Budget scantools for workshops

26/11/2018 Under construction - feel free to add to the discussion in the comments.

I’ve gathered together some cheaper scantools to compare in every day use. Keep in mind when reading online reviews of these scan tools the fact that many of the people writing these reviews of products they have purchased have no idea what they are talking/complaining about. Quite often you will read reviews like “Claims it can turn off the check engine light - did not work on my car!” followed by a 1 star rating - well Duh! You can’t just clear a fault code if it is permanent, you need to fix the fault first, only then can you clear the code - maybe the suppliers themselves need to explain this better when they sell the items to avoid confusion though even then many people fiddling with their cars won’t read the instructions anyway. Then I’ve read reviews like “They claim it has bi-direction control over the ABS system but it doesn’t!” - well actually the car you’re using it on probably doesn’t even support bi-direction control even with the factory scan tool - please keep that in mind.

I scan cars every day at work, no one scan tool does the job better on everything than any other one scan tool. each has their strengths and weaknesses. The Autel Maxisys is one of our newest tools and does regular online updates automatically plus multiple functions on a wide variety of cars - but the older Autoland finds modules in Nissans that the Autel can’t, plus it can scan some 24 volt trucks! Then there’s the Fcar that can scan just about any 12v car or 24v truck - but isn’t as good as the Autoland on Nissan cars: My point? Even with high end gear you need several scan tools to cover all your bases - perhaps 99.9% of your bases because there will always be that special function that only the dealers can do - unless of course you spend a few thousand dollars more perhaps - only to find out that the agents in Europe won’t give you the access numbers to recode that module to an Audi with your new scan tool- back to the dealers I suppose. There are some cases actually where you are just better off leaving it to the dealers - like the left read airbag module we got for a BMW - the dealers couldn’t even code it to the vehicle until they worked out that all the other modules on the car needed 10 years worth of software updates approved by the “big guys” in Europe, before they would communicate - something we could never accomplish even with the right tools.

So on to the ‘budget’ scan tools - there are several categories of buyer here:

1.) The once-off purchase by someone wanting to scan their own vehicle/s. It just needs to work for their model

2.) The budding mechanic who wants to try it out on several vehicles and help his friends [for a fee perhaps].

3.) The workshop wanting to have “something for the work vans” that doesn’t cost as much as the professional gear.

4.) Possibly: The new workshop who sees the benefit of buying several budget scan tools that cover just about everything as opposed to spending $4000 a time per professional scan tool that does 95% of what they need - and needing to have one for 12v and one for 24v . There’s always the dealers for the tricky jobs if you’re in a big town/city.

I have researched several models and test them out at work every day to see what they are capable of. In the USA scan tools are advertised as working on vehicles “from 1996 onwards” which is easy enough when obd2 was introduced in that country in 1996 - all you have to have is a scantool that does obd2 and you’re pretty well covered for general repairs. Not so In New Zealand and several other countries where obd2 didn’t come into effect that early. Some countries adopted obd2 as late as 2008 so for many people the other considerations are “Does it do obd1, Australian Ford and Holden, JOBD [Japanese OBD]?” - these are all strong positive additions to the ‘standard OBD2’ that they all cover anyway, and certainly add to the attractiveness of a new scan tool.

Autel: [Reminds me of Microsoft] Our workshop has an Autel Maxisys something-or-other that has a really cool wifi update that just lets you know when updates are available and you download and install them at the tap of an icon. But since the last OS update it occasionally can’t scan a vehicle because it says “diagnostic process already running”. The dealer told me to click on the little car icon and it will be stuck on the last vehicle you worked on and then log out of that. Not so, the only way to get it working again is to do a reboot [like Windows]. The two Autel AL539s we got for our workshop both changed to a weird machine language when we did updates on them and we had to contact the supplier for step by step instructions on getting them back to English. Someone told me that the AL539B they ordered after reading my blog lost all its icons after its first update. The MD805 multi system scanner I got would get into a Lexus LS430 and tell me what engine it was but go no further. I did an update while waiting for help from the supplier and after that it wouldn’t even log in to the vehicle automatically and ‘LS430’ disappeared from the menu. After a few days back and forth I was instructed to first log in to Asian vehicles, let it do its scan, then go to manual vehicle selection and go to USA models! Well maybe that’s how to get there but with modern technology we’re kinda paying for “the latest” to do that kind of thing for us aren’t we? After all it could find the vehicle on its own before the update [Microsoft]. After all that though I was reasonably impressed that it could do a full system scan and find 26 modules! That’s value for money but ‘like pulling teeth’ to get the job done! [Microsoft] 6/12/2018 I scanned a BMW 750i and found 54 modules with the MD805. I was able to the whole job on the car with the MD805.

