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The right tools

When diagnosing and trouble shooting vehicle problems, having the correct tools for the job is essential



When diagnosing and trouble shooting vehicle problems, having the correct tools for the job is essential

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In recent years, vehicle diagnostic equipment has taken fleet maintenance from good to excellent with the introduction of increasingly more sophisticated and accurate diagnostic tools. There are dozens of choices, from handheld units to laptop computers, and all have specific software to take the guesswork out of troubleshooting and diagnosing problems.

Comprehensive tools

Snap-on Diagnostics and NEXIQ Technologies (a Snap-on brand) offer a variety of diagnostic products for the commercial vehicle fleet. According to the company, its solutions provide a number of options including handheld, PC-based, and advancements in Web-enabled diagnostic solutions. The company provides handheld tools, which can view non-proprietary data, such as OBDII (on-board diagnostics) used in Class 4 (14,000lb GVW or below) vehicles or provide full-fledged diagnostics for the heavy vehicle technician.

The company said it prides itself on recognizing the unique needs of a variety of different types of fleets. Leasing, LTL and delivery, all have distinctly different needs for vehicle repair, it noted. Yet the underlying need is that a vehicle “down” is not producing. Each fleet needs to help the technician be efficient in repairing the vehicle correctly. Snap-on notes that its diagnostics focus on solutions for the commercial vehicle fleet that consists of car and light truck enabling the most powerful solution for automotive and light truck (including diesel) technicians. This same solution offers a diagnostic read solution for the commercial vehicle (Class 4-8) fleet technician.


The NEXIQ Technologies brand of Snap-on is focused in providing solutions for the commercial fleet technician (light-duty diesel through the Class 8) and the heavy-duty OEM, which includes tools for the commercial truck dealer technician. Its branded Pro-Link system is a scan tool for the heavy-duty transportation industry. By using the Pro-Link PLUS or GRAPHIQ with one of the NEXIQ produced vehicle-specific Pro-Link Diagnostic applications, the company says that technicians are able to obtain real-time vehicle data in seconds. This includes the ability to test vehicle systems, cylinder cutouts, injector tests and vehicle systems including ABS, transmissions and body control systems. The company says diagnostics are made easy with Pro-Link’s on-screen menus and message screens and trouble code definitions.

Snap-on said its MODIS (Modular Diagnostic Information System) is the tool that diagnoses and assists in repair with additional troubleshooting for technicians. The MODIS system also features Snap-on’s new 4-channel lab scope with ignition capabilities and a powerful Digital Volt Ohm Meter (DVOM) built into a common architecture with expandable ports. It has the ability to read standard J1587 for a Class 4-8 truck. Since the bulk of the industry is still primarily using J1708 for diagnostics, MODIS can provide the heavy truck a diagnostic solution until the 2007 engines the fleets.


NEXIQ Technologies said it offers a rugged, low-cost, easy-to-use brake and Power Line Carrier (PLC) scan tool with the Brake-Link. The tool connects to tractors and trailers utilizing the SAE J1587 communication protocol over J1708 buses that enable access to the electronic ABS system and obtain the diagnostic trouble codes. The tool interfaces with the new trailer PLC bus utilizing the SAE J2497 protocol. As new brake systems become available, new software can be downloaded to the Brake-Link by purchasing an update kit, the company said. In fact, the product has recently been updated to add a Rockwell tractor component to this handheld solution.

Additionally, the company said it works with several large fleets to enable PC-based diagnostics. It acts as an integrator for the fleet or can just provide the fleet with the vehicle communication interface product that simply is the most usable and enables the most applications. OEM software is enabled to operate with a vehicle communication interface (VCI) connected to the vehicle communication interface and the PC with manufacturer or NEXIQ produced diagnostic software.

NEXIQ also produces a variety of vehicle communication interfaces (VCI) products to suit the fleet requirements. The company said that in the heavy-duty market, VCIs have been one of the most confusing aspects of PC-based diagnostics. One reason is the number of products being offered. The other is that there are a number of various user-interfaces used by each manufacturer for the engine, transmission and brake applications.


The company notes that by using the Pro-Link PLUS or GRAPHIQ with one of the NEXIQ produced vehicle-specific Pro-Link Diagnostic applications, technicians are able to obtain real-time vehicle data. The company has developed applications for vehicle system information including ABS, transmissions and body control systems. This includes the ability to test vehicle systems including completing engine cylinder cutouts, and, for its integrated PC-based solution the manufacturers enable the fleet to complete a full vehicle diagnostic system check including system functional testing. The company’s developed vehicle communication interfaces (VCI’s) assist this effort.

