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What Is an Automotive Oscilloscope & How Do You Use It?

Jan 25, 2021 ·

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There is a range of diagnostic tools on a vehicle that will help analyze the performance of different systems. It’s important to keep these instruments in good condition so they can give you accurate readings and information regarding your car.

This includes the automotive oscilloscope, which is a necessary tool to troubleshoot a number of electronic parts under the hood. It’s an electronic test device that helps display different voltages and test different electrical components.

The oscilloscope is often used by automotive technicians when they are performing diagnostics on vehicles. If you’re interested in finding out more about it and how it works, then keep on reading.

Uses for an Automotive Oscilloscope

Oscilloscopes are electronic test instruments that display different signal voltages. An automotive oscilloscope differs only in the fact that it has additional functionalities used for helping to test and diagnose problems with vehicles.

The automotive oscilloscope was first introduced in the 1970s and used at the time for ignition system analysis. Since then, it has grown to become an important tool in any workshop, used for troubleshooting sensors and alternators, performing pressure tests, and more.

With new additions to vehicles every year and the complexity of their systems growing, automotive oscilloscopes are becoming more and more essential. This makes older measuring tools less relevant.

How an Automotive Oscilloscope Works

An automotive oscilloscope works to display different signal voltages on a graph. When electrical parts or systems in a vehicle are tested, electronic signals are generated. Different things like wavelength, frequency and amplitude are shown.

The diagnostics software converts these readings to waveforms – which show how voltage levels change over a period of time. An oscilloscope is going to capture these electrical signals in graphs to allow users to measure and see what is going on in a specific system.

A lot of automotive oscilloscopes have software or user manuals that include how to perform a range of different tests. Once the oscilloscope is connected to the specific sensor and running, it will display a waveform on the screen. This will allow the user to analyze what was captured.

Benefits of Using an Automotive Oscilloscope

Automotive oscilloscope diagnostics are far-reaching, which makes the tool a very useful piece of equipment.

While there are scan tools that can be used to point you in the right direction, an oscilloscope is needed to determine more details about an issue.

A student checks an automotive oscilloscope in a UTI lab.

Benefits to using an oscilloscope include:

  • Diagnosing faults with charging or starting
  • Recognizing mechanical issues (slipped timing belts, compression testing)
  • Testing individual components before making replacements

Automotive oscilloscopes help eliminate guesswork and bring faster and more efficient diagnostics when it comes to what’s going on under the hood.

Different Specifications

There are several key features on an automotive oscilloscope. These include:

  • User interface: The interface of an oscilloscope allows for editing and adding new inputs.
  • Input probes: A range of input probes and accessories are offered to help expand what the oscilloscope can measure. Input ranges can be extended so higher voltage measurements can be performed.
  • Bandwidth: The bandwidth specifies the highest electrical signal the oscilloscope can display. The bandwidth should be a match to the task that is being performed.
  • Channels: There can be different numbers of channels displayed on an oscilloscope – from one to ten. The number of channels used depends on what tests are being performed. Providing a quick assessment only requires one, while numerous screens will help view different outputs and inputs together at the same time.
  • Size/mobility: There are different shapes and sizes to choose from when it comes to oscilloscopes. There are handheld scopes, as well as larger ones that can be connected to a laptop or PC.

These are just a range of the specifications you can look for when it comes to using an oscilloscope. Considering the task at hand is the best way to determine what will work best.

Learn How to Use an Automotive Oscilloscope at UTI

It’s safe to say that the automotive oscilloscope is a handy tool that can be used in a range of settings — from the local body shop to your garage for at-home diagnostics.

If you have a passion for the automotive industry and are interested in learning more about these tools, as well as skills for working on vehicles in general, consider enrolling in the Automotive Technology program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI).

You can graduate in less than a year7 with the knowledge and experience needed to perform maintenance and repairs on vehicles in the workforce.1 The Vehicle Electronic Systems and Technology course in particular will cover automotive oscilloscope training.

To learn more, you can request more information to get in touch with an Admissions Representative today.

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