In folklore tales of old, the “silver bullet” reigned supreme as the only form of ammunition capable of killing everything from werewolves to witches and various other monsters spat up from the dark recess of the human imagination. In the far more grounded-in-reality world of truck repair shops, however, the silver bullet serves as a euphemism for solutions to thorny problems, particularly for what's become a “holy grail” of sorts for truck technicians — a universal tool that can diagnose all makes and models of commercial vehicles.

“There are some new and improved systems out there that are universal tools targeted at the aftermarket such as the Cojali Jaltest tool, Noregon JPRO, Nexiq SmartLauncher and Nexiq iQ,” notes Chad Marti, fleet services manager for Clarke Power Services, a firm made up of 29 truck repair facilities located across nine states and a member of the WheelTime network. “They are all trying to be that ‘one-tool-fits-all-types’ system when it comes to maintaining Class 8 and medium-duty trucks. They all have a good start on that, but today there is no silver bullet yet that would cover anything and everything that your shop may need.”

David Shock, worldwide product manager for Snap-on Business Solutions and Nexiq Technologies, stresses that developing a true one-diagnostic-tool-for-all remains a primary goal for shop-focused firms like his, regardless of whether such a tool comes in the form of software or as an actual handheld device.

“Diagnostic software and hardware solutions continue to change as the commercial vehicle market continues to progress,” Shock explains. “The availability of information supplied by sensors throughout the vehicle enables diagnostic information to be sent via telemetric systems like those beginning to be offered by some OEM manufacturers.”

That means vehicle diagnostics can be conducted via PC-based software solutions, such as those favored by many large fleets, as well as the ubiquitous handheld scan tools used in a variety of shop settings to gather information, guide repairs and help conduct preventive maintenance.

“The PC enables software developed by OEMs or the aftermarket to be used with a vehicle interface. This solution, although expensive, has a high rate of return on the initial investment as the facility has the ability to complete repairs beyond preventive maintenance repairs,” Shock says, noting that the PC provides the technician more detailed information.

However, handheld scan tools provide technicians with a simple-to-use product that requires a reduced amount of training, often containing licensed software from the OEM.

“The scan tool is a less expensive point of entry, and product choices provide for both low-end and high-end solutions,” Shock points out. “The lower-end scan tools in the market are used for information and triage. The higher-end scan tool provides a reduced amount of information than that of the PC, but provides good information for repair. The choice of product is truly up to the fleet or aftermarket repair facility.”

“Systems from companies like Noregon and Nexiq will allow you to do that and actually use their program to do the basic diagnostics,” adds Clarke's Marti. “If you need to go more in depth or they don't have coverage for a certain vehicle, they will incorporate that OEM's software into their portal. In doing that, however, it defeats the purpose of having a universal diagnostic tool [for] you still have to purchase and install the OEM program with these tools.”