Review: ProScan OBD-II Scan Tool | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

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Review: ProScan OBD-II Scan Tool

Cali' Explorer

Well-Known Member
December 14, 2003
Reaction score
City, State
Sacramento, CA
Year, Model & Trim Level
'97 XLT 5.0
I was roped into writing this review by the transmission expert himself, Glacier. A few months back I was trying to diagnose several Drivability issues with my 5.0 Explorer and Glacier happily offered to lend me his basic handheld OBD-II scan tool. The diagnostic information I was looking for I wasn’t able to collect with this handheld tool, so Glacier happily offered me his fancy new ProScan OBD-II Scan Tool and software (So new that it was still in the box).

I’m going to break this review down into a few parts. The first part is an explanation of what OBD-II is, what its specifications are and what its limitations are. The second part will explain what comes with the ProScan Scan Tool as well as the installation process of the software. The third part will give a general synopsis of the basic feature available in the software and some example screenshots. And, the last part will give my overall feelings of the pros and cons of this software package.

What is OBD-II?
(Based on information obtained from

Well first, OBD stands for “On Board Diagnostics”. The OBD Interface is a standardized interface for vehicles used for vehicle self-diagnostics and reporting. The OBD system gives either a repair technician or home mechanic the ability to access state information stored in their vehicles ECM for checking on the health and status of the vehicles computer and related sensors. The amount of diagnostic information that OBD can relate to the end user depends greatly upon the specific vehicle, ECM, programming and additional features.

OBD-II was designed as an improvement over OBD-1 and OBD-1.5. The OBD-II standard specifies the type of diagnostic connector and its pinout, the electrical signalling protocols available, and the messaging format. It also provides a candidate list of vehicle parameters to monitor along with how to encode the data for each. Finally, the OBD-II standard provides an extensible list of DTCs. As a result of this standardization, a single device can query the on-board computer(s) in any vehicle. This simplification of reporting diagnostic data led the feasibility of the comprehensive emissions testing program envisioned by the CARB.

OBD-II also has several different Signal Protocols. A signal protocol defines how exactly the data is transmitted through the OBD-II interface. Each vehicle has a unique protocol, and you must know the proper protocol in order to decode the signal and obtain the information. In our case, Fords typically use PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) encoding. Some other available protocols are VPW (Variable Pulse Width), KWP2000 (Keyword Protocol 2000, and CAN. The most common seem to be PWM and CAN (Can is often found on European vehicles).

ProScan and the Setup Process
When I received the ProScan Scan Tool from Glacier, it was still in the packaging he received it in. It had been purchased directly from, but the packaging reminded me of something I would expect from an Ebay auction. The package came with only a few pieces. The center of the system is the Elm 5 OBD-II Interface. In addition, the package included a Serial Cable, an OBD-II Cable and a copy of the ProScan software. The Elm 5 Interface presently comes in 2 flavors: Serial and USB Interface. At the time I received this one, they only came in Serial interface, so I had to purchase a Serial to USB Adapter as my laptop did not have a Serial connector. Now, you can just purchase the Elm 5 with a USB interface natively.

To setup the ProScan, you must first install the ProScan software. Installing the ProScan software is a pretty straightforward process. Your best bet is to first download the latest version from the website. The setup process is pretty straightforward as well, answer a couple of simple questions and you’re done. The key here is that, with every valid My Scan Tool sold, you also receive a unique Registration Code. You need this Registration Code to activate and use the ProScan software. It appears there is a way to request a new Registration Code, but I can’t say how easy this process is.

Next, you must connect the Elm 5 to your computer. To connect the Elm 5 to your computer, you only have to make a few connections. There is an OBD-II Cable that goes from your diagnostics port into the Elm 5, and then a second cable that goes from the Elm 5 to your computer. In my case, I also had a third interface that converted the Serial output into USB which then plugged into the computer. The Elm 5 appears to be able to receive its power from both your computer and your Diagnostics port, so you should get lights on the unit from either one once either is plugged in.

Lastly, you simply have to load up the ProScan software. If this is your first time running the software, it will probably ask you for your registration code. Once this is entered, you will be presented Vehicle Profile Selection option. At the bottom of this first page is a “Connect” button. With everything hooked up and connected, all you need to do is press this button, wait for the communication interface to establish a connection, and then begin using your ProScan software.

