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Test tools for the modern-day shade tree mechanic

Discussion in 'GM Powertrain' started by Jamm3r, Jan 9, 2013.

  1. Jamm3r

    Jamm3r Member 1 Year 100 Posts

    Lots o' questions on the forums on:

    - why the truck won't start
    - why the check engine light is on
    - whassup with the cooling leak
    - whyfor doesn't my a/c blow cold

    Back in 1969 you wouldn't try to fix performance problems without a vacuum gauge, timing light, and tach/dwell meter -- all relatively inexpensive tools available at your corner auto parts place or from the Sears catalog. In that same bygone era you also had to have a cooling system pressure tester and an R-12 charging hose and gauge.

    Times have changed and the tools have evolved but there is still a basic set of diagnostic tools that you are going to have to have to do any kind of troubleshooting under the hood -- anything more than basic maintenance and replacement of obvious things like belts and hoses. I see the minimum set for today's powertrains to be:

    1) Some kind of OBD-II interface. The smart phone ones are the best for the money if you have a smart phone. $50-$100
    2) A fuel pressure gauge designed for EFI engines, with a connector that attaches to the fuel rail. $40-$60
    3) A cooling system pressure tester with a set of adapters suitable for whatever you're going to work on. $80-$100
    4) A refrigerant charging hose with pressure gauge for R-134a. $20
    5) A meter (or possibly two separate meters) capable of reading DC volts and DC amps up to 200 amps or so. $100

    Now you don't have to run out and buy all this stuff at once but these are such basic tools that if you're trying to diagnose something for more than around 10 minutes and any of these would help then you should run out and get one from your nearest cheap auto parts place or Amazon or whatever. You use them once and they've paid for themselves compared to either a trip to the stealership or guessing and replacing perfectly good parts.
  2. a.graham52

    a.graham52 Rockstar 100 Posts

    on the subject of the code reader i did a review on a nother forum im present on. the tool when i bought it was around $200 but i think the price has come down:

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    [TD="class: alt1, bgcolor: #DCBD86"]LAUNCH Creader VI Review with pics.
    [HR][/HR]So last week our Cornwell distributor came by and one of the items he had that week was this Creader VI scanner by LAUNCH. it cost about 200 dollars and isn't bad for the price. keep in mind iv been spoiled my whole career with GM's TechII so im a little bias.

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    its capable of reading basic codes and quiet a few manufacturing specific codes too. as long as the vehicle has OBD II then this code reader should work. found it extremely fast and is perfect if you want to check or clear codes. one other great feature is you can RECORD up to 8 HOURS of date. HOWEVER i have not figured out if its possible to use the graph feature with recorded data.
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    reading and clearing codes isn't all it can do. it also doubles has a decent scanner with graphs and values. the first downside i to this tool i found was its extremely small screen and extremely detailed graphs... too detailed for that matter.

    as long as the item you want to graph doesn't change a LOT such as an O2 sensor then you should be able to make decent use of the graph feature. can graph up to 4 items at a time but things quickly become over crowded.

    iv tested this quite a bit at work along side a TechII and only once was i unable to rear all the codes from a vehicle.

    vehicles iv read/cleared codes or graphed values:
    1999 olds alero with a 3.4
    2006 chevy malibu with 2.4
    2009 chevy HHR with a 2.4
    1998 hyundai accel with a turd
    2005 chevy silverado with a 6.0
    200x kia van

    button layout is ok, instructions are to a bare minimum and customer service could be A LOT better.

    overall for a DIY'er i think this tool could be a great help for checking things and clearing codes but as a professional it leaves a lot to be desired as a solo tool but could be an aid to your collection (for quick viewing of codes).

    here are some pics:
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    here is the reader, comes with what you see plus a manual and a usb cable to update as updates come available.

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    as you can see this date stream consist of calculated engine load and rpm. The graph shows every wrinkle in a cats ass but if you look at the scale you can see its not a wide range. scale will self adjust as your graphed items get bigger (such as if i stepped on it and rpms went up to 4k. the graph would re "scale")

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    Here is just some of the values you can watch. amount of viewable items varies depending on vehicle.

