Buyer’s guide to diagnostic tools

Even as a full-time mechanic, deciding on the right scan tool could be challenging since there are a variety of options out there, which ranges from the low-cost, straightforward trouble code reader to the thorough, stand-alone diagnostic device which can set you back tens of thousands of dollars. Buying one comes right down to several important aspects: functions necessary within the scan tool to establish information on how in-depth the vehicle repairs will probably be, precisely how many various motor vehicles will be diagnosed, and how realistic the cost will be.

The actual functions within the scan tool actually rely on the details that’s going to be required to carry out the diagnostics, as well as your level of comfort with all the vehicle repairs to be carried out. Any low-priced, basic trouble code reader displays most of the diagnostic trouble codes which have been set and will direct someone to the potential location associated with the problem. Often times though, this actually only shows the info at a fairly generic level. Usually, additional diagnostics tend to be needed to determine what triggered the trouble code to end up being set to begin with. Trouble code readers are usually helpful with regard to viewing just what DTCs (Diagnostic Trouble Codes) are set, yet may well not properly identify the cause of the problem.

In order to properly identify a problem as well as symptom, a lot more information has to be gleaned via the system. Generic, effective scan tools deal with almost all of the trouble codes as well as diagnostic capabilities to be able to repair most commonly encountered sensor difficulties, misfire troubles, as well as performance issues. These types of vehicle repairs can be easily carried out the home garage area and may also be sorted out along with parts sold at a good number of nearby auto parts outlets. As a result, this kind of scanner should certainly help approximately 90% of the problems that take place.

Whenever complications happen in manufacturer-specific vehicles, i.e. FordGMToyota and so on, professional-level scan tools are usually needed. They are required to identify problems in control modules such as anti-lock braking systems, drive-by-wire modules, climate modules, and so forth. These types of enhanced functions within the professional scan tool certainly are a must when attempting to correct these systems, However, as a result of the complexity of the many of such systems, as well as the lack of replacement parts at the nearby auto parts store, a number of these repairs would be better left to specialist repair shops.

Manufacturer-specific codes in the mix!

In picking a scan tool, it is important that it not only supports every one of the generic PIDs (Parameter IDs), yet it ought to support the manufacturer-specific PIDs for motor vehicles which are to be diagnosed. It is important to be able to support this kind of extended manufacturer data in order to precisely determine any sort of problem.

Price range of scan tools

Scan  tools  (alongside  with  trouble  code  readers)  can certainly  differ in  cost  from  as inexpensive  as $15  all  the  way  to  exceeding beyond $10,000. Quite a few auto parts stores read codes free of charge, which usually can be  an  excellent  starting  point  when  starting out  to  identify  OBD-II issues.  Budget  usually  drives  capabilities, however  at  a  bare minimum, in order to correctly as well as instantly identify issues, the subsequent features are highly recommended in a scan tool:

  • Is capable of supporting generic as well as manufacturer-specific PIDS
  • Scans and also clears diagnostic trouble codes
  • Scans freeze-frame data
  • Records real-time data
  • Queries status of system monitors
  • Features Internet based assistance for DTCs and PIDs
  • Offers upgradable software for new makes, models, and years
  • Comes with good sized display and is also easily readable in daylight conditions

Oxygen Sensor Replacement

Quite often, a home mechanic removes a brand new oxygen sensor from the box and improperly installs it. This mistake ruins it, or at least shortens its life. When replacing the oxygen sensor, here are some tips to gain the most life possible from it:

  • Always use an oxygen sensor wrench or socket when removing and installing the sensor. These tools are designedto apply even torque to the sensor. Under no circumstances should an adjustable wrench be used on an oxygen sensor.
  •  In order to facilitate easy removal of a sensor at a later time, apply anti seize compound to the threads prior to installation. Take care to only apply a small dab to the threads, and don’t get any compound on the tip of the sensor.
  •  The wires in the sensor are delicate and can be broken or pinched. Install the oxygen sensor prior to connecting the wires to the harness. Also take care when routing the wires. Exhaust systems are extremely hot and can quickly melt oxygen sensor wires.
  •  Oxygen sensors typically come with a plastic cover over the tip. Keep this cover on the sensor until you are ready to thread it into the exhaust system. This helps prevent contaminants from entering the sensor.
  •  Remember that oxygen sensors operate at 600 degrees F or more. Even if the vehicle is not running, if the ignition is on, the sensor’s heaters will most likely be engaged and heating the sensor. Prior to removing the sensor, turn off the engine and let it cool for an adequate amount of time.
  •  When changing exhaust systems or exhaust pipes, keep in mind that the pipes are often coated with light oil when being bent. This oil is usually not cleaned off prior to installation, burns off and can harm an oxygen sensor. If the exhaust components prior to the oxygen sensor are replaced, run the engine with the exhaust sensor removed for 10 minutes to burn off the excess manufacturing oil.

