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Because the manufacturers were required to conform to a standardized set of DTCs, it is much easier for independent repair shops and the home mechanic to fix cars, and the scan tools needed to retrieve the codes are much more affordable than they used to be. Some, called code scanners (or simply scanners), can only read and possibly erase the engine computer's stored DTCs. The more expensive scan tools will read and erase codes but can also display live data from the sensors in real time with the engine running. This is an especially helpful feature to use to verify the proper operation of sensors and diagnose driveabillty problems.

There are many different levels to choose from, and the more expensive the scan tool, the more It does. The tools the dealership guys have access to are top-shelf and would make even the most nerdy computer geek blush. We stopped by Galpin Ford, where technician Johnny Stein plugged his IDS scanner into the DLC of a new Mustang and gave us a tour of the various PIDs of the car's data stream and how he uses them to diagnose driveability issues such as vacuum leaks, misfires, and hard starts.

Galpin Ford's Johnny Stein demonstrates Ford's Integrated Diagnostic System, a PC-based ECM scan tool. It is available to retail customers but is very expensive and requires annual renewal fees. You also have to upgrade it every year, and that isn't free. Stein guesses he's invested nearly $4,000 of his own money to pay for his equipment.

One of the coolest things Stein showed us was a relative compression test he performed in less than a minute without ever leaving the driver seat. Setting up his laptop for the compression test, Stein cranked the engine for about 10 seconds. If one cylinder makes less compression than the others, the crank will turn more quickly as that piston reaches TDC. This information is displayed In graph form on his screen, and he can determine which cylinder he should test further for ring wear or valve seating issues.


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