|August 8, 2007
Product Testdrive: VAD Pro-900
I've had the opportunity recently to test out VAD's Pro-900 Palm Pilot based Automotive Diagnostics Tool. Similar to the likes of Ross-Tech's VAG-COM and APR's ECU Explorer, this device allows the user to check/clear Fault Codes and log performance data, amongst other things.
Products & Positioning
VAD has two offerings. The VAD Pro-900 is aimed at the business segment for automotive shop usage and the VAD Mobile is aimed at the enthusiast market. The VAD Pro-900 includes an OBDII Module, a VAG Module, and is CAN enabled - it retails for $1695. The VAG Mobile, on the other hand, contains the VAG Module, requires you to supply a Palm (there are some on eBay for as little as $20) and is attractively priced at $269. Functionally, both offerings are most similar to Ross-Tech's VAG-COM, however these units are conveniently based around a hand-held Palm PDA.
I was quite impressed with the functionality that exists within this product. I was a bit skeptical at first since this solution was Palm-based as opposed to a full PC laptop program, however my concerns quickly faded away. It had been many years since I owned my last Palm, but it's intuitive use made it easy to get up and running quickly. I will admit that my graffiti (Palm's quick alphabet characters) skills are not what they used to be, and someone with current experience here will enjoy it even more. It should be no surprise that the Palm screen is small (and monotone depending on your Palm version) - that said, the functionality that exists behind that facade is quite powerful.
It's very obvious that the VAD Pro-900 unit was designed for the active garage environment. The Palm is well protected in a waterproof/dustproof hard plastic shell. Contained inside is a Li-Ion battery which charges whenever plugged into an OBDII port, thus always charged and ready to go. No need to keep returning to a charging base or using additional cables to plug into cigarette lighter sockets. Thought was even put into the OBDII and USB cables, which are both sufficiently long (USB and OBDII are both 9' each) and of robust construction.
The manual is written by someone with detailed technical knowledge of this product, not by some marketing company or third party. In addition to having the appropriate technical detail, it is also very well laid out into individual sections with many screen shots. While perhaps a very minor detail, I found it quite convenient that the manual is spiral bound. It allowed me to easily flip open to a page and have it stay open without needing to fold pages or cause harm to a binding while trying keep a page open. Likewise the installation CDs quickly installed the Palm Desktop software to sync the files to my PC.
First off, it should be noted that the VAD Pro-900 contains both the OBDII Module and the VAG Module, and is CAN enabled. The OBDII is designed to access a wide variety of automobiles, while the VAG Module is specific to the VAG family (Audi, VW, Seat, Skoda, etc).
Based on my experiences, a tool like this would be most often used to check for Fault Codes (DTCs). As such, that was one of the first things I tested. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to power up the VAD Pro-900, select the correct menu item(s), and retrieve the engine fault codes. In fact, I needed to do it again, this time keeping an eye on my watch. It took less than 15 seconds to go from completely powered down to seeing a list of fault codes. I was impressed. Oh, and of course you can choose to Save the Fault Codes for future reference.
Here is one that I was "lucky" enough to have to test this functionality:
Logging (measuring blocks)
Whether you just want to view some performance data for your engine, or if you want to log it for later graphing, you can do either. In fact, the VAD products will graph on the fly for you; but let's not forget that the screen is not exactly a 70" Plasma. To get a quick visualization of how the data is changing, the on-the-fly graphing is very welcome, instead of trying to concentrate merely on the numbers changing. There are a few different screen views that you can choose depending on how you want to see your data as it's being captured. In any of those, if you want to begin logging the data, you merely toggle the "log" button to start/stop the logging session.
Here are the various ways you can view the blocks currently specified:
Since these VAD products are designed to simulate the VAG 1551/2 and 5051/2 style scan tools, it's menu options and Measuring Block numbers are all the same. Therefore if you know (say perhaps from an internet forum) that you can find Engine Timing and MAF in Block 003, and Boost in Block 115, this tool functions exactly the same way, so you won't need to relearn a whole new reference list.
To test out the sampling rate, I chose 3 VAG Measuring Blocks that I commonly use and logged all 3 at the same time. Upon syncing to my PC, I moved the data into Excel and created the following graphs:
I also decided to try the OBDII Module, where you can pick and choose individual variables. The available list is not identical to the VAG Measuring Block items, but many are the same. This time, I chose Throttle Angle, Engine Timing, and RPM:
All the other stuff
While checking Fault Codes and Viewing/Logging the Measuring Blocks may be the most commonly used items, there's a wide variety of other fun stuff that can be accessed via the VAD products, showing off their extended functionality. Here are two tables showing the corresponding VAD VAG Module Labels to those in the VAG 1551/2 scan tools:
VAG 1551/2 Command Mapping:
VAG 1551/2 KWP2000 Command Mapping:
I decided to check my Readiness status to see if I had any issues - all looks good!
The various information you specify to save (such as your logging sessions) are put into Memo items. This allows the Palm to easily sync those to the Palm Desktop using the standard HotSync mechanism. This interface allows a "Quick View" pane so you can easily view the contents of your memo items to find the data you are looking for. The only downside is that in order to meet the specs of the HotSync system, memo items must stay below 4kb. As such, VAD automatically creates continued files when the file limit is reached. It can be a little awkward to append these files if you're accustom to dealing with single longer files, but it's the cost of using an already established transfer interface.
Here is a snapshot of the Palm Desktop showing various sync'd logs and one in the Quick View pane:
I enjoy seeing new products come to market, whether they are suited for me, or one of my fellow enthusiasts. Sometimes such products may not receive the needed R&D, support, infrastructure, etc to make them a reality and successful. The VAD offerings certainly seem to have all of their ducks aligned to be those successful products. While the Pro-900 is priced a little steep for the average enthusiast, the VAG Mobile is quite a deal especially when considering the low cost of a used Palm. This is ideal for someone that doesn't own a laptop and wants to own the functionality that these products offer.
Product Information Sheets
Here are the product brochures highlighting both offerings. Click each for a larger size.