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Introduction to PicoScope

An Automotive PicoScope is an oscilloscope specially designed to be used on vehicles. It is not, and does not replace a scan tool. You use it together with your scan tool.

Your scan tool might return a fault code such as: faulty injector. You can replace the injector but wait, that's expensive! What if it is just a wiring fault or perhaps an ECU driver fault? The scope allows you to test components directly.

PicoScope vs Scan Tool

You might say that your scan tool has live data and you can see waveforms. Consider that live data waveforms are being generated by an ECU as a self-test and they are sent across one or more CAN busses. There are many opportunities for the data to be lost. For reliable diagnosis, independent test equipment should be used and circuits should be tested directly.

But, as previously mentioned, what if the ECU or CAN bus is faulty, can you rely on a fault code? A Scan Tool is a vital and important part of your diagnostic arsenal but using your PicoScope in conjunction with it, leads you to the real problem, fast.

My Scan Tool has a built-in Scope

Perhaps your scan tool has a built-in oscilloscope facility. Compare specifications carefully. For example, a PicoScope can sample at up to 400 million samples per second. Most scan tool scopes are 8 bits (256 levels) whereas PicoScope has 12 bits (4096 levels) resolution

Most scan tool scopes can display only one screen of data, however, PicoScope can store 250 million samples across multiple screens.

These are just a few examples of specifications that have a real impact on your diagnostic abilities. The following table compares some key specifications of a popular scan tool scope widely available in South Africa with a PicoScope.

Description Scan Tool Scope PicoScope 4425A
Channels 2 4
Measuring Range 200mV - 60V 50mV - 200V
Frequency 5MHz 20MHz
Sample Rate 20MS/s 400MS/s
Timebase 2.5μs - 100ms 5ns - 5000s


Last, but not least, consider the versatility of your PicoScope. It works on any vehicle, both diesel and petrol. The software is free, with updates for life - there are no subscriptions.

A 2000A Current Clamp being used with a PicoScope
PicoScope 4425A with a 2000 Amp Clamp
  • Electrical & Electronic Testing
    • Sensors & actuators
    • Battery, starter & alternator
    • Ignition & mis-fires
    • Communication busses (CAN, CAN-FD, Flexray, LIN)
  • Pressure and Hydraulic Testing
    • In-cylinder pressure graphing and analysis
    • Crankcase pressure
    • Fuel & injector pressure
    • Exhaust pressure pulsations
    • Water & oil pressure
    • Vacuum & turbocharger boost pressure
    • DPF back pressure
  • Noise, Vibration and Harshness
    • Find engine, transmission & wheel-related vibrations
    • Track down intermittent knocks & bangs
    • Find gear-related problems (gearbox & differential)
    • Balance a Propshaft without removing it from the vehicle
    • Find suspension and bearing problems without disassembly

To find out more, we have created a short Introduction to Osclloscope Diagnostics, which includes videos and our Top-10 tests. We have also created a short course that allows you to use the PicoScope 7 software in Demo Mode. Try the Demo Mode Course now, which shows you how to set-up the scope and software, and familiarise yourself with the features and functionality of PicoScope.