I like the manufacturer's stuff but they are usually brand-specific. One notable exception is the Chrysler DRB3. With an additional small plug-in card, it will do all emissions-related tests on all brands of cars sold in the U.S. After 1995, but that was obsolete by 2004 on some models. With that same card, it will work on all Chrysler products back to '94 models. With another card, it will work on all Chryslers back to 1983 models.
Many people like the Genysis but I've never used it myself. Snapon stuff is always much more expensive than anything else. I haven't used those either but I've been to the schools on the their Modis and Solarus. One of them will walk you through test procedures but only for sensor circuits. In my Electrical classes, I taught my kids how the circuits worked. Once they understood that, there was no need for diagnostic manuals or test equipment with step-by-step tests. They could figure out the procedure without researching through books or computers.
The scanners aren't going to help with most electrical problems on older cars. A better way to say it is you will still need a digital voltmeter. The scanner will read out fault codes identifying which sensor circuit needs further diagnosis, but that's as far as they will go. About half the time the cause of a problem isn't the sensor itself; it's the wiring. That's where you need the voltmeter.
With the newer CAN buss systems, every switch on the car is a small computer module so the scanners will provide more information but you still have to know how to interpret that information. Even if you learn electrical theory and become proficient at troubleshooting older cars, common sense has long ago gone out the window. A lot of really simple, reliable circuits now have multiple computers involved with the end result of very little added benefit. For example, Ford needs the instrument cluster, (the most complicated computer on the car), and the Front Electronic Module, (FEM), to honk the horn. They found a solution where there was no problem to be solved, and now it is very common to be handed an $800.00 repair bill for a dead horn. A newer scanner might help in diagnosing that, but Ford is very proud of their equipment and it's very expensive. I'm not sure if an individual can even buy it.
Most manufactuirers now have gone to laptop-based systems where all diagnosis is done over an internet connection. One of the drawbacks of that is they use different "platforms". The platform, or program, used by Ford can not be installed on a computer that uses the platform most other manufacturers use. If you try to do that, neither one will work.
Keep in mind too that independent shops spend tens of thousands of dollars every year buying new equipment and updates for their older stuff. It is not practical for you to try to do that if you want to work on a lot of different vehicles. I'm happy with the Chrysler DRB2 and DRB3 because Chryslers are all I own, and with the current overuse of technology, there is no new car on the market that I want to own. I have three other scanners but the DRB3 is the only one I use and that is pretty rare. It sees more use on my friends' cars than all of mine.
Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 AT 9:33 AM