Choosing a Land Rover Test System - The T4 vs. Autologic
Welcome to this special installment of Robison on Rovers. In most of my columns I’ve talked about problem with Land Rovers, or things we can do with them. This time, we’re going to look at testing Rovers. In particular, we’ll focus on the equipment needed to test the sophisticated electronic systems on late model vehicles.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Great! Robison is going to review all those $200 scanners and tell me which one will fix my air suspension and airbags!”
If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re going to be disappointed. Today, we’re going to look at the Real Deals to test Land Rover vehicles. There are two, in my opinion.
- The T4, from Omnitec Interro. The T4 can run the Land Rover’s latest software, IDS, from SPX. I’ve lumped them all together in this review.
- The Autologic, from Diagnos
These tools are priced in the $5,000 - $15,000 range, so you need to be serious about your rover addiction to buy one. But if you are, read on.
I have not included the Rovacom and Rovacom Lite from Blackbox Solutions because I have had unfavorable experience with those systems in the past, and I don’t think much of them. I have had multiple equipment failure on a Rovacom Pro, and I had connectivity and function problems on a Rovacom Lite. As a Land Rover professional, I can’t afford to use testers that work “most of the time.” We need equipment that works every time we turn it on, and does whatever we need.
In my opinion, a Land Rover service specialist who wants current tooling should be choosing between the T4, the Autologic, or both.
There is nothing else in the market close to the performance of those tools.
I have broken this review down into sections for ease of use.
Why do I need one of these things?
When diagnosing driveability problems the live data display on these tools is far better than anything found on a generic scan tool. Generic scan tools can't reset adaptations, nor can they set certain settings like idle speed (on newer Rovers) or mixture (on non-USA vehicles.)
The T4 or the Autologic are needed if you want to replace an engine control unit, a transmission controller, a security controller, or a body module. All those components have to be programmed and generic test tools can't do that.
You will need one of these tools if you want to configure the many personalization options on newer Rovers. Examples are lock doors when driving off or turn on reverse lights upon exiting vehicle or chirp alarm when setting.
Generic tools can't get into the ancillary systems on newer Rovers. Antilock brakes, SRS, security systems, air suspension… those systems cause more service complaints than the powertrain components.
You will also need one of these tools to program keys or work with the alarm system. If your have a Rover that's lost synchronization between the security system and the engine controller you won't be able to start it until it's reset with one of these tools.
Newer Rovers use data bus technology to operate the body components. As a result, it's no longer possible to diagnose circuits like power windows or door locks with a test lamp or meter. The professional Land Rover test systems will connect to the data bus and allow you to quickly read the switches and operate motors and servos to diagnose problems. There is really no substitute for these tools when you get into body electrical repair.
In short, if you want to operate a professional Rover service facility you need professional tools, and these are the two leading systems on the market.
Competing design philosophies
The T4 and IDS systems were developed in conjunction with Land Rover’s product engineering people. They were developed specifically to allow authorized service personnel to provide service support on new and old Land Rover products.
Since these systems were designed with input from the factory they are fully up do date. If you want to repair new vehicles they are the way to go.
The Autologic and Rovacom, in comparison, are reverse engineered tools. That means engineers at those companies sat down and figured out what the carmakers were doing in their various computer systems and they developed test tools based upon what they figured out.
Reverse engineering. Sound simple, eh? It’s not. The engineers that designed Autologic are very sharp. They’re the best in the business. They have done a very good job with their testers. They are like the video game designers of the auto test industry.
What do those two philosophies mean to you?
Looking at these tools is like looking at two kids in college. Maybe you’ve met them…
Bertrand has a brand new BMW bike that he bought with money from his trust fund. His trust fund is paying his way through engineering school.
Bertrand has his bike serviced at the dealer. It’s the latest model, with ABS and all the gimmicks. Bertrand expects to receive full support from BMW if his bike breaks. He’s 100% legit, as they say. It’s new, and it’s got warranty. But what would Bertrand do on a dusty road in Africa, far from the dealer?
Joe also rides a BMW. But his is a ten-year-old K100. Joe rebuilt the bike himself, and figured everything out in the process. Joe does all his own service, and all his own modifications.
