Scan Tool Review: Ford/Mazda

An overview of Ford’s scan tools, including NGS, PDS and IDS

As part of our monthly series of scan tool reviews, this issue we are bringing Ford to the microscope. Until recently, Ford and Mazda shared platforms and subscriptions so I am also going to touch briefly on Mazda.

The original scan tool for Ford was the now defunct STAR tester followed by the Super Star2 and SBDS, as well the WDS, which actually postdates the NGS platform, but fell out of favor quickly because it never offered the reliability of the NGS or the PDS/IDS, which filled the technology void the WDS was supposed to fill.

While an old and somewhat clunky platform, the NGS is still useful for a few reasons. It has great pre-OBD-II coverage and also offers good non-graphing coverage as late as 2009. One of the special things this tool has is a signal generator. A signal generator is a device that will put out a specific electrical signal. The multitude of uses for this generator range from using signals to help with learning how to use an oscilloscope to generating a signal on a circuit while you monitor that PID with another scan tool. The latter use can save countless hours of testing when you have a crank sensor or an ABS sensor that has a PID reading zero. The signal generator is not Ford specific so if you are a multi-brand shop this comes in handy on a lot of makes.

PDS and IDS mark a great leap forward in Ford diagnostics. It also draws a line in the sand where Ford diagnostics were switched to a PC platform. Originally utilizing a vehicle communications module (VCM) and a Pocket PC to create the PDS, the small Pocket PC eventually ran out of horsepower to run the software. In 2008, Ford issued a bulletin indicating PDS was nearing end of life, and as of Jan. 1, 2011, Ford no longer supported PDS in any way.

IDS uses the same VCM as the PDS or the new VCM2. IDS runs an expanded version of Ford’s diagnostic service. With great graphing and bi-directional controls, IDS really expands a technician’s ability to efficiently diagnose issues such as misfires. An IDS also affords the technician the ability to program all programmable modules since 1996 and program keys up to this year. No special access is currently required to use IDS, PDS, NGS or even WDS to program keys. A technician simply must wait the specified 10-minute time limit to complete the security check, then programming keys is as easy as pushing a few buttons.

A technician looking to program modules must have a Ford programming subscription and then programming is as easy as typing a few keys and turning the ignition key on and off as commanded. You can access more information about Ford subscriptions at

Mazdas from 1994-2012 basically mirrored Ford’s, though they call the VCM-based tool MMDS. Before 2012 you could use the same VCM and Ford subscription to do Mazda diagnostics. Some of the early OBD-IIs may require a 17-pin DLC to communicate with non-OBD-II systems. After Mazda and Ford split in 2012, an updated Ford IDS no longer supports Mazda diagnostics or programming and the tools are not compatible on the same PC unless you have it partitioned with separate operating systems. Technicians looking to do factory-level Mazda vehicle communications should go to: Take your time and do your research because Mazda tooling is nearing the end of a transitional phase.

Editor’s Note: To read more about scan tools, be sure to visit ASA’s new Scan Tool Resource Center at