Scan-Tool Debate: OEM, Aftermarket or Both?

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By: Chuck Olsen, Executive Director of Operations at AirPro Diagnostics

I understand the collision repair community has fundamental challenges with aftermarket parts used in the repair of vehicles.  From headlights to fenders and even structural parts, repairers have been saddled with the push to use these parts whether they fit or not or are questionable OEM equivalent. So even the mention of the word “aftermarket” sends shivers down the spines of quality collision repairers.  We get that. As you may know I come from the mechanical industry and worked for a number of OEM’s on early development, implementation and programming of OBD-II software and calibrations.

Who do you think manufacturers OEM Scan Tools?  Companies such as Bosch, Autel and other “aftermarket scan tool manufacturers.” When shopping for new spark plugs or an air filter, you don’t think twice about using an Aftermarket part for the job.  It is important for the repair community to understand the fundamental differences.

One resource available is the PTEN Scan Tool Guide for OBD-II Generic and OBD-II Enhanced. AirPro Diagnostics is proud to be listed in the “OBD-II Enhanced” category of this industry publication. OEM’s embrace the quality aftermarket scan tool providers as a resource for their own scan tools as well as a necessary partner to provide quality scan tools to properly service their valued customers vehicles.   

A debate has been pre-occupying the collision repair industry fueled by those with a vested interest in making the claim of “OEM-only scan-tools” are contributing to the confusion. To set the record straight, some OEMs do have written positions statements that state they do not endorse any scan tool that isn’t their own, not because those tools fail to perform the tasks, but because OEMs simply don’t have any interest or budget in becoming a validation process for aftermarket tools.  

What’s interesting is that those making the OEM-only argument for late-model coverage side-steps the fact that most scan-tools (Even OEM) have limited current year coverage. How can you argue that the car that just rolled off the assembly line is so important to your argument, then say the other 15 years prior isn’t? At the body shops we service, the issue isn’t last month’s model that stops production, it’s the bulk of prior model year vehicles.

The OEMs aren’t the ones to ask if aftermarket tools are capable. So just to be clear, what the OEMs are saying is, they know theirs works, and those that license the data may too. For quality tool makers that purchase and properly license the same OEM sourced data streams used to make OEM’s tools, they have only themselves to ensure that the coverage is implemented and tested. Market pressure does a really good job of ensuring that.

The argument is that late-model coverage is always a year or less behind the vehicle production for aftermarket tools. (I have heard arguments that it’s two years behind, but I don’t know of a single quality scan tool today that far behind.)

It’s no secret that aftermarket tools have made huge inroads to being very competitive to the OEM tools. Fifteen years ago, aftermarket scan tools struggled with one or more car makers. Those times have changed, even as the vehicles have become more complex. Competition forced all tool makers to do more and sooner; that’s a good thing. This argument is why OEM vs Aftermarket should never end either. If you only have one choice, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice.

Lastly, say you purchase the OEM tool. You still require additional equipment and resources to apply scan tool functions such as service information, calibration targets, seat weights, and other specialty tools. We haven’t even started on training.

Solving the Argument

What plagues our industry isn’t Aftermarket or OEM scan-tools.  Our industry has bigger issues that truly are in the way of progress— personnel, training and budgets. We simply do not have enough of the skill sets in collision repair shops to address the vast amount of electronics and advanced computerized controls or the means of covering the costs in the current environment.

AirPro diagnostics’ methods of combining high quality OEM sourced aftermarket scan-tool software with direct OEM calibration files and OEM scan-tool programs together, directly connected to a vehicle (As scan tools are engineered and designed to be used) the coverage, depth and cost of scan tool procedures paired with remote diagnostic specialists are successfully being used to fulfill OEM electronics repair procedures needed on today’s vehicles

Extent of Coverage

Getting the coverage is a product of OEMs working with tool makers and ETI. Working directly with toolmakers, I am really glad to see that OEMs are providing their scan-tool and repair data in a timely fashion for a healthy aftermarket with tools capable of serving all their customers. These developments benefit OEMs as well as the industry as a whole.

For instances of latest released vehicles, the OEM-only has some merit. Current OEM scan tool software (the exact same scan tool programs used in OEM franchised dealers) are used and part of the AirPro hardware/software package with common vehicle communication interfaces (J2534), that also includes the capabilities of performing replacement module programming with calibration files provided directly from an OEM as their scan tools are designed for use with today’s technology.

At Airpro Diagnostics, we and our partners start the upcoming model year development the second scan tool information is released. We work with ETI, scan tool developers and OEM scan tool software providers. If it’s a new platform vehicle the new controllers and systems are processed for development immediately. If it’s a carryover model (No change in vehicle architecture or new control module features) the functionality is validated against last year’s coverage. By the spring of the current model year every single model for all car makers and all their respective data stream has been input and checked.

Depth of Coverage

What’s important here is the goal is to cover everything that is required for any service—not just what’s easy. Some procedures are more challenging and can take a few releases from OEMs or Scan-tool providers to get all the bugs worked out and functionality working properly with a new model. Additionally, shop personnel must be trained and have access to service information and new product or feature information  On more occasions than not, what stops our repair is not the scan tool coverage or functionality, but shop personnel lacking requirements to understand the scan tool data, calibration or programming process, or the additional specialty equipment such as calibration tools and proper set up.


Cost is where quality aftermarket scan-tools will always win. First, those arguing OEM-only are skirting the fact that most manufacturers today require multiple scan tools. For example, GM today would require a customer to have both the Tech2WIN for non-Global A, and GDS-II for Global A vehicles. Chrysler requires both the WITech and DRBIII emulator (which requires special hardware), Jaguar and Land Rover’s factory tool no longer supports models older than ‘01 without purchasing the older JLR installation. New Volvo platforms require a specialty USB cable connection. More scan-tool protocols are in transition today with Ford, Honda, Subaru, Nissan and more. Yet with a quality aftermarket tool that offers both legacy and current coverage and OEM access for multiple makes. it’s a one stop shop. In fact, this argument is so damning to the OEM-only argument that when cost is a factor, it’s a no brainer for aftermarket and multi-brand repair centers

Many shops are not investing in the training, equipment or hiring those that have it. Even medium-sized shops can’t afford all the specialty calibration tools for ADAS alone. Neither can afford all the multitude of scan tools that will be required for entire vehicle work mix they service.

Chuck Olsen is the Executive Director of Operations at AirPro Diagnostics

Chuck has 39 years experience in the automotive repair and technologies industry, ranging from apprentice technician to operations management with vehicle manufacturers and dealership service departments. Chuck has extensive experience in every area of automotive electronics and computerized systems and specializes in safety system diagnostics, programming and calibrations.

Chuck is the co-inventor of the Remote Vehicle Programming System and Method, he has developed methods for remote diagnostic and programming services from inception, to proof of concept, to functional products and services. Chuck maintains ASE Master Technician certification and participates in multiple trade organizations and committees including: I-CAR, NASTF, ETI, CIC, SCRS, IATN and is an adjunct instructor for automotive technology at Florida State College Jacksonville.


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