You cannot diagnose and repair vehicles today without a scan tool and up-to-date service information. So it is essential to keep your scan tool up-to-date with the latest software. On many older professional grade scan tools (both aftermarket and original equipment), the software that contains all the diagnostic trouble codes, display PIDs (Performance Information Data) and other operating features is usually loaded into a cartridge. On most newer scan tools, the soaftware is flash programmed onto an EEPROM chip so it can be updated electronically via the internet.
Updates may be available once or several times a year, depending on the scan tool manufacturer and the level of service they provide. Some of the cheaper DIY scan tools may seldom offer an update, but most professional grade tools offer regular quarterly updates. For a list of scan tool manufacturers, Click Here and scroll to the bottom of the page.
The problem is, if you are using outdated software to diagnose a vehicle that is not covered in the software, your scan tool may not function properly. It may misread codes or not recognize codes. It may not display all of the PIDS that are available for that vehicle, or it may display incorrect information for certain PIDS. Incorrect information is worse than no information because it can be very misleading and may cause you to misdiagnose a problem.
Most software updates for DIY scan tools are available at little or no cost to the user, but updates to most professional scan tools require an annual fee which may range from $600 to $1500 or more depending on the scan tool, its capabilities and the years, makes and models covered by the software.
With some professional scan tools, there are separate cartridges or software packages that only cover certain makes. If you work on Asian vehicles, you need the Asian software or cartridge. If you work on European vehicles, you need the European software or cartridge. If you work on big trucks, you need the specific truck software or cartridge. Want the latest technical service bulletins and troubleshooting help? That's included in another software package or cartridge.
Here's something else to watch out for: Buying older scan tools on ebay or Craig's List. Often the software o4 cartridges that come with these tools are way out of date. That may not a problem if you are buying to tool to work on a specific vehicle that is included in the software or cartridge that comes with the scan tool. But what if you want to update your scan tool to work on other vehicles or newer vehicles? The scan tool manufacturer may no longer support older versions of its tools so it may be impossible to find a software or cartridge update for your scan tool.