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Dealer Diagnostics: What’s your long term plan on fixing cars?

By autotech-nath on April 7, 2020

Last month, Gareth Davies, who runs a German car specialist workshop in South Wales, described his journey to investing in dealer tools. Here, he considers the power of ODIS and what questions independents should be asking themselves about the direction their workshops are heading.

There is a vast difference between the functionality of Pass- thru ODIS and full fat ODIS via a VAS interface, don’t let anyone make you think otherwise. They will not do one and the same thing. A great example of this would be ignition recognition. Many pass-thru devices do not recognise certain CAN/K-Line strokes correctly and as a result, ODIS cannot detect Key-on state within the program. Does this really matter when ‘doing diagnostics’? I suppose it really depends on whether you are trying to read some fault codes and live data, versus more complicated tasks. If that’s the case, why have a dealer tool at all? “We have got a dealer tool – we can code a key or adapt a control unit”. This is where pass-thru can become tricky and leave the end user wanting, and in a very, bad place. You’ll be sorry trying to do this via pass-thru on most applications, as at the point key 1 is learned, and ODIS requests you to remove that key and switch the ignition off, and subsequently back on with the second key to be adapted, ODIS never sees this event and gets stuck in the depths of the unknown. Be sure of what offering will do what and understand the limitations. The ropey halfway house I like to call pass-thru, on some brands, can be worse than no dealer solution at all. It will not give you true dealer functionality and task operations and sometimes, when it does, it can lead to a worse position than not starting the process at all.

So, you’ve got your credentials, you’re installed, you can see the multiplexer, you’re going in! Now you are faced with a whole new myriad of challenges. What’s GFF? What is Self-Diagnosis? Flash programming? Online orders cannot be loaded, really, where now? Oh no ODISE1007E, what’s this? I just want to read the fault codes! Well before this point, you should consider that having the tool is one thing and how it is driven by the end user is quite another. It’s a bit like taking a driving test with no formal lessons/training. You’re free to do it, of course, but your chance of success is far less without some prior training. Generally, your usage frequency of the tool will only improve your navigational competence with the tool, but compared to some good aftermarket tools, one’s natural tendency will be to pick up the ‘go to’ tool, read some data, some fault codes and then forecast a plan. In the instance where fault codes are now becoming more and more complicated, or vague, or simply described as ‘manufacturer code’, particularly in body/chassis bus systems where EOBD isn’t as prevalent in helping the end user with an aftermarket tool, could this step be bypassed by opting to go straight in with a dealer tool? Here, you will have specifics about the fault, freeze frame conditions, a created test plan, a direction in where to go with your testing and all the supporting TSB’s and accurate wiring diagrams for the vehicle.

Of course, as a workshop and as a serial brand experienced technician, it took a culture change to embrace this and there’s always a certain tool for a certain job. The key to extracting the most from the tool would be to attend training on the operation and usage of it. Yes, the VM’s offer training to attend – they are generally very expensive and part of a bigger plan i.e. VW training will be brand specific and follow a structured route of service tech to diagnostic tech, to master tech. There will be sections of this training that include ODIS but there will be no sections covering getting your system operational, updating, etc. The reason being, as a dealer tech this happens seamlessly, behind the scenes.

My advice to independents would be to undertake some structured training for the independent repairer. There are a few niche providers of this within the UK, such as James Dillon at Technical Topics, John Batten at AutoIQ and Jon Morgan at VAG Systems Training Services. I would suggest you do your research on where, when and what they will bring to you and your training needs. I personally attended Technical Topics and found the fully immersive training very useful. Even as a reasonably proficient self-tutored user, it showed me lots of quirky shortcuts and tips and gave a real insight into the fundamentals of why the tool behaves the way it does. It will give you the confidence to get back to the workshop, with a great understanding to get on and use the tool, with a workbook full of notes and guides to refer back to if and when required. They also offer an ‘Introduction to dealer tools’ course, which if you are considering multiple dealer tools within your offering, could prove very useful.

Without training, you may find the dealer tool soon becomes an expensive dusty paperweight in the corner for the ‘as and when’ jobs of where it’s really needed, when in reality, with some training, experience and patience, the tool can transform your brand success, every time you see a vehicle of that marque.

Ultimately, becoming brand proficient in all makes and models, as many of us were in days gone by, is not impossible, but would attract significant expense from investment and training. Plus, would a return be made by the average, small independent for the offering? Unlikely, but ascertaining a need for dealer tooling and then creating a structured integration plan (beginning the application process for ORG ID and Geko registration, acquiring the tool, attending training, setting up and using the tool) will make your garage, or technicians, more proficient in current branded repairs, helping you embrace the integration of continued car parc and technology shifts.

One question always asked and never forgotten about a tool purchase such as an aftermarket diagnostic tool is, what can it do? Embracing the dealer tool, you’ll only ever have one answer to that – everything (99.5% anyway).


ODIS is a complicated program to obtain correctly. Out of the three brands I specialise in, it is probably the hardest to install effectively, although this has got easier in recent times – those who know the old ways, know – and to recognise the chosen interface (VAS, J2534 etc.) and then navigate. Proceed with cautious enthusiasm, hold the Artificially Intelligent hand of Guided fault-finding loosely, use your technical skills in tandem with the program and attend the training.

The power of ODIS and dealer tools alike, is remarkable. They are unrivalled in ability to perform certain tasks, they are information-rich on the brand being worked on and for garages like ourselves, we simply couldn’t be without them now. They are however, just one tool in your toolbox, so to speak. Nuts and bolts will always be what they will be, information and skills of the technician are also essential to work with dealer tools.

Gareth Davies, Managing Director, Euro Performance, IMI Master Technician CAE AMIMI.



  • How does your investment in tool choices, and ability in tasks, reflect your proportional charges/rate of pay as a technician?
  • What is your long-term plan? Fixing cars is only becoming more complicated, do you want to embrace dealer tooling, or specific brands, or are you happy to use someone who ‘does dealer diagnostics’ to finish the job?
  • Are you ‘doing’ your job as you’ve always done? As the job, trade, cars have evolved, has your workshop, tooling and offering changed? Does it need to?

Part One of Gareth’s article is available on The website hosts many technical articles, case studies and vehicle system overviews published over four years, as well as industry news, plus our free online Autotech assessments.



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