NEXIQ has produced a training DVD to work with the Pro-Link or the company can provide “for hire” training. However, it said, the Pro-Link is so easy to use that most technicians can operate the product within minutes. The PC-based integrated solution provided to the fleet with the specific OEM software suggests the fleet work with the specific software provider to complete training.

When choosing a diagnostic tool, fleets need to have an understanding of what the maintenance department is attempting to accomplish. Is the fleet attempting to complete all aspects of repair, including preventive maintenance, diagnosis and warranty repair or is it just trying to complete light preventive maintenance and light diagnostics? With the answers to these questions in place the choices in the marketplace still are numerous, but at least the search is narrowed a bit.


The PC-based solution is required for the shop that wants to maintain its entire fleet without much being completed by outside contractors. The handheld solution is ideal for preventive maintenance, mobile fleet repair and quick checks.

Choosing tools

SPX supplies specialty tools and equipment, lifting equipment and electronic engine diagnostic tools. When choosing diagnostic tools, SPX believes that one of the keys is to have a tool that has the coverage that the particular shop needs in order to work on the vehicles they most commonly service. Broad coverage will translate into productivity for the technician and that translates into shop throughput.

OTC, a business unit of SPX Corp., also offers a comprehensive range of diagnostic tools. Recently, the company released new diagnostic software for its Genisys product, which is used to service Class 4 to Class 8 trucks. According to the company, the new heavy-duty standard software is ideal for mixed fleet service applications – medium/heavy work trucks, municipal vehicles, buses, walk-in vans, fire trucks, truck tractors, refrigerated trucks, tow trucks, garbage trucks and many others. The new release covers HD J1587, J1708 and J1939 standards, as well as CAN, engine and transmission/ABS diagnostics.


According to Ed Lipscomb, senior product manager–diagnostic systems, “This new software release covers Freightliner, Kenworth, Peterbilt, Volvo, Mac Trucks, International, GM, GMC, Ford and many medium and heavy-duty trucks.” Transmission and ABS system coverage includes Bendix, Detroit, Eaton, Meritor WABCO, Caterpillar, Cummins, Allison and more. Lipscomb adds, “Genisys with System 2.0 operating system is a sophisticated diagnostic tool – we can offer software capabilities like this making Genisys an even more valuable investment for the technician.”

Another offering from OTC is a new heavy-duty battery tester deluxe kit specifically designed to perform battery and electrical system tests in heavy-duty applications with multiple battery packs, the SABRE Heavy-Duty (HD) deluxe kit. The kit comes in two versions: model 3167-HD and model 3168-HD, which includes an infrared wireless printer. Each kit includes a 24-volt heavy-duty battery tester, 15-ft. test lead, instruction manual and molded plastic carrying case.

“Vehicle breakdown caused by battery failure can be very costly for fleet owners. The financial investment associated with retrieving a disabled vehicle alone can be substantial; liability for delayed delivery of passengers, baggage or cargo simply compound the losses,” says Scott Krampitz, product manager. “The OTC SABRE HD works to ensure the success of our customers, offering them the most comprehensive routine maintenance testing process available that will allow their fleet vehicles to operate at maximum efficiency."


OTC said the SABRE HD battery tester offers the highest CCA capacity ranges (50-4000 CCA – 24 volt) and relies on proprietary SPX Accuracy Test Technology (ATT) to provide accurate, reliable test results for charging, starting and diode system tests, and multiple battery packs configurations (6, 12, 24 volt) in series, parallel, and series/parallel systems.

At the push of a button, the unit can diagnose the state of any heavy-duty battery and electrical system. Leveraging its advanced micro-load testing techniques, the battery tester is fully-automated and works on both the conventional Flooded Lead Acid (FLA) and the newer Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries.

With its large, backlit LCD screen and intuitive user interface, the OTC SABRE HD is a user-friendly battery tester, the company said. Unlike traditional testers, it does not require the battery to be fully drained and fully charged to provide an accurate diagnosis. It can even be used on discharged batteries without the need for recharging before testing. Additional features include amp clamp connection ports for live amperage readings, PC interface port for field updateable software, security cable connection to protect against stolen or dropped units and infrared wireless printer compatibility.