Joe doesn’t have a trust fund. He’s working as a mechanic to pay his way through school. He does have a good set of hand tools, and he knows how to use them.
Who would you rather be riding with if something went wrong? Most of you would say, Joe. Joe came up through the ranks. He figured out how his bike works. He did it all himself. He’s got a good bike. He’s smart and he’s proud of himself.
Who could get you into the 2007 model introduction for free food and a ride on the newest bikes? Bertrand.
Who will go farther in life? It’s hard to say. Bertrand has all the advantages, but Joe’s a scrapper.
In the world of Land Rover test systems, Bertrand is the T4, and Joe is the Autologic. If you recognize those people, you’ll know the philosophies of two Land Rover test firms.
It’s important that you — the reader — understand that the world needs both its Joes and its Bertrands. These testers were created by people who were coming from very different places in their minds. Both have developed a functional product. If you’re really serious about Rovers, I’ll tell you right now, you should probably buy both. If you can only get one, I’ll try and lay out enough information for you to make a good choice.
It’s like choosing girlfriends… or boyfriends. There is no one answer.
Quality — how they are made
The Autologic is self contained inside a touch screen box. There’s a single cable to connect to the car, and another for the power adapter.
In my opinion, the Autologic is a good match for the repair shop environment. It’s easy to spray and wipe off and it’s reliable.
The Autologic is packed in a hard sided, foam lined case, the kind of case we used to transport fragile gear when I was in the music business in the 1970s. It’s rugged.
The T4 is more complex. It consists of a Dell laptop computer, a cable from the Dell to the car adapter, and a cable from the adapter to the car. There is a separate AC mains adapter, too.
The T4 setup has more cables to tangle and the whole thing is more fragile. But, being a regular laptop, the Dell can run other repair software. That’s a big advantage that cannot be overlooked. The Autologic can’t run other software.
The T4 comes packed in a laptop bag, the kind you buy at a local computer store. The bag does store all the pieces but it doesn’t provide any protection against dropping or impact. I’d prefer to see a more rugged storage case.
I think the T4’s laptop is inherently more fragile than the touch screen computer used by Autologic. But I’ve talked to the engineers who designed T4, and they changed to the laptop configuration after having reliability trouble with their own version of a touch screen.
So go figure.
If it were me, I’d choose the touch screen and poke the screen with blunt fingers, not sharp screwdrivers or sharpened fingernails. But the T4 engineering guys told me horror stories about screen damage from just that sort of thing on the original factory testers. I wouldn’t think the repair community needs to be warned against that sort of thing, but I guess they do.
Speaking for myself, I have found both systems to be quite reliable. But I paid for mine, so I treat them well. Your mileage may vary. Keep them clean. Don’t jab them with sharp objects. Don’t get them wet. Don’t use them in bright sun. And most of all – don’t drop them.
Actually using the testers
To use the Autologic, you turn the machine on and see an opening screen. The opening screen is where you’d select update if you wanted to update your machine via the Internet. For now, we’ll select Diagnostics, and then select OK on the next page to accept the software license.
At the next page, you select Model > Defender, Discovers, Range Rover, Freelander, Sport. Once you’ve chosen your vehicle the next screen is System. Systems vary by model, with Range Rover having air suspension and climate control, where Defender does not.
Having chosen a system, you next select what to do. Your choices include (in some combination):
- Module data – which tells you what the module is and shows basic data
- Fault codes – read them and clear them
- Live data – this button often has sub-menus that sort which data you’ll see.
- Actuations – this allows you to switch things on and off for test purposes
- Coding – if there are coding features you’ll set them here. You might also use this function to code a replacement module. Examples of coding changes are selection of daytime running language, or language.
- Programming – if you are working with an engine control unit you may have a programming screen, where you follow the menus to download a new software program into the controller.
- Special tests – some systems have test routines, and you may be able to run them with the Autologic here. Air suspension calibration is an example of this.
- Adaptations – Some engine and transmission control units are adaptive. That is, they monitor how you drive and trim their performance. You’ll be able to reset these adaptations to the original default values here.
Some of the sub-routines are somewhat complex. The routines for programming an ECU or replacing the body control module in a Range Rover are examples of this. Whatever you need to do, chances are it’s in there.