Autel MD805 - notice the reference to the Launch CRP123.

MD805compared.jpg

However: The AL539 was an eye opener for me - having mainly scanned for fault codes before and not paying much attention to the I/M readiness [Internal Monitors] function on all the other scan tools this unit has an I/M “hot key” and I now check every vehicle “just because”. The display is really cool and shows everything available [and not available] in “pictures” along with colours that help you see what is and isn’t good - and a green-orange-red display that let’s you know, without even entering into the rest of the ECU, whether things are good, suspect, or bad in the system! What first struck me was the fact that I/M readiness showed that HRT [heated oxygen sensor] was not good. I checked live data and there was no activity at the oxygen sensor and obviously zero short term fuel trims because it had nothing to work from. These ecus don’t throw a code for a faulty oxygen sensor strangely enough. I wouldn’t have known if I had simply scanned for fault codes. Then, while I was watching the display of the I/M I saw a pending fault code appear for a valve that wasn’t connected [had been removed] and after 30 seconds I saw “2” appear under dtc. [diagnostic trouble codes] - all things that I would have had to re-enter the ECU and scan again using a bigger scan tool. Since the check engine light wasn’t coming on right away as well these things were all so handy to have just “popping up” while watching the I/M display. [The two fault codes were for VVT control because someone put the engine back together without checking cam timing correctly]. I may be going on a bit here but “a picture says a thousand words” and it is really refreshing having a colourful representation of what is going on compared to the boring “government hospital” layout of most I/M readiness displays on other scan tools.

Foxwell [reminds me of Apple products, BUT at a reasonable price!]. Solidly built, reliable, does what it’s made for well and at a good price! I bought an NT630 Elite after trying out a friend’s model. Powerful little tool indeed! The Lexus I was working on ran the battery flat while trying to get the Autel MD805 to scan it -grrr! When I went for a test drive after jump starting it the traction control light was on. I scanned the ABS system with the Foxwell and it told me the module had “lost zero point calibration”. I went another step and found “test mode”. After running test mode the traction control light was off and we were good to go! Supports AU Ford after 2003.

Foxwell NT630 - notice the reference image showing “others” which is an image of a Launch CRP123.

Fox123.jpg

Now is a good time to discuss the Launch CRP123. It’s really the benchmark of budget scan tools. As can be seen in the last two images when you start reviewing the better budget scan tools you will often see the CRP123 mentioned along with statements as to what else the advertised tool does beyond what the CRP123 does - never any statements like “does better than” or “more reliable than” because the launch really does its job well, and covers a wide variety of vehicles. The Foxwell adds SAS and ABS reset modes beyond the CRP123’s capabilities but doesn’t cover things like AU Ford and JOBD. My advice is to go for the higher level CRP129 which does have those functions - at twice the price of the Foxwell NT630 mind you, but also does automatic transmissions. The Launch can also display 4 graph data streams while the Foxwell can only do 2 at a time. Not a dealbreaker for me because 2 graphs is enough for most jobs and beyond that the screen just gets messy.

Launccompared 2.jpg

If I were buying my first budget scan tool I would start with the launch crp129.

Launchcompared.jpg
CR3008.jpg

Launch has always meant reliability for me - until I ordered the new CR3008 that arrived a week ago. It scanned half the vehicles I tried it on though admittedly New Zealand gets quite a selection of vehicles, many of which aren’t obd2 compliant. But most of the vehicles it couldn’t scan the Foxwell Nt630 could, as could the Launch Creader VI+, so it should have done better. At first I thought it was because the one corner pin was shorter than all the others but the supplier assured me it as “Launch design” and I worked out that it was the B+ terminal so if the tool was turning on then it must have been making good contact. I soon lost confidence in the tool, got a 50% refund on my purchase and got the other 50% back by selling it at a good price. If Launch want to bring out a “new release” it should a least be able to keep up with the old models.

