When it comes to aftermarket diagnostic tools, fleets have several options to choose from.
Tyler Robertson, CEO of Diesel Laptops, categorizes them as follows:
- Handheld units that read basic codes. “The basic tools will read codes, but usually they can only read ‘generic’ codes like SAE codes rather than OEM codes,” Robertson says. These tools usually cost $500 or less.
- Import tools. These range from $2,500 to $4,000. He says they are easy to use and are self-contained, but may not have the technical support a fleet needs.
- Professional-level multi-brand tools “will do 99% of what OEM software will do,” he says, but they come with a $7,500 to $10,000 price tag. However, these tools allow a fleet to do the same things a dealer can do diagnostic-wise, Robertson explains.
Dave Covington, chief technology officer for Noregon, divides this way: OEM tools, aftermarket basic scan tools, aftermarket fault-to-fix tools, and remote diagnostic tools.
The basic tools are often handheld, Covington says, and they allow the fleet to get a general idea of what is going on with the vehicle. “These are good for a sanity check,” he says. “They help the fleet understand what’s going on with the vehicle before they take it to a repair facility.”
The fault-to-fix tools have the ability to holistically diagnose the entire vehicle, says Ben Osborne, Noregon’s marketing communications manager. “And they help you move through the diagnostics to the repair itself.”
Covington describes remote diagnostic tools as the new kid on the block that are used “to reach out and touch a truck remotely.” They allow a technician to use the same diagnostic process for a truck on the road as they do for a truck in the shop.
Assess operations and ask the right questions
Before purchasing any piece of diagnostic equipment, a fleet needs to assess its needs. For example, if all your trucks are from one manufacturer, an OEM tool likely makes the most sense, Robertson says. “But if you have every make and model under the sun, you probably can’t afford to purchase separate tools for each type of truck in the fleet.” In this case a multi-brand tool may be a better choice.
Covington says fleets need to decide why they want a scan tool. “Do you just want to look at the truck and be able to decide which repair facility to take it to, or do you want to do repairs yourself?”
Alan Tomlinson, director of key accounts at Trimble, says fleets need to decide if they want a tool that reads engine codes only or one that “can read the rest of the controllers on a vehicle, like the ABS controller, battery power monitor or body controller.”
Once a fleet has determined what it wants to do with the tool, it can then begin researching various options.
Some questions to ask tool manufacturers include:
- What makes and models of vehicles does the tool cover?
- Is it portable?
- Does the tool provide information on how to fix codes?
- Does the tool allow for data integration?
- Does it have the right connectors to fit your equipment?
- Can it clear codes?
- Can it read the different subsystems on the truck, or does it only read the ECM?
- What kind of training do you provide?
- What kind of support do you provide?
- Are annual fees required to keep the tool working?
- Do you offer a money-back guarantee if I don’t like the tool?
Beyond the tool
While it’s important to look at the tool itself, fleets need to look beyond the hardware and software.
“Just having the right tool is not even close to good enough anymore,” Robertson says. “You can’t give a $10,000 professional tool that will do everything to someone who does not know how to use it properly. You are just asking for trouble if you do that.”
No matter how good the tool is, technicians need to be trained on the proper way to use it. The tools are more complicated and powerful than many fleets realize, so training in the proper use is vital. Unfortunately, a lot of people think you just buy a tool, hit a button and you’re done.
“The truth is, a lot of things have to be done in sequence in order for the tool to work properly,” Robertson says. Having the proper training will ensure fleets get the most value out of the tool and that technicians are able to diagnose the trucks quickly.
In addition to training, fleets also may need ongoing support. Robertson says. “They need live humans to talk to. They need assistance on the proper things to do.” Fleets need someone they can call when, for example, they have 10 codes and are unsure where to start, or if they can’t get the tool to connect to the truck.
Expectations and consequences
Covington believes fleets want diagnostic tools that “quickly get to a fix and are easy to use.” He adds, “There is a technician shortage, and having a very complex tool or set of tools on which the fleet has to keep their techs trained on can be costly and inefficient.”
He suggests fleets consider a single tool that allows them to do all the things they need to do. “If a fleet wants to do repairs in its own shop, chances are it wants to diagnose the problem quickly, and once the problem is found have the tool guide the tech through the actual fix,” Covington says. That needs to be done in an efficient manner without having to spend hours doing a Google search for repair information.
If a fleet selects the wrong diagnostic tool, it’ll end up wasting both time and money. A diagnostic tool is just one of many tools a technician has in his or her toolkit in order to properly troubleshoot, diagnose and repair a vehicle. However, the right diagnostic tool can make the process more efficient. But the tool is just one piece of the equation. According to Robertson, “Repair information, technician training and technician skill levels are other necessary elements to successfully diagnose and repair a problem.”
The wrong tool means the technician won’t be able to repair the vehicle. Therefore, according to Covington, fleets need to find a tool that supports all of their vehicles. “Selecting one that is a partial fix might cost them time or mean they need to buy additional tools.” In that case, technicians will have to be trained on the new tools in order to be able to use them properly.
Osborne says the consequences of selecting the wrong tool can be unexpected downtime. “If a fleet is using [an engine-only tool], it may be missing a problem elsewhere in the vehicle that is causing the fault.” He believes there are benefits to having a tool that lets the fleet see the entire vehicle.
Not being able to diagnose the vehicle quickly and easily or being able to find the real problem is one of the consequences of choosing the wrong diagnostic tool. “You also could end up getting false positives or improper diagnostics,” Tomlinson says.
All diagnostic tools will read codes and live data, but Robertson says that is the “easy stuff.” Fleets also need to make sure the tool they select matches the functionality they need. Robertson’s advice is to “try it before you buy it.” If that is not possible, he advises fleets to make sure the tool has a money-back guarantee.
This article was update on Nov. 5, 2019, to correct Dave Covington's name. We apologize for the error.