And that’s about it, folks. Inside that simple set of nested menus you’ve got all the data that can be displayed, all the things that can be actuated, most everything that can be coded or programmed, and all the calibrations and tests.
The T4 works a bit differently. When you start the machine, you first get a screen where you select RDS or IDS. RDS is the test application that works on older cars. IDS is for newer Rovers, the newest Range Rover, the Sport, and the LR3.
For purposes of this comparison, we’ll select RDS as that’s what independents will use 99% of the time. Provided you’ve got your RDS CD in the drive the application will start. The T4 comes with an assortment of CDs, one of which contained the RDS software, and the others of which contain the software for newer cars.
You’ll select year/make/model and you’ll be asked to type in the VIN. You’ll then select a system. The systems you can choose from are all those valid for your car. At this point, the selection process is similar in approach to Autologic, but you’ve had to take the time to select RDS and then enter a VIN. And every time you want to make a selection you have to choose the item and then hit Select. So it’s slower, but it works.
Once you select a system you’ll have more configuration choices. Here are some examples:
- Gas or diesel
- Left or right drive
- USA market or Canada
- Power seats fitted?
In most cases the answers will be obvious but occasionally you’ll have to look. Once you’ve done this you’ll see the choices for that system. Usually they include:
- System health check
- Read faults
- Read data
- Configuration or setup
The Health Check function is something not found on Autologic. If you choose that, the T4 will take you through a step by step test sequence for whatever you are checking. For example, the dashboard self check will actuate all the lamps and read all the pushbutton inputs one by one.
For someone who does not know how the systems are supposed to work, that’s a great feature. But for an experienced tech it’s probably a waste of time. Still, it’s there if you want it.
The fault reading screen reads faults just like the Autologic, but T4 goes a step farther. For most faults, there’s an Explore function where you can dig into a fault. The T4 will show the relevant data and tell you what the readings ought to be. If your readings are out of whack, it will suggest things to test. That is a very useful feature.
Keeping it going – how they are updated
The Autologic is updated over the Internet. You connect the Autologic to your computer with a serial cable, and press Update. Then you go to their web site and click the latest updates. The transfer to the tester is automatic. It’s fast and it’s great. I update mine weekly. If you’re really anal you can update yours daily.
The T4 is updated by periodic mailing of CDs. When you receive new discs you discard the old ones. In my opinion, that’s an obsolete way to distribute software. But remember who this system is made for. Land Rover supplies this system to shops all over the world. And some places don’t have good Internet service. At least, that’s the justification they give for continuing to distribute discs.
I’d wager anyone reading my articles is somewhere that has Internet service.
As you’ve probably surmised, I prefer the Internet method for tool software updates. With the Internet, if an update becomes available tomorrow, I can get it without waiting till next month’s disc mailing.
Which begs the question… should I need daily updates?
These test systems are so complex that you can find a bug anytime, and anywhere. If you do, it’s nice to know the test equipment manufacturer can get you an update fast.
Sometimes your need for an update is not urgent. Next month is fine. But what if you started programming some guy’s ECU and the tester crashed? What do you think he’ll say to “Come back next month when my tester’s been updated?”
“How ’bout a boot in the ass, sonny! Fix my car now!” That’s what he’ll say.
If a situation like that happens with the T4, the best they can do for you will be to express a disc from the UK. So you’ll be looking at a week’s delay. And some fast talking or a boot in the ass, unless the customer is very understanding.
If I may digress a moment here… The T4 people know about the Internet, too. And they know how customers feel about waiting a week for some schmuck in a garage to fix their Rover. But their hands are tied, as the factory’s tool supplier. Land Rover corporate makes the decisions about distributing updates, and what the tester does, and everything else.
That’s what factory tool means, mates. It means there’s someone at the factory that approves it. It does everything they want, and nothing they don’t want. If Land Rover says “mail discs,” that is what the T4 guys do.
If you find yourself in that unfortunate situation with a T4 – as I have, I suppose Land Rover figures you’ll pack the customer off in a rental car for a week, or else you’ll sell him a new $1,500 engine control unit. Remember, now, most of the work these tools are used for in dealerships is covered by warranty, so they may not see that the same way your customer would.
