Scan Tool Essentials: Beyond the Push of a Button

by Alana Quartuccio

The act of pre- and post-repair scanning has become an essential part of collision repair. In fact, in today’s computerized vehicle space, it’s a non-negotiable operation; however, some may not realize that the operation goes deeper than the act of just using a scan tool, therefore conversations continue to take place around the collision repair industry about what essential components are involved when it comes to properly using scan tools.

Scanning goes well beyond reading and clearing codes. Properly diagnosing ADAS and calibration related issues comes down to using the right tools, obtaining the right procedures and knowing what resources to tap when questions arise.

As a result, the Collision Industry Conference’s Emerging Technology Committee has been taking a closer look at scan tool essentials to ensure that collision repair professionals have a better understanding of what goes into picking out a scanning tool. 

“We have a standing rule with our group that we only talk about ADAS once a year, and one of the things we’ve heard loud and clear over the past couple of months is that they wanted another take on scan tools,” explained Committee Co-Chair Bob Augustine (Opus IV) who led a discussion during the October CIC in Las Vegas with Co-Chair Chuck Olsen (AirPro Diagnostics), Chris Cheney (Repairify) and Donny Seyfer (National Automotive Service Task Force – NASTF). Their mission was to have repairers think about what can happen if they don’t properly use these tools.

Of equal importance is knowing what resources exist to help repairers in the area of scanning. Seyfer outlined the resource that lies in NASTF which sets out to “identify and resolve gaps in service information, tool information and training information. Anything that an OEM provides – or doesn’t provide or usually just doesn’t put it in the right place so we can find it – is all fair game. We help technicians by having them file a service information request, and our team goes to work with the automaker to sort that out. It’s absolutely free to join NASTF.” 

“If you can’t find something about how to repair a vehicle, NASTF is the gateway to get into the OEM,” added Augustine. “So if you’re plowing through service information and you can’t find something, or you need a function, they will go to the OEM directly, and 97 percent of the time, they’re going to give us at least some answer.”

Unlike the mechanical shop world, having one person devoted to diagnostics has not been a common thing on the collision shop side, but times are changing. That missing IT/technology skill set can often lead to trouble on the shop floor, according to Augustine, “It’s not just taking stuff apart and putting it back together; there’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes.”

Having an IT expert on board is not just important in today’s shop environment, it’s actually necessary as most OEMs use laptop systems that are either Windows or Cloud based, and that software is updated more frequently than one might think. This has to be factored into the routine, because if a tool hasn’t been used in a couple of weeks, there may be a delay caused by getting the software updated to a current version in order to use it. Augustine explained the value of “software management skills, IT skills, security skills – I say security, not in terms of vehicle security, but security on laptops as a lot of these programs are finicky with virus programs and browsers and things like that. You have to be aware that it’s not just simply installing the software and you’re ready to go. A lot of times, you’re going to need someone who has very specific expertise.”

Selecting the clear button on a scan tool to remove a code will not work and most certainly does not mean the scan tool is broken. Olsen showed an example of a low-priced scan tool one can get on eBay that “says it reads codes on all makes and models of vehicles, but like I said, clearing the code does not fix the car. So, without knowing all those other pieces of the parts that the diagnostic technician does or even if you use an OEM scan tool to check a box to read codes and clear codes, you’re not getting the efficiency and the information that scan tool could provide.”

Knowing acronyms is helpful, such as in the case of Ford’s term PMI, which means programmable module installation. “If you’re not really versed in Ford lingo, you wouldn’t really know what to do with that,” Augustine pointed out, adding that this enters the area of “programming versus coding versus initialization where the lexicon becomes important. These modules have to be coded to the vehicle. You would generally use the Ford website to pull up a coding string. It’s not a big deal, but somebody absolutely has to be trained on how to do that.”

It’s also important to pay attention to parts numbers. Augustine indicated that,  in some cases, sensors may look the same, and if one puts the wrong sensor on the wrong side, they may wind up “chasing their tail for hours” as it either won’t program or calibrate, or a DTC will appear the second you take it for a test drive because something is just not right.

Cheney stressed other examples of why it takes more than the actual scan tool to get the job done. Using an example of calibrating a seat occupant classification sensor, he demonstrated the role that the environment and surrounding objects can play in the procedure. 

“You need to make sure the vehicle is on a flat level surface. You need to make sure there’s nothing in the seat. And the most important – make sure nothing is touching the seat.

“How many times have you gotten into a vehicle and there’s candy, a bottle or napkins stuck behind the console in the seat?” he continued, painting the picture with this question. “That will result in a calibration failure. Why is that an issue? Well, if the seat occupancy sensor can’t detect someone is in the seat, it’s not going to fire pre-tension seat belts in an accident. If there’s somebody sitting in the seat and that doesn’t go off, chances are they are going to get hurt.”

Collision repairers also need to keep in mind that equipment will need to be updated over time, therefore Olsen recommends shops seek out answers with their vendors. “As you go forward in the future, just always keep an eye on your equipment so that you’re staying up to date.”

Want more? Check out the February 2024 issue of Hammer & Dolly!