key, useable on any computer controlled vehicle from 1980 to 2005, and some up to 2007. I have never used any of the manufacturer specific units, such as the DRBIII, because i have found that the MT2500 will do everything i need it to do.

 

A little clarification on what i meant by reflashing the Wrangler's ECM. He got the ECM used, and after installing it in the jeep, certain functions, such as some of the engine sensors, gas gauge, and reverse lights, either wouldn't work, or wouldn't read properly, and he used the MT2500 to get it so the ECM would properly interface with the Wrangler, and not cause issues with the way it was running. I'm not sure what all he did to get it to work properly, because i wasn't there when he did it, but when i talked to him about it, he originally said he would have to take it to a dealer, and then one day he was driving it, and he said he just used the MT2500 to get it to work right.

 

Now, as to what to what you said about VIN matching, anytime you hook up an MT2500 to a vehicle, it will read the VIN from the ECM on any OBDII vehicle, and ask you to either verify it, or manually change any characters that are inaccurate before it will proceed with any tests. I do know that on an ECM swap, you can use the MT2500 to change the VIN in the new or used ECM, because i had to do that on the Chevy 2500 i did. I also used the MT2500 to manually input the Chevy's current mileage according to the odometer.

 

As to ABS and airbag stuff, it will do those exactly the same as the dealer's equipment will, as long as you have current updates, so i am assuming that it can also do speedometer re-calibration as well, i just have never done it. I will however talk to my father in law, and another guy i know who swears by the MT2500, and let you know what they say about it.

 

Whenever an update is needed for the MT2500, if it is a small update, they can do it right on the Snap-on truck, but, for the one update my father in law did, they had to send it back to Snap-on, and gave him a loaner until he got it back. The only downside i have seen so far with the MT2500, is if it isn't current and fully updated, getting it current to the last OBDII cars, can cost 1000's of dollars. I have the cartridge for all gas german cars, including BMW, Porsche, Mercedes Benz, Audi, and VW, up to 2002, and to update the cartridge i have to cover the Mercedes and BMW diesel cars, and the german cars to 2005 will cost over $800 just for that one cartridge, so it can get pretty pricey to keep it current. That is why i said if you are going to buy one used, make sure to find out when it was last updated, and how current it is.

 

About the question you asked about the StarSCAN sitting around collecting dust in dealerships, my brother has worked for 2 different Chrysler dealerships in NY, and now works at one in PA, and he said that even though they all have the StarSCAN, he has never seen anyone use one, so i would assume that means most of them are just sitting collecting dust.

 

I just got done talking to my father in law, and my brother, and both of them said that the MT2500 wont do a full reflash, what it will do however is allow you to use a used ECM, and be able to at least get the vehicle to run well enough so that you can drive it, but that only dealer tools will do a total and complete reflash.



#13 biggman100

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 03:36 PM

Another idea, for the guys who don't have an issue toting around a laptop, is the ELMSCAN series of OBDII and CANbus laptop interface scanners. I don't know much about them, but i do know that there are companies out there that make software and cable interfaces, so that you can use a laptop to read and erase OBDII codes, get live data, and supposedly make certain changes to the vehicle's ECM. I always forget about these, because i havent seen any in actual use, except in the movies, in a couple years, but i do know they are still available. I had one i tested out for a shop i was doing some performance work for a couple years ago on a Subaru, and although i didn't dig too deeply into what it could and couldn't do, i do know i was able to make changes to certain parameters, such as injection pulse width, and timing, and such, on a 1998 Subaru Impreza factory ECM, to set the car up for drifting. The only downside i had with it was that i had to have a portable power inverter with me to power the laptop for when i was tuning for long periods of time. The way that one was set up, i got the cable and the initial software so the cable would work with the laptop, and then had to purchase additional model specific software, so it isn't exactly a cheap alternative, but, it is another available option for someone who might be interested in it.



#14 Moses Ludel

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Posted 07 August 2013 - 08:19 PM

Sounds like MT2500 will do a lot, though it's limited in the same ways any other tool would be regarding proprietary and emissions related functions or security items.  Surprised you could change odometer readings, however, you were installing a used ECM at the time, so this may be allowed within the computer.  New and rebuilt computers are available, and they do need programming per vehicle, part of service work.

 

The dealerships use a key code with Wi-Tech that has TechAuthority at Chrysler talk directly with the PCM or ECU.  The whole idea is that OBD-II and CAN-Bus can allow independent shops to "work" on the vehicles; however, they cannot change parameters that could degrade EPA approved tuning, programming and certification for a given model...Repairs and even tuning reflashes, if approved for better performance, are okay—but emissions tampering or modifications is not.  Slight adjustments are allowed on basic tuning functions like spark timing, maybe even pulse width of injectors, only to a limited degree.

 

ELMSCAN sounds more like Wi-Tech, although there is still the lack of access to proprietary Chrysler (i.e., EPA certified) settings.  I am surprised you can change pulse widths, as that's fuel enrichment, although you likely had very limited parameters here?

 

Sorry to hear that everyone else's StarSCAN is collecting dust, too.  Guess you can still diagnose a 2004 Durango or select Chrysler vehicles to 2009 with StarSCAN, although who would bother with PC-based Wi-Tech available and capable of legacy coverage back to these first CAN-bus models?  Presumably, Wi-Tech can be as simple as a VDT and keyboard in a dealership service bay.  Or a portable laptop fed from a Wi-Fi router?  Given this, who would yard the StarSCAN case out of the tool room and spend precious flat rate time blowing dust off the case?  

 

Moses



#15 biggman100

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Posted 21 August 2013 - 09:59 PM

An update on the Android based OBD2 readers. I recently had a chance to try out one of these, after borrowing it from a friend. After doing some research, i found that they are all based off the ELMSCAN PC based readers. After downloading the app to connect it to my phone, which is an older Android AT&T phone, i found that although it seems to read codes, and with the right app can do limited live data, it doesnt do much beyond that.

 

I used it on my wife's 2008 Subaru Legacy, and although no codes are showing on her car, it was able to read some live data, such as oxygen sensor, engine speed, vehicle speed, engine temperature, and such, but like the less involved and cheaper code readers, is VERY limited in what it can and cant do. I had my wife drive around while i messed with it a bit, just to see what it would and wouldn't do, and my conclusion is that it is ok for simply reading and erasing codes, and you can also get some engine info, as long as you know what you are looking at, but i wouldn't expect too much out of it.

 

One issue i had, although it may more be a lack of capabilities of my phone, is that it would disconnect from my phone for no reason from time to time. I didn't seem to be able to find any apps to allow me to read ABS or airbag codes, so i'm still not sure if it will do them, even in a limited capacity.




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