The only problem I had with the installation process came the second time I had to install the software. The ProScan software is written using the .NET 1.1 programming libraries. As such, your system must have at least .NET version 1.1. In my case, the .NET 1.1 update failed on my system every time I tried to install it. I also try to avoid installing .NET 2.0 because it seems to significantly increase the load time of my systems. As such, I ended up having to re-install my Laptop and all .NET software. This is not directly a problem with ProScan, but the fact that it requires a slightly instable (In My Opinion) library is a slight downside, especially if you have no interest in installing the .NET platform and libraries.

ProScan Functionality
There is actually a fair amount of functionality built into the ProScan software.

The first option is the Connection Manager, symbolized by a lightning arrow. The connection Manager allows you to not only connect and disconnect from your vehicles OBD-II port, but also allows you to define custom vehicle profiles in which you can set OBD-II timeouts, vehicle tire size, weight, transmission type, etc. Most of these settings are used for some of the “Special” features of this software and are not necessary for basic diagnostics. In my case, I just used the default settings for most tests.


The second option is the Vehicle Status Monitor, symbolized by a checked checkbox. This section runs checks on your OBD-II system to see what Continuous and Non-Continuous tests are available for your vehicle. It also gives you some basic information such as the status of your vehicles fuel system(s), battery voltage, oxygen sensor location and other information. A simple “Update” button polls your ECM and returns all the data for this page.

The third option is the Diagnostic Trouble Codes section, symbolized by the letters D-T-C. This section is going to be fairly important in troubleshooting CEL/MIL on your vehicle. This section lists out any currently stored Trouble Codes as well as any Pending Trouble Codes (Trouble Codes that have been flagged, but have not been set long enough to activate the CEL/MIL). Most trouble codes are displayed as both the code and, whenever possible, a sentence describing what the code means. Some of these descriptions are not the most useful, so it might be handy to have a Haynes manual nearby. This section has 2 buttons, “Refresh” and “Erase Codes”. Refresh simply refreshes any codes that may have been set or are not pending in the ECM. Erase resets all trouble codes and also appears to reset the vehicles memory. The software does give a warning prior to erasing codes that you may affect fuel mileage as the ECM relearns through several drive cycles.

The fourth option is the Freeze Frame Data section, symbolized by the letters F.F. It appears that the purpose of this section is to pull up the current values of all sensors in the system, one refresh at a time. Sadly, I was unable to test this feature as every attempt to capture freeze frame data failed. This may be an issue with just my vehicle, or it may be a feature not supported by the Explorer’s ECM.


The fifth option is the Oxygen Sensors Tests section, symbolized by the Letter O and the sub letter 2. It appears that the purpose of this section is to test and return the values of the O2 sensors in your vehicle. Sadly, I was also unable to test this feature as every attempt to capture its data failed as well.


The sixth option is the Live Sensor Grid section, symbolized by an icon that looks like a table. This section is used to not only display current readings from your ECM on a constantly updating basis, but it also allows you to save this data to a CSV file which you can later extract and graph in an application like Excel. You can select from a series of all the available data your ECM system can return and add each to the Live Sensor Grid. This features fairly well with one Caviat; There is a time hit for each set of data you capture. It appears that the ProScan system constantly rotates which sensor data it is capturing, and as such, having many sets of data selected may cause one full update sequence to take several seconds. This causes the data you retrieve to be somewhat less than live. In my testing, having all data options selected, it took approximately 4 seconds to complete one full cycle. This means that each sensor is only being updated about once every 4 seconds. On the flip side, if you only select 1 or 2 sets of data at a time, the process is fairly fast and you can get near live data captures.