Today, 14/12/2018 my Nexas NL102Plus arrived and first thing I did was plug it into my 2006 Honda Stream. It was able to scan it and get graphic live data which is already better than the launch 3008 I got rid of. In New Zealand not everything is obd2. compliant so many of the cars like my Honda that come from Japan as used cars can be tricky to scan with budget tools. This scan tool has me very excited because it is 12 and 24v and does several systems. It also supports oil light reset and DPF regeneration. On Monday when I’m back at work it is going to get a full test!

17/12/2018 Today I listed 10 vehicles in our workshop: Japanese vehicles pre obd2: 1998 Toyota Harrier, 1995 Rav4, 2007 Toyota Dyna, 2004 Honda Odyssey, 2002 MMC Smart K, 2001 Toyota Hilux, 2006 Toyota Auris. Then there was the 2000 Ford Falcon which is “AU Ford”, a 1988 BMW 320i and finally a 2015 Jeep Cherokke which was the only obd2 vehicle out of the 10. The others had obd plugs but they were obd1. The Japanese imports were all pre 2008 meaning they had not gone full obd2 yet. That’s what we have to deal with. In the USA one ond2 scan tool would have been able to scan 9 of the vehicles because over there everything after 1996 has to be obd2.

Budget obd2 Scanners

As an automotive electrician I am always on the lookout for well priced scan tools. The company I work for P&B auto electrical, has several [expensive] scan tools each of which has its strengths and weaknesses. The Autoland is really good on Nissans and often the first tool that I grab because it generally gets into any vehicle without asking multiple questions like the old but very reliable Snap-on Solus does. One problem with the Autoland is that it can be too keen to get in automatically and on some Holdens it will think it has found the right module but ends up giving 7 fault codes for the airbag system when in fact there is only one. But among all our scan tools it is without doubt the best on Nissans and was recently the only one of 5 scan tools that found the “hood pop up” module on a newer Nissan when a full system scan was conducted. This module has nothing to do with the hood being open, it connects to several “pedestrian detector” sensors in the front bumper so that if you hit someone it can ignite the hood release and provide a soft landing. I have a lot of respect for the Autoland and when my budget Autel MD805 full system scanner arrives I hope to test it on a Nissan and see if it can find that pop-up module. [I don’t get commission from Aliexpress - they just provide so many good deals!]

 Autoland

Autoland

The Snap-on Solus is our oldest scan tool at work, I use it when I need reliability but don’t enjoy the “20 questions” it asks before it will access a vehicle, or the fact that many of its adapters require a special key to be inserted for each vehicle. But the fact is it has never let me down and is the best tool for Mercedes Sprinters [it finds features other scan tools don’t for Sprinters].

 Snap-on Solus

Snap-on Solus

The Autel Maxisys pro is our newest scan tool, it’s really good the way it stays connected to wifi and lets you know when it has updates - though it’s quite expensive to subscribe to constant updates - for the NZ$1200 a year we could just buy a new scan tool of another brand with the latest updates each year. Because it’s a tablet it also has the weakness of being as reliable as a computer.

 Autel Maxisys

Autel Maxisys

Then there’s the 15 year old Launch X431 Diagun, very reliable and sometimes surprises with functions the bigger scan tools don’t have, good with European vehicles - we leave an extension lead on the bluetooth adapter so it’s not that easy to forget in cars. The Fcar is the best on trucks, slightly strange software to work with compared to the others so I haven’t used it much on cars. Made to military specs the boss almost freaked when the sales rep threw it onto the concrete floor to demonstrate its strength, then picked it up, rebooted and carried on scanning a vehicle. This is the only kit that came with a 12 pin Isuzu plug that we needed on a recent job to perform a dpf regeneration.

fcar.jpg

The old Tech2 is like the dinosaur of the bunch but very good for its applications.

So, on to “budget” scan tools since we’re all after a bargain and after all, why pay more than you need to if you can do the same job for less? First there is manual code extraction with detailed instructions on rennacs showing which pins to bridge out to extract codes manually.

For phone based bluetooth scanners the ELM327 is the cheapest and most popular option starting from about $2 for possibly a rip off of the original. Good if it does what you want on your own vehicle but nothing I would want to seriously work with. Considering the price there’s no harm in keeping one spare in your tool case, or glovebox, for the chance that it could save the day in an emergency..