Product-specific tools

According to Phil Warmbier, marketing manager, Vehicle Solutions Business Unit for Eaton Corp., “Having an onboard diagnostic tool is tantamount to having your shop manager, and even your entire back office maintenance team, sitting right there next to the driver whenever that vehicle is away from its base. That allows for quick, accurate team decisions. So the driver is no longer left out to dry when it’s time to make a decision about pulling over or continuing on his route. For example, a driver may have it in his mind that stopping the truck is necessary. However, because of the beauty of onboard diagnostics, the maintenance manager knows with certainty that the truck should keep rolling. Conversely, the driver may want to keep going, when in fact, the truck needs to visit a service facility as quickly as possible. In effect, we’ve taken the guess work out of the equation.”


When working with fleets on training, Warmbier says, “We determined long ago that our Fleet Resource Manager would only be as effective as the people who are using it. Buying the system is great, but it doesn’t do anyone any good if you don’t know how to use it. That’s why Eaton offers on-line training, as well as the assistance of our Roadranger Support team, which has received extensive training of its own. We also like to point out that the Roadranger team brings with it more than 90 years of truck experience. So not only do we know the technology, we also know the business of trucking. I don’t know of any other company that can make that claim.”

Warmbier says that Fleet Resource Manager provides easy, convenient access to all of the companies updates. No one ever has to touch the truck. That’s because Fleet Resource Manager is a Web-based system, which means that the updates are easily accessed via the Internet. On top of that, users of Fleet Resource Manger are notified of any updates as soon as they log into the application.


“Once you’ve moved diagnostics from the truck to the shop with systems like Fleet Resource Manager, you can easily transition from managing one truck at a time to managing an entire fleet all of the time with one system. You are also opening the door to other disciplines in a fleet, such as safety directors, operations people, dispatchers and anyone else. With that kind of access to information available to everyone, you can’t help but improve the management process.

“Foremost, fleets need to know that with an intelligent onboard diagnostics system the solutions will always be there. That’s the beauty of this technology. If you invest in the right system, you’ll always be getting the best advice and the best results.”

Bendix offers a number of proprietary tools to help customers work on Bendix braking system components on tractors, trailers and trucks, the company says. In addition, service data bulletins provide insight and information on specific product components – such as electronic control units (ECU), modulators, wheel speed sensors and other system components – these are available in print and online at center. The company also provides technical bulletins and spotlight articles with insight on specific areas for repair and diagnosis, or to highlight unique situations to be addressed.

Bendix notes that its ACom 5.4 Diagnostic Software is designed for troubleshooting, diagnosing and correcting issues with the Bendix braking system – both the current ABS-6 generation of ABS and earlier generations. Also, the company offers RDU (Remote Diagnostic Unit), TRDU (Trailer Remote Diagnostic Unit) plug in, and read and define DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Codes) SWAT as well as Tech Team provide field and phone support at 1-800-AIR-BRAKE.


The RDU is for the ABS system itself. Bendix says that this compact and portable hand-held device plugs into the nine-pin diagnostic connector in the cab (or an available six-pin adaptor may be used) and provides LED readout of diagnostic trouble codes (DTC). The technician simply reads the LEDs to find the potential issue and can then use various tools to help complete repairs. While handy, this tool is designed for the ABS component and not the ESP portion of the braking system. (ACom needs to be used for the ESP system)

The ACom diagnostic software communicates with the Bendix braking system ECU via the J1587 diagnostic link using and RP1210 adaptor connected to the vehicle’s nine-pin or six-pin connector. Simply load the software CD onto a PC with at least Microsoft Windows 98 operating system and follow the instructions. The ACom software will enable the service technician to move quickly to troubleshoot, repair and test individual system components, the company said.

As for supplier support and training, Bendix notes that its ABS Diagnostic and Repair CD is designed to help technicians diagnose and repair potential issues with the Bendix ABS-6 system. The CD includes step-by-step instructions for using various diagnostic tools (such as the RDU and Bendix ACom software mentioned earlier) along with tips for troubleshooting specific system components. Along with the video information, the CD contains key Service Data Bulletins for reference.


Bendix also has established a Service Warranty and Repair Team (SWAT), which is a veteran, field technical support team of ABS experts to troubleshoot and provide direct support to service technicians on Bendix braking systems and technology. SWAT also conducts training programs at dealer and service facilities to keep technicians up-to-speed on the latest techniques for repair and diagnosis of Bendix brake systems.


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