    [​IMG]
    here is an example of items that move too fast and make the small screen hard to read. what i selected was my B1S1 O2 and my B1S2 O2. now picture having all four O2s going at once (if you have 4)

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    in this graph iv selected engine load, RPMs, and Absolute throttle position. great view of whats happening as i pull a set of double hills at cruise speed with cruise control activated.

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    i used this picture to demonstrate that zoom feature. this is the "far" setting.

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    this pic is the same screen but up close.

    [​IMG]
    so this pic represents a cool feature of the graph i think. here i am at my destination. i shut the engine off but turn the key back on. as you can see i slowly push the accelerator pedal to the floor and let back off a bunch of times at different speeds. IF i had a faulty TPS a not so "predictable" pattern would show.

    over all i like this. but i have a hard time getting use to a tool that doesn't have all the features of a Tech II. personally... i think its a great tool of anyone on here.
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    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 9, 2013
  3. Pikey

    Pikey Active Member Staff Member 2 Years ROTM Winner 1000 Posts

    Luckily, if one does not have the means to purchase the group of tools mentioned they can be "borrowed" from an autoparts store for free. Unfortunately, the loaner tools are abused and may not work as they should. I have not purchased a cooling system pressure tester, I just borrow the part store's. Same with the fuel pressure gauge and AC gauge set. It would be nice to own them, I just have not had enough people bring me coolant leak or AC problems to justify buying them. I have a nice fluke meter and I can use my programmer as a scan tool. If I need to pull codes for someone else, I have them take it to the parts store before I work on it or I will go there while test driving it. I have learned to test drive ever thing before doing ANYTHING. This was after I had a friend tell me that I made their car shift "funny" after adding washer solvent before they left our home late one night!
  4. Conlan Rose

    Conlan Rose Active Member 2 Years 1000 Posts

    My local shop and Autozone both read codes for free, so I don't worry about that. I have had coolant leaks, but only one that was easily found and fixed (radiator was leaking). I don't like to mess with A/C because well I just don't and my shop usually has specials for checking/tuning up the A/C system in the spring so it isn't outrageous to get it vac tested and refilled. I do have a multi-meter and plan on getting a digital one soon. They are always handy when fixing or adding electrical equipment. I need a fuel pressure gauge, but they are more expensive because you need to buy adapter kits for it to work on GM vehicles.
  5. silverhobey

    silverhobey Rockstar 3 Years 500 Posts

    re: your friend said their car shifted funny after you added washer fluid------Been there done
    that with someone who complained about no heat after I did an oil change for them !!!Brian
  6. mfleetwood

    mfleetwood Rockstar 4 Years ROTM Winner 5000 Posts

    Sorry if your post looks different but I removed the outside community link and replaced with the thread from that community. Please let know if I missed any additional information you were trying to post and I'll add it.

    Thanks!
  7. a.graham52

    a.graham52 Rockstar 100 Posts

    good to me.
  8. Jamm3r

    Jamm3r Member 1 Year 100 Posts

    I have had widely mixed results with parts store loaner tools. Got a hydraulic fan kit that was a huge help. OTOH have also had some tools that were just cheezy and a few that had been screwed up by previous users. Also had some availability problems.

    It's one thing to borrow a special wrench or puller or something that you'll only use once but some tools are so basic I wouldn't want to be without them
  9. Enkeiavalanche

    Enkeiavalanche Rockstar 4 Years ROTM Winner 5000 Posts

  10. aloxdaddy99

    aloxdaddy99 Rockstar 3 Years 1000 Posts

    I have a fluke that I have been using for many years. Dropped tested a time or 2. Pricey? yes. But you get what you pay for. I just picked up a cylinder compression test set of ebay for $75. No it is not something you will use often but when you need it you need it. I do have the coolant pressure test set. The next thing I am going to look into it the power probe kit. I can think of many times I could have used it. I have been making do with a test light that has been getting tossed about in my truck tool bag though.
    I generaly don't use loaner tools. If I am doing a job and need a special tool it is another excuse to buy more tools. LOL!

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