 ELM327

ELM327

Then there’s the Xtuner CVD16 heavy duty option that does 12 and 24v vehicles - which would be great if it worked on everything I’ve tried it on but doesn’t seem to be able to get into the Isuzu trucks, though it got into a Chinese Foton truck ok. It has a nice recorder-graphing function that allowed me to record the engine revs vs air flow sensor readings while driving a VW Touareg and then view it later in playback mode. Worth having in your kit for the price.

 Xtuner CVD16

Xtuner CVD16

A work associate recently bought a Foxwell AL630 Elite and left it with me for two weeks and it got into every vehicle I tried it on except an “older” 2006 Toyota - I think they only went full obd2 after 2008 and not many budget scan tools can access the older Toyota ECUs [the CRP123 can’t either]. I’m hoping the Autel MD805 will do that for me - will update after it arrives. This little scan tool looks very promising especially since it can also do SAS [steering angle sensor] resets on the relevant vehicles. I have a feeling that to do the older Japanese imports that we see in New Zealand a scan tool that advertises “JOBD” is what is required [Japanese OBD]

 Foxwell NT630 Elite

Foxwell NT630 Elite

I also have a Launch CRP123 which I bought after much research, a very capable little tool which can also get into A/T [automatic transmission] modules [along with engine, airbag and ABS] which the above Foxwell can’t. But then it can’t do a SAS reset. Every year these tools get better and cheaper so there’s no reason why the average ‘tinkerer’ can’t afford to have something to dig deeper into their vehicles systems and save themselves lots of headaches [or possibly cause some if they don’t diagnose properly but that’s another story]. The Launch CRP129 specs appear to be a combination of the two tools, the CRP123 and the Foxwell NT630 Elite, because besides scanning the 4 main systems it also advertises the ability to reset systems like ABS and steering angle sensor.

 Launch CRP123

Launch CRP123

Then there’s the “must have” Autel AL539 multi-meter/scanner. Get it for the multi-meter function and you have a bonus of it being a backup scanner - and it has a built in battery [I wish our $3000 Autoland had one]. Since it has a dedicated I/M readiness button that is a feature I am learning to use as well but the fact that it has an a/c voltage display means you can actually use it as a basic oscilloscope. The obd2 function is all you get as a scan tool but the other day after diagnosing a fault on a Lexus with the expensive gear I scanned the same vehicle with this tool, got the same VVT solenoid fault codes as the $4000 Autel and moved the $8000 oscilloscope out of the way and connected the two leads to the VVT solenoid and it auto-ranged the PWM signal and showed me the pattern and told me it was a 22% duty cycle - everything that $1200 worth of ‘other’ gear had done. Obviously it doesn’t have the same depth of functions that “the good stuff” has when you have to dig deeper but for 90% of the diagnostics we do it was enough. It also has some interesting functions like checking charging via the obd plug and checking battery voltage when cranking which basically measures the minimum voltage the battery drops to when you start the vehicle. Apparently the AL539”b” has a ‘proper’ battery test function as well. Just a warning, when you update it suddenly the display changes to numbers you can’t interpret and you have to reset the language to English to use it again. This is the reply I received from the supplier to navigate the menu again.

“Hello Just checked. Because you chose wrong language. Please follow the steps below. 1. Choose ff 00 00 01 00 09 2. Then choose ff 00 00 01 00 68 3. Then choose any code. 4. It will show languages options, please choose the language you want. Note: If there is no ff 00 00 01 00 68 in the second step, please try three options to find the languages setting page. Thanks.”

After posting this blog a reader bought the “b” version and made contact to let me know that their unit lost all its information icons on the menu, though it retained the text, after his first update. One would think that a company that sells so many promising products could get the updating process right - at the moment I favour the Foxwell quality and update functionality.

 Autel AL539

Autel AL539

For budget car and truck scanners the Multidiag pro+ is a useful tool that can either plug directly into your laptop or you can get the newer bluetooth version. It has quite a comprehensive list of vehicles that it scans along with a “Trailer” option for Wabco, Knorr and Haldex ABS. I have used the older “USB direct connection” model connected to our workshops’ windows 10 laptop with success, but the “new improved” bluetooth model I bought for my own windows 10 laptop gave a lot of trouble trying to set up because it isn’t written for Windows 10 [stated as “windows XP or Windows 7 32 bit] - and when I installed the drivers manually as advised it interfered with my trackpad and keyboard, so I had to reset my computer and remove the software. It also comes with a disc for the software along with a “keygen” which you have to run to activate it, suggesting that it isn’t exactly a legal way to do it. Then you have to turn off wifi before opening the program so it doesn’t go online and tell you the program needs to be activated - all to much hassle for the average user.