The seventh option is the Live Sensor Graphics section, symbolized by a bar graph looking icon. This section allows you to create live graphs of data. You can select from up to 4 sets of sensor data. Much like the Live Sensor Grid, the data is updated one at a time, so you don’t quite get live data, but its close. In addition, the graphs resize themselves to give you max and min values. You can also define how many seconds worth of data the graphs show in one display (the default is 30 seconds).
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The eighth option is the Race Track Analysis section, symbolized by a long stretch of road. This section is used to allow you to simulate data you might collect at the track. This section utilizes your current speed, engine RPM and the values entered for your tire diameter and vehicle weight to calculate your rough 60’ and 0 to 60 MPH, as well as several others including 1/8th mile and ¼ mile times. To use this feature, you must start out completely stopped and press the “Stage” button. Once you are staged, the system will start calculating your run as soon as the vehicle starts moving. The values given are not true values, but calculations based on the values you enter and it collects, so it might not given you your true times, but they should be a good approximation of what you could expect to turn at the track, You can even save the timeslip as a JPEG for posting on the web. This feature appears to be more of a novelty than anything else, but it is fun to play with.
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The ninth, and final option, is the Dynamometer option, symbolized by a HP and Torque Graph. This option is similar to the Race Track Analysis section, except that it calculates your HP and Torque based on your engine RPM, MPH, vehicle weight, etc. The values you receive are not even as accurate as a rear wheel dyno, but should be descent enough for testing basic tuning upgrades to your vehicle and their effectiveness. This function also has the ability to export to JPEG as well. This function also appears to be more of a novelty than anything else.
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Opinions on the ProScan Scan Tool and Software
First I have to say that, for the price, this software seems to pack a lot of options and features. At the time I received this unit, you could purchase the complete package for about $120. The package pricing goes up and down depending on the specials at the time. The “Normal” price for the package is $180.00 presently. This price includes the cost of the Elm 5 unit, the necessary cables and the ProScan software. You even get free upgrades to the newer versions of the software which you can retrieve by download via the website.

For basic diagnostics, this tool is great. You can pull and recent trouble codes, monitor the system status and even generate more advanced data. I found it fairly easy to monitor what was going on with the vehicle in the short term and record data to analyze later. The biggest plus to this software seems to be in its simplicity. A few simple, visible button clicks and whatever functions you are trying to perform are complete. The other thing I really like is the ease of exporting data. I was able to capture data from the ProScan software, save it to a text file very easily. Once there, with just a few modifications, I was able to graph the readings of all the sensors against time and check how all the sensors are reading against their brethren sensors and the overall engine health. This was particularly useful.

There are 2 primary places I think this software falls short. First, the speed at which the software can update large sets of data doesn’t make it terribly useful if trying to monitor all engine sensors at once. In defense of the ProScan software, this may be a limitation of the OBD-II interfaces speed, but it is still an issue IMO. Second, this software falls short in its use of the .NET platform. While .NET is used pretty widely these days, I don’t think that it is reliable enough for consumer grade applications. I find that applications that are more self contained are also more reliable in the long run. But, again, this is just my opinion, and up to you to decide for yourself.

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Thanks for an excellent writeup...:salute:

Great job Steve. It would be interesting to see screen shots from other users here as well.

Next Steve is going to show how a KV tester led him to diagnose a nettlesome problem (ducking).

Then maybe we'll do the 2nd 4405 Diary, this time rebuilding a viscous drive AWD unit!

I figured there was going to be a catch somewhere along the way. I think you're just trying to get back at me for having the OBD-II scanner for so long :confused: .

Of course, it would be fun to get my hands dirty again, I don't get to do much of that anymore.

Ok I erred.... He has a 5.0. It would be a 4404 AWD viscuous clutch diary... have had a request for a 4406, never for a 4404.... hmmm

Ok I erred.... He has a 5.0. It would be a 4404 AWD viscuous clutch diary... have had a request for a 4406, never for a 4404.... hmmm

consider this one request--

end of hijack--

Great writeup Steve--:thumbsup:


Were you able to test the O2 feature?, I'm trying with a several software and no success. Scanmaster shows up "No O2 found" :mad: Whi is that?


I was not ever able to get the O2 function to work. The thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the software is generic, so while the software might support reading the O2, the hardware interface may not.

When I was looking at packages, I noticed that there were different levels of hardware which were capable of reading different levels of sensor data. It may just be that you need one of the more advanced packages to read the O2 data.

Hi nice whrite up.. I thoght freez fram was if you have fault code it freez the frame when the troble was so you could see what was happening when it fault was.