Mark Giammalvo specializes in driveability diagnostics at his family business, Sam Giammalvo's Auto Sales & Service, Inc. in New Bedford, MA.
Mark, who has been with the business for
over 20 years, is an ASE
Master Technician and Parts Specialist. He also holds the ASE
L1 certification, and has an associates degree
in business management.
He turns to the technician and asks:
"Hmm, scan-tool. What does it scan anyway?"
The technician replies: "Not much anymore."
(Printed in the Journal of The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, AASP)
All right, it's a hypothetical joke. Nevertheless, the future of scan tools is no laughing matter. I don't know about you but I am really getting fed up with these devices. Then again, perhaps it's just "my" scan-tool.
About a week back my father told me that he was having a problem with a 2000 Toyota Avalon he was driving. He told me that the ABS, (Anti-lock Brakes), and VSC, (Vehicle Stability Control), lights would stay on after the car was started. This problem was intermittent but generally happened after the car was started after an overnight sit. I decided to take a look at the car myself. The car started, the lights all lit for the bulb test, then they all went out. This was a true intermittent problem. A quick search of TSB's, (Technical Service Bulletins), revealed one with a similar complaint. The TSB said to look for a specific fault code in memory. I brought the car in and connected our scan tool to see if this specific code or any other codes were stored. After entering the VIN and choosing ABS system, the scan tool's menu said to connect the "Toyota 2" connector to the round plug under the dash. I connected the scan tool to this plug and connected my power wire. No dice, the scan tool would not power up. As usual, I figured this was another "glitch" that the scan tool company did, or did not, know about. I decided to send the car to the dealer. The dealer was able to diagnose the problem as the l/f wheel speed sensor. I authorized replacing the part and the car was returned to us. Their invoice for repairs was just under $300.00 for the total job. The next day my father asked me an interesting question. He wanted to know why we could not diagnose the Avalon with our scan tool. Did we have the correct and latest Asian software? Yes, indeed we did. I told him that the scan tool would not power up and I just attributed it to another case of information lockout or a glitch in the tool. He wanted to know what I meant by "another" case. I told him that this sort of thing happens frequently. In fact, the more I thought about it the more I realized that it happens too frequently. I told my father about another car we could not diagnose this week. A customer had brought in their 1999 Buick Century for an intermittent no start. We duplicated the condition a few times then the car corrected itself. My brother had connected the scan tool thinking he was going to be able to look at BCM, (body control module), data. He was interested in seeing if the vehicle's anti-theft key or ignition switch was a cause. Look at BCM data? What was he thinking? The BCM data was not even an option on the scan tool's menu for this car. Only engine data parameters were listed. One of our technicians even connected his own scan tool which is a different brand than ours. He got to the BCM data but the data was frozen on the screen. Oh well, so much for trying to fix that car.Then I told my father about the 1999 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sables that we could not diagnose. When you go to enter the VIN engine code on some of those cars the menu will list a few different engines to choose from. Unfortunately, the engine code for the car were working on is never their! More lost jobs that I have been sending to the dealer. My father asked me to mention the problem to the salesperson that sold us the tool. After all, he stops by the shop every week. I told him that I was not going to bother mentioning it. In the past, when I was a little less frustrated with this industry, I used to tell him about the little glitches and problems. He always had the same reply though: "Call the 1-800 number and ask for technical assistance." When I called the company, I always got the same run around. "Perhaps it's a wiring problem in the car. Gee, we've never heard of that issue before." Sometimes they knew of the glitch and said that it would be fixed in the next software update. You know, those $550.00 cartridges you have to buy every year? Well, against my better judgement, I decided to call "technical assistance" one more time. I got a company representative quickly and started with him on the Avalon. The company representative asked me a few questions. He was not sure why the tool would not power up on the Avalon. His notes did not reveal any similar complaints on that model. The representative thought that the car was missing its ground wire in the under-dash connector where the scan tool plugs in. I told him that the Toyota dealer had already diagnosed and repaired the car with no problem and they may have even used the same connector under the dash. I decided to drop the issue. Now I mentioned the 1999 Buick that we could not get the BCM data for. Finally, a problem he had a concrete answer for. The representative said that the theft data we were looking for was VCM, (Vehicle Control Module), data and that GM had "stopped giving them access" to that back in 1992. In a flashback, I remembered a scene out of the movie "The Untouchables." At the end of the movie, Al Capone is in court under trial for tax evasion. Capone's book-cooking accountant is on the stand and has just stated a very large amount in millions of dollars. Upon hearing this large figure the crowd in court gasps and chatters amongst themselves. The prosecutor looks back at the accountant and says: "Would you repeat that figure please?". Sorry to deviate from my story but the flashback caused me to say to the representative: "Pardon me, since 1990 . . . what? Would you repeat that figure please?". Well, I heard right the first time, 1992. Finally, I got around to the Ford and Mercury cars that I could not connect to. The representative told me that it's probably: "An early or late production car." He told me to lie the next time and tell the tool it's a year newer or older than it actually is. Overall, the calls were again, a big waste of time. I am left wondering if other scan tool manufacturers are having these same issues. From a cost standpoint, I have never been a believer in having several scan tools. Lets face it. They're expensive for one thing. Still, how do you justify having to purchase all the different updates each year for all the different tools? The updates for one scan tool are expensive enough. As it is, we try to make sure the scan tool connect fee is reasonable for the customers.
Are we the only ones experiencing this problem? I'd like to know what other shop owners think. What kind of luck are you having with data access when your scan tool is hooked up to these cars? Send me an e-mail and let me know what you think.