If that situation happens to an Autologic user, their engineers can often post a fix on the web site that same day or the next. So response is much more timely. But there’s a flip side, and that is that Autologic, being reverse engineered, is more likely to have bugs in the modes that program and set up a Rover’s control units.
I have had situations where I was able to use Autologic to work around a bug that left our T4 stuck. And, on the flip side, I’ve had late model Rovers come in for coding or configuration changes that the T4 did it with ease, but the vehicle was too new to be part of the Autologic’s repertoire.
So how could we summarize that? I’d rather have T4’s access to the latest programs but I prefer Autologic’s speedy support when problems arise. And as the examples above illustrate, there have been situations where I’d have been stuck unless I had BOTH testers.
If you run a repair shop, that speaks to how you want to present yourself to the world. Do you want to be “almost as good but cheaper?” Or do you want to be the best there is?
How about support?
The T4 Techline is staffed by two technicians - the nationally renowned Two Mikes. Every Land Rover dealer in North America has called them at some point. For some Land Rover dealers, there have been many points. They are good. Mike and Mike know most of what there is to know about connecting T4s to Land Rovers. And if they don’t know it, the software crew back in the UK is just a phone call away. If you are having a problem getting a T4 to connect to a Rover, using it, or setting it up they are going to be all the help you need.
But what if you need more?
“Like what?” you may ask. Well, what if you have a collection of test data you don’t understand and you’d like to ask someone what they might mean. What do you do then?
If you’re at a dealer, you’re supposed to go to school till you know what you’re doing. But Land Rover doesn’t allow independent techs to attend their University. You will need to get your knowledge some other way. If you think, just maybe, you need more knowledge – read the companion article to this – Learning to Fix Land Rovers.
Anyway, there you are. Stuck. No idea why that 02 sensor reading isn’t moving. No idea at all. It’s Friday afternoon, and you’ve got a date. But you’ve got a broken car right now. That’s where you encounter T4 Techline’s drawback for aftermarket service people – they aren’t technicians. Land Rover dealers have another tech line to call for car problems, so they are covered. What about independents?
I don’t have an answer for that here.
But I can tell you that Autologic has considerably more technical capability. Their tech support people are backed up by actually Land Rover technicians. That can be a lifesaver at times. Tim Muff is the guy you’ll be talking to if you call Autologic. He’s their Land Rover support and training person, and he’s very sharp. Remember, he’s in the UK, which is 5 hours ahead of the Eastern USA. So you’ve got to call him in the morning.
UK. If you’re a red blooded American, you may ask, what is the UK? It’s the United Kingdom. Why aren’t they Englishmen? I don’t know, but they’re not. When you refer to them in a barroom, they’re Brits. When you refer to where they’re from – they’re from the UK. Don’t forget.
In addition, Autologic is distributed in the USA by Atlantic British. And they employ a real Land Rover master tech – Jim Randall. Be nice to him, and maybe he’ll help you out when you don’t know what that sensor reading should be.
The T4 you can buy is exactly the same tool sold to Land Rover dealers. It can do anything any dealer’s T4 can do. However, if you have a Mobile+ you an only work on OBD II vehicles because Mobil+ does not have the hardware support for older vehicles. And you need another costly VCM adapter for the newest trucks. But having said that, if you buy it all, your kit will be just like the one at the dealer.
The Autologic can do anything you might need to do on any Land Rover more than three years old. It can do quite a bit on newer vehicles, but they will always be somewhat behind the factory people with respect to coverage of new cars.
If you’ve bought the right tool for the range of Rovers your shop works on you will not be limited in terms of capability.
Here are some examples of things we use our testers for all the time:
- Activate new keys.
- Deactivate lost keys.
- Test the remote entry system.
- Program the personalization options (lock doors on drive off, switch on lights on exit, etc.) The T4 generally restricts you to options that are valid in your country. Autologic does not.
- Install updated software in engine controllers. In this, the T4 is easier to use for standard programming. For custom work, the Autologic is more flexible. The T4 people say, "Autologic requires a user to make choices, so it's possible to program the wrong tune in a car." That's true, for most stock Rovers. But Autologic responds, "Our instructions allow you to program the right tune, and the programming options give you more flexibility." An example of where flexibility might be needed would be a conversion of a truck from automatic to standard transmission. Another example would be a conversion from gas to diesel. It's another example of the different philosophies, each of which has benefits.
