There was once a time when a technician could pop the hood on a heavy-duty truck and, with good input from the driver or owner and a few service records, figure out what was wrong on their own.
That time is long gone.
Nowadays, with increasingly complex trucks and increasingly complex problems, diagnostic tools can make all the difference in getting a truck back on the road. But choosing which tool to invest in can be a tough decision for a shop owner.
OEM tools can help with reflashing ECUs and updating calibration, says Greg Reimmuth with Triad Diagnostics Solutions, a Jaltest and Autel master distributor. Those tools can also help with the initial set up of a truck — how long a light stays on or what is displayed on the console.
“What aftermarket tools are designed for is the actual repair process,” he added. OEM repair tools are also out there, they tend to only look at the part its designed to look at, he says.
“Aftermarket tools provide a huge advantage from a triage perspective from the OEM tools,” he says. “It takes too long for the OEM software. It’s always slow. Always. It might take you 45 minutes to connect to the truck. Nobody has time.”
Triad offers two kinds of solutions. The Jaltest software is a fully integrated application that offers wiring diagrams and more. For smaller shops or for shops that also service automotive, Triad has Autel. It’s an Android-based tablet Reimmuth says is great for smaller shops.
“The speed and efficiency of an aftermarket tool that’s all makes and has all the functionality of the repair portion of the OEM tool is crucial to the throughput of a shop,” Reimmuth says.
Bosch’s tools offer extensive coverage of vehicle makes and models, says Duane “Doc” Watson, a technical trainer at Bosch Automotive Aftermarket. This includes vehicle service and repair information libraries that will quickly pull up relevant information when scanning a truck.
While both Reimmuth and Watson called their company’s diagnostic tools intuitive and easy to use, both stressed the need for training technicians regularly on diagnostics.
“Training is incredibly valuable for technicians no matter the experience or skill level,” Watson says. “The best way to leverage technical training and avoid gaps in knowledge is to consistently send techs to training sessions multiple times a year. Training in any capacity will help reinforce good habits and familiarize technicians with different techniques and strategies when they encounter a vehicle repair they have never seen before.”
Ian Vinci, president of Innovative Products of America (IPA), says his company made a name with trailer testers that enable a technician to inspect a trailer without a vehicle as a one-man operation. As sophisticated as that sounds, he says technicians don’t need a lot of training for their products.
“We are mechanics,” Vinci says. “We know how the mechanics think. We know how they like to use tools. We develop our tools to work for the mechanics.”
Vinci says IPA does have online and remote training available though the latter is almost never required. Technicians pick up on the technology quickly.
“No one ever needed the training,” he says.
Bosch’s Module Program offers quality training courses geared specifically for their equipment. And Reimmuth at Triad says training helps the technician to be more successful.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve stood over a tech and they’ve said they didn’t know the tool did that,” he says. With training, the technician can be more successful. A more successful technician moves trucks through more quickly and, in turn, the shop makes more money.
For instance, Reimmuth says a well-trained tech will do a pre- and post-repair scan on a truck to identify other faults. He saw numbers recently that showed 57% of trucks coming off the repair line still have issues. Pre- and post-scans will catch those issues, increasing shop business and customer satisfaction while decreasing truck downtime.
It’s also important the tools themselves are regularly updated. Vinci says IPA’s tools are field updateable either with a flash drive or over the air, depending on the type of tool a shop has. These updates are free and often reflect updates to the tech on the truck.
Bosch’s updates also cover new features, but Watson says shop owners should watch what they see coming into their shop.
“As more sensors and safety technologies are added to vehicles, shop owners will likely need to upgrade their shops with these tools in the near future,” he says. “It will be up to them to determine when based on what they see in their own business and local market.”
Of course, there will be times when the tool doesn’t work.
“Software is software,” Reimmuth says. “It’s not going to work every time.”
Triad offers a hot swap service, where shops will get a loaner tool while their diagnostics are being repaired. The company also provides support to help shop owners and techs figure out what to do when the tools don’t work correctly.
At Bosch, Watson says the company offers a lifetime warranty if the shop has a current and up-to-date subscription. And, at IPA, Vinci says his company’s service is what separates them from the pack.
“We train our people so that, if you ever call us for any reason, when you get off the phone, people say, ‘Wow,” he says. “We want to honor our commitment. You spent your hard-earned money and we appreciate that.”