So what Causes Oxygen Sensor Failure?

Oxygen sensors operate in a demanding environment and therefore are pretty tough sensors. But, as previously stated, they are considered a consumable sensor that eventually wears out and requires replacement. There are several factors that can accelerate their replacement schedule. These factors include:

  • Running the incorrect fuel type in the vehicle. Leaded gasoline, such as leaded race gas, shortens the life of an oxygen sensor to as short as a matter of hours. A sensor that has been running in leaded gasoline typically has a rusty color on the tip of the sensor.
  •  Engine oil ruins a sensor quickly by fouling the tip of the sensor, so that it can no longer sample the incoming exhaust stream. If an engine is burning oil through a mechanical issue or a PCV problem, the oxygen sensor’s performance degrades rapidly.
  •  Excessive grease, dirt, or other contaminants built up on the outside of the sensor wires reduces or eliminates the capability for the sensor to draw in outside oxygen for sampling. Sometimes the wires can be cleaned but, due to the miniscule size of the passages, they are difficult to get completely free of contaminants.
  •  If engine repairs are made and sealants are used, the sealants must be labeled as “sensor friendly.” Many sealants contain chemicals, which will foul or damage the sensor if the chemicals can reach the exhaust stream.
  •  If a head gasket or intake gasket is leaking and antifreeze is being burned in the combustion, the byproduct of the burned antifreeze is poisonous to the oxygen sensor and ruins it quickly.
  • Overly rich conditions can foul the tip of the oxygen sensor with black soot,  rendering the heater circuit or the sensor itself useless. Occasionally, the tip can be burned clean with a propane torch, but usually, the sensor has to be replaced.

Equus Innova 3160 ABS CAN OBD2 scanner review

After using a couple of entry-level OBDII scanners, I decided to look into something that had a few extra features. This is where the Innova Equus 3160 ABS OBD2 unit comes in.

After searching most forums I finally pitched for this model after many recommendations. It ticked a few boxes for me as I was looking for a professional set-up without breaking the bank. Oh and I needed something that was ‘future proof’, where I could get regular software/firmware updates from the actual company.

After several months of usage, I’ve written down my opinions of this particular diagnostic tool.


Assess  all 1996 and newer vehicles including pickups,  and Sports utility vehicles that are domestic, Asian or European

Reasonably priced for a professional unit, ideal for home or workshop use

Ideal to determine either ABS as well as Engine codes

Can insert batteries into the unit. Ideal to read codes when vehicle battery has died

Connects to the PC/laptop via USB, or via the old serial connection (ideal if you own a relic of a PC that was knocking around in the early 90′s!).

Decent back-light

Good quality build, could possibly describe it as rugged


Doesn’t show all ABS codes for some vehicles. If the ABS feature ranks high on your checklist, then ensure that the vehicle is actually included on the motor vehicles list

At the time of writing, the ABS codes are limited to US cars only. This may change in the future though via a
firmware/software update.


I choose this OBD2 scanner due the fact that it is aimed at the professional market – if it’s good for them, then it’s good enough for me! But seriously, I had to look around at the online forums and ask some questions on a pro unit that was both fairly cheap and reliable.

Out of the few units I own, this one sees most of the action when diagnosing vehicle problems.

But for someone who’ll only want to use a code scanner now and again, and who is on a really tight budget, the entry level units that I’ve written about will be enough.

Oh by the way, make sure the model ordered is a 3160′b’ version which features a built-in USB connector. Some of the older units only have a serial port, and let’s face it – none of the modern PCs have these ports! But it’s possible to obtain a serial port to USB adapter off of eBay for a couple of dollars. It seems that all the major retailers, both online and offline, are selling the newer USB version.

The Innova OBDII 3160 diagnostic System consists of a diagnostic tool, the OBDII 16-pin connection, Laptop/computer software program along with a cable, a video,  a good tough nylon pouch, a decent user manual in English, (Spanish and French languages are also included).