By Andy Brooke, Maverick Diagnostics
Vehicle technology is moving at an enormous speed and for many businesses, particularly in the independent automotive aftermarket, the path ahead is unmistakably clear: embracing dealer tools and diagnostic platforms is no longer optional but essential. The launch of SERMI in 2023 has further eased the accessibility of these systems, offering a unified portal for accessing platforms from multiple manufacturers.
In this feature, I will spotlight the top-selling dealer tools in the UK and explore the enhanced profitability they offer. My focus on these specific tools is strategic; they are applicable to a staggering 90% of the vehicles currently on British roads. While Japanese and Korean makes are renowned for their reliability, they don’t hold significant market share in the UK. As such, tools for these models are not discussed in this article.
Before discussing specific tools, it’s essential to grasp the financial merits of using dealer tools. When employing a dealer tool, independent workshops should charge customers at a premium diagnostic rate. After all, you are utilising a highly sophisticated tool to achieve the most accurate results. Profitability naturally hinges on proficient use of these tools, which is why we encourage all independent workshops to take basic tool training as a minimum, with advanced training as the next logical step. Workshops that have embraced dealer tools—usually specialising in specific brands or vehicle types like German brands—have enjoyed solid customer bases and increased hourly rates. On average, an extra £30,000 in annual profitability per dealer tool has been reported.
The Off-Board Diagnostic and Information System (ODIS) is a comprehensive application that covers Volkswagen, Audi, Seat, and Skoda. (Bentley and Lamborghini require separate applications. Porsche, although part of the group, uses a separate tool platform – PWIS). ODIS requires a high-specification laptop and a VAS 6154 VCI, although a rated passthrough dongle like the Mongoose VAS cable can also be used. Each brand has its unique identifying key and a stringent security process for tool application and usage.
ODIS comes with an integrated suite of technical data and offers fully guided diagnostics specific to each brand. With pricing starting at €9 per hour, we’ve found that ODIS delivers an exceptional return on investment. Workshops typically charge significantly higher hourly rates when using ODIS, as it consistently and efficiently solves automotive issues compared to aftermarket tools. Our recent study contrasting the Golf Mk6 and Golf Mk8 revealed that aftermarket tools provide inadequate coverage for the Mk8, largely due to security limitations. When used by properly trained technicians, ODIS not only covers a wide range of brands and models but is also user-friendly, making it an excellent investment. ODIS’s strong return on investment and expansive brand coverage make it a vital tool in any workshop’s arsenal.
By the nature of the beast, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is not for everybody, but for those who own these vehicles, keeping them running smoothly is a top priority. JLR offers two different software platforms running on a single laptop: For models up to 2017, SDD (Symptoms Drive Diagnostics software is used in conjunction with the JLR-VCI tool. TOPIX Cloud was introduced in 2022, for vehicles after 2018 and replaces the older Pathfinder platform.
While the standard dealer tool goes by the name Bosch VCI, there are alternative options such as the DPD-U tool, which offers exactly the same functionality. Another worthy investment is the SST handheld DOIP tool which excels in service functions and resets, which for my money is the best bet.
When it comes to cost, JLR software is most economical when purchased on an annual basis. TOPIX also offers a separate subscription for documentation, allowing you to buy only the necessary documents on an hourly rate.
Although JLR’s systems may not be universally applicable, their cost-effectiveness and specialised features can make them incredibly lucrative for the right workshop.
BMW is probably the best value platform but can be frustrating as it’s so vast and many believe the whole car needs to be updated with each module change. In this discussion, I’ll focus on BMW’s ISTA workshop platform and the Kasio key reading system, aiming to simplify their intricate functionalities.
Firstly, investing in a high-specification laptop for ISTA is crucial; better hardware leads to optimised system speed. The primary device used with this platform is known as ICOM A. Optional add-ons are available for older vehicles with 20-pin connectors and for MOST bus communication.
It offers comprehensive features such as mapping, tire pressure monitoring, and fully guided diagnostics through a system called AIR. BMW invests tens of millions annually to keep this system up to date.
Kasio, on the other hand, is the key reading system. It enables technicians to extract all key data from a vehicle, upload service information to BMW’s cloud, and then rewrite this information back into the vehicle. Once integrated into your workshop, Kasio can reduce BMW service time by 30 to 40 minutes.
As for costs, both ISTA and Kasio operate on an hourly token basis. However, we have found that tokens can often last longer, particularly if you are in the middle of programming. This also applies to ODIS; a one-hour token can potentially last all day.
Be prepared for frequent updates; BMW is known to update their systems as much as three times a month. This can be challenging for technical support teams, especially since ISTA won’t function on outdated versions.
Despite frequent updates, its effectiveness and speed make it indispensable for BMW servicing.
Ford’s diagnostic landscape is somewhat complex, largely due to the vast number of models available globally. The primary tool is called the VCM3, with its dealer-specific variant being the VCMM which includes built in measurement capabilities. It’s worth noting that VCMM isn’t used in the aftermarket; we’ve had a customer purchase only to realise they wasted their money.
Ford offers multiple software options, the details of which I am not going to delve into here (it would take the rest of this section!). The most well known is the IDS (Integrated Diagnostic Software) which serves as the foundation for Ford’s other diagnostic software. IDS is most effective and provides a great return on investment. US licenses can be bought on a yearly or hourly basis and this will also cover the FDR system which is generally the only other system independent operators in the UK and Europe would need. As you would expect for a global platform, it is user-friendly but should you require extra documentation or guided functions, you’ll need to use the PTS system and pay an hourly fee.
Overall, Ford’s diagnostic tools are quick, effective, and come with added functionalities such as extended fault code information and timelines, making the invaluable assets for modern workshops.
For Vauxhall, Opel, Peugeot, Citroën, and DS, two tools are mainly in use sharing the same Diag Box platform: the old Vauxhall GM MDI for programming and diagnostics of Vauxhall vehicles up to 2021, and the PSA XS core tool for PSA vehicles from 2004 to the present day. The PSA XS now includes Vauxhall which, in case you didn’t know, are all PSA based from 2021. To further complicate things Stellantis, who now own all the above, also owns Fiat jeep Europe which uses an entirely separate platform.
Mercedes offers three types of Xentry systems, each with its own set of features and access levels: Xentry PassThru, Xentry Lite, and Xentry Kit 4. The PassThru version is designed for diagnostics on vehicles compliant with Euro 5 standards and newer. Xentry Lite caters to a broader range, covering all vehicles back to those meeting Euro 4 standards. Xentry Kit 4 not only provides the same coverage as Lite but also includes additional information and add-ons. It’s important to note that Mercedes maintains a stringent application process for these software versions. For commercial vehicles, there’s a slightly altered procedure, although most can still be accommodated via the PassThru version with a 24V adapter.
While the application process is stringent, the comprehensive functionalities of these systems justify the investment.
Dealer tools have transformed from being optional luxuries to essential investments for independent workshops aiming for profitability and efficiency. If you are contemplating adopting these tools the financial incentives and technological advantages make them indispensable for your future success.