- Code special features - for example, recode SLABS when you change from air springs to coil springs to get rid of the warning message.
- Diagnose ABS, climate control, airbags, and air suspension problems. We diagnose all the things that people with OBD II scanners can't reach.
- Both testers will calibrate air suspensions, but with different philosophies. The T4's factory approach relies on using calibrated spacer blocks to set the car at standard heights. The Autologic relies on measurements. It's easier to program custom heights with Autologic but both systems will do the job.
- You need one of these systems to install coded modules - dashboards and ECUs, for example. The T4 system will automatically check the programming in a vehicle to see if updates are needed. This is a manual process with Autologic. In the end, both testers achieve a similar result except on the newest cars, where T4 will always have the latest tunes and Autologic may not.
- You can activate components like power windows and door locks to test them. You can also monitor the operation of switches, buttons, and sensors to test them.
Both test systems will do everything you need to do in fixing Land Rovers.
Either system makes you completely independent of the dealer in terms of what you can do. The Autologic sometimes offers the ability to do more than the dealer, and that's something to ponder. T4 systems are designed to configure Rovers correctly for specific markets. So, for example, if you set up a 2003 Range Rover for the US market it will speak English, show US Gallons, etc, all from one configuration choice.
But what if your American Rover is owned by a Frenchman, or a Lebanese? With Autologic, you could set the dash up for a foreign language, something that might really impress your customer.
But make sure you know what you're doing, because the Autologic will also allow you to program invalid setups. So don't make mistakes. Because of this, I judge Autologic more powerful in 99% of situations but it takes more knowledge to use it. It's a little riskier for an inexperienced user, but more powerful in most cases for an experienced tech.
Being a factory tool, the T4 is limited to programming stock tunes into an engine. Autologic has performance tunes that can be downloaded into customer cars. The legality of that varies from state to state, but if you're in a place where this tuning is done, the Autologic is great.
Another valuable feature of the Autologic is its ability to log data and send it to Autologic for analysis. If you are working on a vehicle and for some reason your Autologic can't do what you need you can back up to the opening menu, select support, then turn on logging, and then return to wherever you had the problem.
You take this step when the Autologic does not recognize a control unit, or gives a 'function failed' message when you try and do something. You can also create a log if you see live data that makes no sense to you, or you see anything else you can't understand.
You make a log of whatever is giving you trouble, then save it in the tester. You carry the tester into the office, plug it into your PC and use Autologic host software to send the log to tech support. In some cases your report to Autologic will result in a software update. Other times you'll get a phone call or email explaining what's happening.
Conclusion – Can you tell me what you think I oughta do?
Yes, I can tell you. If you have a big Land Rover practice and you are serious about doing this – buy a T4 AND an Autologic. That’s what I did.
“But I can’t afford both!” I’ve heard the I can’t afford it whine so many times in recent years. It’s tough. I know. I have the same budgetary problems here.
What if I had to pick just one?
For a small shop that mostly sees 1996-newer Rovers, the T4 Mobile+ offers a great value. For slightly more than $5,000 you can do anything the dealer can do on most Land Rovers you’ll see.
The T4 Mobile+ can meet any service need that might arise on OBD II Land Rovers. You can buy it in standard form, in which case it handles most everything through model year 2005. Or you can add the VCM and IDS for about $2,500 more, and handle everything through the present day.
The T4 often suggests corrective actions for problems, which make it easy to diagnose systems your are not intimately familiar with. In addition, it has tests for many problem conditions. For example, the T4 can lead you through a step by step process to test an o2 sensor fault or a purge system problem. None of the other test systems can do this as easily.
The drawbacks are slow speed and fragility of the whole kit. Experienced techs can find the T4 frustrating because you can’t bypass it check off box 1, check off box 2 plodding approach to proceeding through diagnosis. If you’re bothered by that and you believe in your skills, go Autologic.
The T4 is my favorite tool for engine diagnosis, especially on 1999 and newer vehicles with their more complex control systems. I prefer the Autologic anytime I need to walk outside and quickly read a code from something in the parking lot. I also prefer the Autologic when working on climate control and air suspension because it’s a lot quicker.
