Palmer Performance PCMScan
Coupled with a laptop computer, the Palmer Performance PCMScan reads your car's error codes, monitors its operations, and even turns off error lights. The PCMScan software is versatile, displaying the car's OBD-II data as graphs, gauges, and columns of numbers.
Start-up can be a little awkward and time consuming; after you've loaded the software and plugged in the cable, you need to click the interface to connect to the car, validate PCMScan's functions, then finally set the software to monitor the car's operations. All this would not have been a problem had Palmer Engineering included a quick-start sheet or card. Plus, rather than a proper manual, there's only an online help section, which is basic in the extreme.
It took us several tries and an e-mail to get everything working properly, but once we were fully connected, the program shined with the ability to display all OBD-II codes, including networking, body, and chassis indicators. On the downside, the program requires the use of an RS-232 serial port, something that is rapidly becoming an endangered species, particularly among laptops. We were able to use a serial-to-USB converter in lieu of a serial port.
The best part of the program is its incredibly flexible interface, which allows all of the car's operational parameters to be displayed as numbers, gauges, or a variety of graphs. For instance, we found that a gauge works best for looking at the engine's speed, temperature changes show up well on a fever graph, and the spark advance can be displayed as a vertical bar graph. It's amazing to see all these parameters going up and down as the car is driven, and it's perfect for finding an intermittent problem that pops up only when the car is on the road. At any time, you can have PCMScan record all vehicle operations and play them back or export them for later use, although we would have liked a way to convert this record to an MPEG movie that can play on any computer. Unfortunately, the biggest factor holding back PCMScan is the necessity of using a laptop. It's not only uncomfortable to lean it on the steering wheel, the sun can easily overwhelm the screen, and a garage isn't the most hospitable place for a computer system.
The Palmer Performance PCMScan found all the problems we threw at it and cleared the Check Engine light. Its response at times was a tad slow, taking as much as a minute to record a problem. Palmer Engineering provides a one-year warranty and lifetime support, but there's no phone support, and its Web site has little more than a forum for users to interact with the company. On the plus side, the company responded in less than four hours to e-mail queries with good advice on how to get the software installed and running.