 Multidiag pro+

Multidiag pro+

Finally [for now] there’s the Autel MD805 which is to date the cheapest full system scanner which ALSO does obd1, besides the standard obd2 that every cheap tool does anyway. This is useful for people in a workshop who don’t know what vehicle they will get next. If it’s your own vehicle and you don’t work on anything else then get whatever does the job but if you want to be more versatile then get something that does "pre-obd2” vehicles as well. After a bit of research, I had initially thought that the MD801 and MD802 which advertise “pre obd2 vehicles” on their hard case were the only ones that did OBD1 as well, because the MD805 didn’t actually mention “pre obd2”. But when you look harder at the description on the MD805 they mention that it also does the same vehicles as the MD701/2/3/4 which are “pre obd2”. I will test it extensively when it arrives because if it actually does obd1 and obd2 4 systems plus “50 other systems” then at the price there won’t be much point buying any other scan tools in the price range [besides having some sort of “double check” option if the code you get seems weird, it’s always good to have some option to confirm it] The Foxwell NT414 4 system scanner seems to be the only other tool in the price range [90% of the price] that also does obd1 - it doesn’t do a full system scan though which is pretty essential these days in a scan tool so it’s well worth paying another $20 for the MD805.

 Autel MD805

Autel MD805

That’s it for now up to 11/11 2018. I will update this blog with my findings on what these budget tools can and can’t do.

15/11/2018 The MD805 arrived yesterday and has done pretty well on each vehicle I have tested it on. Except the 2005 Toyota Camry. It does an auto search, finds the vehicle, tells me what model it is and what engine it has but goes no further - no matter what I press it doesn’t scan anything on the vehicle. I’m still waiting for feedback from the suppliers on what I’m doing wrong [or what the tool can’t do that they advertise it can do]. Besides that, I would still buy it again given the chance. I just got back from a test drive in a 2013 Ford Ranger where I graphed the wheel speed sensors in the ABS module. It can only merge two graphs at a time, even if you select all 4 wheel speed sensors it will graph the first two - then you have to select the other two later and check them separately.

23/11/2018.

My Foxwell NT630 Elite arrived this morning - I have had the chance to test a work associate’s unit for a few weeks and I’m still impressed with this unit. I had connected the Autel MD805 multi system scanner to the Lexus LS430 I’m working on and all it could do was scan obd2 fault codes. When I tried to access ABS it goes through the motions and leads me to the “Lexus” icon and even tries to access the vehicle and actually tells me its model and engine type. Then there’s this awkward silence as I press the “ok” button multiple times and nothing happens - I’m still waiting for Autel support to get back to me on this one. I plug the Foxwell NT630 in and there is an ABS option right on the screen which took me into the ABS module, scanned it and told me that the “zero point calibration” had been lost. I found a “test” mode and it reset it for me and the light went off! I tried with the Launch CRP123 and it could read the codes but couldn’t do any special functions - I imagine that is what the CRP129 for another $50 is all about.

Though I had trouble updating the Autel AL539 and so did someone else who read this blog I am still finding it to be my favourite tool at the moment. The I/M readiness mode is so cool the way I can tell what the engine isn’t happy with and while I had the Lexus engine running I can watch that screen and see the “pending” fault codes pop up a “1” as the ECU picks up that the VSV solenoid is open circuit, then 30 seconds of idling later I see a “2” pop up under the current fault codes area when the two VVT solenoids aren’t getting the desired response from the ECU.

With regard to the update issues of the Autel AL539, two of us at our workshop ordered one. I updated both of them as soon as they arrived and their menus both turned to numbers instead of words. The supplier gave me the sequence of numbers to select to change the “language” back to English. Then someone on the scannerdanner website read my comments about the AL539 and bought himself the AL539B with built in battery tester and reported that when he did the update all the icons on his menu disappeared. I think Autel needs to re-think their program somehow and provide a more reliable update system because they will be left behind by products like Foxwell and Launch who have so far provided flawless updates in my experience, an work well - unlike the Autel MD805 that hits a roadblock when I try to scan a 2000 Lexus [video].