For programming the various options in newer Range Rovers there are situations where each machine shines. In general, if you want to do something non-standard the Autologic is best. If you want to do a regular US market configuration T4 is your tool.
For shops that see older Rovers also, or shops that have highly experienced techs, the Autologic will have the advantage.
In almost any testing situation the Autologic is faster. Press – press – press – press and you’re at the test screen for whatever system you selected. As fast as you can read this you’ll be reading fault codes or looking at live data. Experienced techs can usually get results more rapidly with an Autologic.
I say that from personal experience, since I have extensive experience using both. If you know what you want to look at the Autologic offers unparalleled speed. But what if you don’t know what the numbers mean? That’s when the T4 really shines. It tells you what the values you are looking at should be, and it offers suggestions to what may be causing wrong readings.
That can be a huge time saver and indeed it can mean the difference between figuring out the problem and being stumped.
Shops that work on near-new Rovers – body shops or shops that repair late-model salvage – those shops will probably be better served by the T4 because it’s the same tool the dealer uses. Shops that deal with newer Rovers are more likely to interact with the dealer, and if that’s you it helps to have the same tools they use.
Shops that work on more than one car line will love the fact that Autologic can deliver dealer-level capability on multiple car lines. At this moment, they are very, very good on BMW, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz. If you work on those lines the Autologic may be a great for because the know-how to use it translates pretty well from one car line to the other.
And Autologic is getting stronger on Volvo and Porsche, so the tool can be expanded into those lines, too.
Finally, I would bring up the point of image. The T4 system is what Land Rover selected and it’s therefore the default tester. So there will always be customers who believe it’s ‘better.’ So how can you be ‘better’ than your competition in that case? Simple. Have both systems and tell the customer you use them both.
For most of the work an independent shop will do, the Autologic is actually the more capable machine but the T4 should not be overlooked both because of its price and the fact that it will walk a less-skilled tech through the diagnostic process.
What does this stuff cost?
As of this writing (summer 2006) I was quoted the following prices:
|T4 Mobile+ kit – OBD II Rovers, 1996-2004||
|Add VCM kit to service 2005-newer Rovers||
|They also sell this, but it’s not as good a value:
T4 Mobile kit – OBD II Rovers w/older Rover capability
|Cable kit required for pre-95 Rovers||
|Add VCM kit to service 2005-newer Rovers||
|Complete Land Rover system, all models 1987-2006
Includes all models through LR3, Sport, Supercharged, and “New” Range Rover
|Generic OBD II scanner option can be added for||
|Add another car line such as BMW||
|Add a third car line to the same tester||
|Add a fourth car line to a tester||
When pondering the prices above, remember – I am not the dealer. For current pricing I suggest you call Brad at Atlantic British. 800 533 2210, extension 232.
Dang! I want one! How do I pay for it?
Test equipment vendors sometimes offer lease programs, but before you sign read the lease carefully. Add up all the money down, the total of your payments, and the buyout at the end. I’ve seen leases where shop owners paid for gear like this twice over a four year period.
Your best source for financing is often your local bank. Check there first. If that doesn’t work out, do you have any low interest charge cards? The tool vendor’s lease programs should be a last resort.
And it helps to keep some perspective. If you’re a Rover shop owner, and you buy one of these testers it will make you money for years. If you spent the money on a new motorcycle, the opposite will happen. It will cost you money for years.
Why did I write this article?
I am one of the original independent shops to use all this Land Rover test gear. Over the years, if a tester was sold to fix Rovers, we’ve tried it. My shop, Robison Service, fixes lots and lots of Rovers in Springfield, Massachusetts. We’ve been fixing Rovers since the late 1980s. A long time. More than a century, in dog years.
I write quite a few articles about Land Rovers, for a number of different publications. As a result, people call me with questions. One of the questions is, “What kind of tester should I buy.” This article is meant to address that.
I was not paid for this by either Autologic or the T4 folks. This is an independent review, conducted on equipment I actually own and use daily. Feedback and cash contributions are always welcome.
This stuff is expensive. For the same money, you could buy a team of mules and go into another line of work. You could buy a fine vacation on a cruise ship. Or you could buy your mate a truly impressive piece of jewelry. But for a select few of you, those alternatives won’t even cross your mind. You are the ones the tool makers crafted these products for.