How to Choose Your Perfect Diagnostic Tool

Photo: Diesel Laptops

When it comes down to finding the correct diagnostic tool for your organization, it can be a confusing process. Dozens of options exist, and it can be an expensive investment. Choosing the right tool is also not about just finding the right coverage and price point, but also filling in the other pieces of the puzzle. That includes repair information, software training, technical support from both IT professionals and diesel technicians, and parts lookup tools. You need all the pieces, not just the diagnostic tool, to ensure your shop is operating as efficiently as possible.

OEM Software Versus Aftermarket

The first decision to make is deciding if you want to obtain the same software that OEM dealership use, or if you should look at an aftermarket option. For fleet operations that have vehicles from multiple manufacturers, the OEM software route presents several challenges.

Since commercial trucks are not vertically integrated, you’ll end up having to purchase many pieces of software to view all the components such as ABS, transmission, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), cab computers, and engine computers. It’s not unheard of to need five different pieces of OEM software for one commercial truck.

Besides the high annual fees, the burden of running dozens of software that each require their own configuration, cost, license period, and technician training quickly becomes a problem. Aftermarket solutions remove that issue since you only use one piece of hardware and one software interface to diagnose everything in your fleet.

The cost of the diagnostic tool you are purchasing is also a huge factor. You’ll need to look at this from two angles. The first is the up-front cost to obtain the software and hardware. The second is the annual license. Some manufacturers sell their software on an annual fee, which means the software will stop working or revert to a “read only” functionality if you don’t pay. This is how almost all the OEM software functions, including some aftermarket companies.

The other model is software that does have an up-front cost, but no required annual fees. They become optional after the first year. Your tool still has full functionality, but you no longer receive updates, support, or other services they offer.

Functionality Coverage

Coverage is the next main area to look it, and you need to do your research. Everyone that sells tools will provide marketing material, and maybe even a list or matrix of functionality, but it is often vague. You need to line up the business needs of your organization with the functionality of the tool you are reviewing. While on-site demos are helpful, you can’t paint a clear picture within a couple hours.

You are making a large investment, and you need to have confidence that the tool will function as expected. Most vendors will provide you with demo tools to use for a period or offer money-back guarantees if the tool doesn’t perform as promised. Make sure to ask your vendor how the situation will be dealt with if the tool doesn’t perform as expected.

Diagnostic tools are complex tools used to fix a vast array of complex equipment. The entire point of purchasing a tool is make your technicians more efficient. This all starts with training. Simply buying a tool and handing it to a technician is the quickest path to frustration. Ask your vendor what type of training is available. The top-tier vendors offer on-demand training, live webinar training, and even classroom training all for free!

Repair Information

A diagnostic tool is only solving part of the problem. All the tools you will look at will tell you fault codes and show you live data, and most will run the diagnostic commands you want. A major piece of the puzzle is having the repair information available as well. Only a handful of tools have integrated repair information built into them, and even here the vendors have different business models.

Some provide you with “quick repair” information for the lifetime of you owning that tool but have an upcharge to receive the detailed information after your first year expires. Others offer an “all or nothing” approach to paying an annual fee for that additional information. Others offer no connected repair information but will sell you access to other third-party sites that you can manually use.

Support — Diesel Techs Versus IT Professionals

The support you will receive is another item to look at. At the end of the day, you are dealing with computers, software, and hardware that often needs updates or configuration changes. There are also two kinds of technical support offered in the market today – IT professionals and diesel technicians.

IT professionals are the ones who work with you on software-related issues such as programs operating correctly and software updates.

Remote diesel technicians are offered by some companies as a value-added service. These technicians become virtual assistant to clients by helping them diagnose and troubleshoot issues remotely. These are typically very experienced technicians who can remotely view your diagnostic tool, recommend tests and checks to perform, and are there as extension to your shop.

The Last Piece — Truck Parts

The very last piece of the puzzle comes down to truck parts. When you are diagnosing a commercial truck, eventually there is a part that needs to be replaced or repaired. The industry-leading companies in the vehicle diagnostic space have now started to introduce “Fault to Part Number” inside their repair information. This allows users to quickly move from a fault code to repair information to a part number within minutes, saving the shop a vast amount of time. They often include other tools such as parts cross referencing and look-up tools to find your own parts.

Diagnostic tools are a huge investment for your organization. Make sure to spend the time to not only find the right solution for your shop, but the right partner that offers more than just a transaction. Be wary of vendors that offer only one product, as every shop is unique and has unique needs. There isn’t one product on the market that fits everyone.

About the Author
Tyler Robertson is the founder and CEO of Diesel Laptops. Diesel Laptops is a repair efficiency company that provides OEM and aftermarket diagnostic tools, diesel technician training, repair information, and electronic parts catalogs.