Scan Tool Review: BMW/MINI/Rolls Royce

When I was tasked by ASA to do this scan tool series, the manufacturer I was most concerned about writing on was BMW. To quote a friend of mine, “If you don’t know what scan tool you need to work on BMWs, you should not be working on BMWs.” While this may seem a bit harsh or elitist, it is an accurate and honest assessment in my experience, as no manufacturer has a more complex lineage of scan tools, scan tool accessories and processes.

BMW opted early on to incorporate the technical data most technicians would expect to find from their service information provider into the tool itself. Originally called TIS, it was available via disc, but is now Web-based and still accessed through the tool.

I would shy away from the SUN 2013, MoDiC2 and MoDiC3 (Mobile Diagnostic Computer). The GT1 with DIS+ (DIS/DIS+ was the software) was the tool of choice until roughly 2009. With multiple areas of capability, the GT1 was more than a scanner … it was a complete diagnostic tool, not just a manipulative tool (or a tool limited to just checking codes, reviewing data PIDS and bidirectional controls). GT1 requires specific
diagnostic heads to connect to the various BUS systems.

• DK head required for diagnostics also allows for some programming and coding;
• OPS head required for programming on MOST;
• SSS allows for advanced software programming. Only applicable up to 2009 model year, for original hardware only.

After GT1 DIS+ version 57, the GT1 platform was replaced entirely. Similar in approach, the

Integrated Service Information Server 3G (ISIS) replaces the TIS and DIS software, and the GT1 is replaced by the Integrated Service Information Display (ISID). Like previous BMW platforms, this tool is backward compatible when using the correct diagnostic interface. The Integrated Communication Optical Module (ICOM) performs the same function as the diagnostic heads of the GT1 platform. Currently there are three necessary ICOM interfaces:

• ICOM A: OBD-II with communication protocols for ISO 9141/2, KWP200, MOST, D-CAN;
• ICOM B: OBD-II DLC with a high-speed MOST extension for ICOM A. Uses USB connection to the ICOM A;
• ICOM C: Adapter for ICOM A to the 20-pin diagnostic vehicle connector (under hood proprietary connector used for enhanced OEM communication on factory protocol).

Currently, the complete ISIS platform is only available to anyone who ponies up more than $100,000 and passes BMW’s site environmental survey. Probably understanding that their brand would suffer reputation damage if a competent OEM-level of scan tool was not made available to the independent repairer and in part to satisfy the EPA under the Clean Air Act; BMW designed and released the Integrated Service Technical Application (ISTA D) for diagnostics and the ISTA P for programming. Identical in function to the dealer-level ISIS family, the ISTA platform has a critical difference: it can use a J2534 interface. This greatly reduces the cost to the manufacturer and the end user. Using either an ACTIA or Cardaq J2534 and a Drewtech 20-pin adapter (when needed) interface allows the user to enjoy all the benefits of a serious diagnostic OEM solution for BMW vehicles.

Any independent repairer looking to be highly competent on BMW should invest in the ISTA D/P with ICOM A, B and C interfaces or a J2534 tool with a 20-pin adapter. This would give the user complete OEM-level diagnostics on all models and systems of BMW, MINI. Rolls Royce coverage begins after 2002. I would steer away from GT1 kits because it is a heavily cloned tool and the cost to buy a real GT1 rivals the ISTA system, plus the ISTA gives complete coverage to current models, which makes it a “no brainer.”

A special thanks to Steve Brotherton of Continental Imports of Gainesville, Fla., whose help on this article was invaluable.

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