We test a new $100 plug-in device and app that turns smartphones and tablets into a diagnostic scan tool
Turn your smartphone or tablet into a $3,000 scan tool for $100? Sounds a bit far-fetched.
Is the Lemur BlueDriver more gimmick than genuine? That’s the question we wanted to find out.
Scan tools are as important in today’s service tech’s toolbox as any wrench, screwdriver or socket. Maybe more so.
They gather data from all the vehicle’s microprocessors and sensors through the OBD-II port, showing you where problems exist that would otherwise be difficult to track down with close to 100 little computers in the average vehicle.
Scan tools, which have far more function than the basic code scanner that tells you what codes made the “Check Engine” light up, are a primary diagnostic tool and they vary in price from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand.
Lemur Vehicle Monitors may change how fleet service managers and field techs view scan tools. They’ve taken away the cable tether and placed the functions on smartphones, tablets and Androids through a Bluetooth-connected OBD-II plug-in and app called BlueDriver.
“BlueDriver is bad to the bone,” says Karl Hagar, after we placed one is his hands for a month-long, real-world test drive.
“This is a great tool and app for any shop that needs the ability to do remote diagnostics in the field or in the shop,” says Hagar, who is a service tech and vehicle repair shop owner in Mississippi with more than 30 years experience servicing fleet vehicles of all makes and models.
“Other than not having 2-way communications to control specific vehicle functions, like turning cooling fans on/off or shutting down individual cylinders, it seems to do everything my $3,000 OTC Genisys scan tool does.”
There are upwards of 100 tiny microprocessors, or computers in the simplest of terms, on today’s vehicles. BlueDriver says their app can read them all while providing many of the other diagnostic tools today’s techs need to service fleet vehicles. Hagar agrees.
“When you command BlueDriver to scan for codes,” says Hagar, “it reads them all, flashing the modules on the phone’s screen as it does the search. It’s fast and thorough; whoever designed this system did a great job.”
“Many of the older fleet vehicles that come into our shop have oxygen-sensor or throttle-body codes being thrown, or some other code that we’ve seen over the years. So as soon as we see one of those [codes], we know what it means and where to start checking to solve the problem.
“The cool part of BlueDriver is it includes a ‘repair report’ database of what the code means and what the most popular solutions/fixes are for that particular code,” Hagar says. “That’s a great time saver and help for wrench-turners that haven’t had to deal with some of the newest vehicles, or they see a code that’s not familiar.”
Hagar, and another tech he let use the BlueDriver, found the app was simple to download and the screens easy to use. “If you have used a scan tool before, this one is very user-friendly. It works great on an iPad, iPhone or, as I have, an Android.”
The BlueDriver can read any vehicle with an OBDII port, so the app on an Android, iPhone or iPad can take the place of multiple scan tools.
It also offers multiple other reports, graphs and data gathering, both live and saved, so you can watch in real time how the engine, transmission, charging system, cooling and other vehicle operations are functioning – or not.
Hagar says some shops have scan tools dedicated to individual vehicle brands, which is a big expense, and those scan tools need to have updates loaded to stay current.
“It costs me about $800 a year just for updates on my shop’s primary scan tool,” says Hagar. BlueDriver’s updates are free and frequent.
“BlueDriver already ‘speaks’ to any vehicle using standard CANBus technology,” says Greg Browne, Product Development Engineer for Lemur Vehicle Monitors.
“This means today’s BlueDriver doesn’t need to be updated to work on future vehicles. It already works. We offer regular free updates that offer more features based on the data we get from the vehicles old and new, and update our database every couple months so the information is as current as possible,” says Browne.
As for bringing BlueDriver up to the same level as the full-featured, tethered scan tools, it’s not far off.
“Bi-directional communication is something BlueDriver already has the capability to do,” confides Browne. “But we haven’t implemented it in the app. It is definitely something we have considered. Our goal for BlueDriver is to do everything the expensive tools do for far, far less of an investment.
“We are adding features from highest to lowest number of customers who will use it and are starting to get close to features like two-way communication.”
Hagar also likes the size and convenience factor of the BlueDriver.
“The OBD-II plug-in is small enough to keep in the smallest drawer of my tool chest, in the glovebox, or in a pants pocket. And I always have my phone, so if a truck comes into the shop with a check-engine light on or some other mysterious malady, I don’t have to spend time tracking down the scan tool to diagnose and fix the problem.
“From the business side, if I need to have a tech head out in the field, it’s a lot cheaper to have a BlueDriver in their hand than a conventional tethered scanner in the toolbox when both can do the same job.”
Our take from this “road” test: Lemur’s $100 BlueDriver is in the driver’s seat when it comes to a scan tool that’s convenient, compact, and highly functional for diagnosing today’s fleet vehicles, be they domestic or import, car, SUV or pickup.
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