A PicoScope (oscilloscope, sometimes known as a labscope) turns your laptop or desktop PC into a powerful diagnostic tool. Think of it as the X-ray machine of diagnostics, letting you see the changing signals inside wires.
In order to utilise the oscilloscope, you will need a PC and some test leads to connect to the vehicle. Most people purchase one of our award winning Automotive Diagnostics Kits. These money-saving kits contain everything you need. Please consider our 2 Channel or 4 Channel Starter Kits or our more advanced kits (listed above) rather than purchasing the oscilloscope on its own.
Consider our 4-channel Kits
Our 2-channel 4225 oscilloscope is a really good choice for specific applications that need only 2 channels as well as for those with budgetary constraints. However, please consider choosing the 4-channel 4425 or a kit that contains it, because it is far more useful and a better long-term investment. Kits can be upgraded by purchasing extra components, a 2-channel scope cannot.
We can also supply you with a range of suitable desktop and laptop PCs. You can use any suitable Windows-based laptop or PC that you may have.
- USB Cable
- User Manuals
- Software CD-ROM
What is an oscilloscope and why do I need one?
An oscilloscope (scope) is a simple device. All it does is draw a graph of a value (e.g. voltage, current, pressure, sound) vs time. The PicoScope is a storage scope so it draws the graph (actually up to four at the same time) and remembers it so that you can study what happened after the event occurs.
How does the scope know when to draw the graph?
Most scopes start drawing their graphs when they are triggered. Some event occurs e.g. an injector closes (see right), the cam sensor detects TDC, the ignition key is turned, the headlights are turned on - you decide. The scope draws the graph and you can analyse what happened.
Being a storage scope, the Picoscope has another huge advantage, it continually monitors what is happening and stores and displays the graph as soon as it is triggered. This means that it can even display what happened before it was triggered. Think of a DSTV Explora or PVR Decoder which allows you to rewind live TV. Your PicoScope allows you to look back in time and find out what caused the event.
Can I control what I see?
Absolutely! You can decide how long the scope records for and how much detail you want. You can filter the graph to highlight certain events or problems and change the scale. You can even compare your graph with other similar graphs to highlight any differences to help you identify faults. PicoScopes have libraries of waveforms that you can access. The trace on the right shows 70% of the display is dedicated to time before the trigger. You can choose where to place the trigger on the display.
Why is a PC necessary?
Your Picoscope uses a PC or laptop computer as its display. This has many major benefits. PCs have high resolution displays and lots of storage. You can examine your waveforms in minute detail and save them to create a knowledge-base. You can email them if you need help and compare them to waveforms downloaded from the Internet. Print your test results to show your customers where problems were and how they were solved. You can watch training videos, follow test set-up instructions and access our comprehensive Help to increase your efficiency.
Whilst the PicoScope is a sophisticated data capture system with many functions and features, it does not have any controls. You can simply think of it as the place to plug in your test leads. You only interact with the PC and everything is controlled from there.
When you buy a PicoScope, you only pay for an instrument optimised for automotive diagnostics. Oscilloscopes with built-in high quality displays are very expensive. PCs are optimised for storage, processing, communication and display. We believe in giving you the choice, PicoScope allows you to build a diagnostic system that suits your business.
I use a multi-meter so why do I need a scope?
A multi-meter can measure static values such as the battery voltage, current through a lamp, resistance of a coil and continuity. A PicoScope can show how things change. It can also measure things that happen very quickly, such as spikes, ignition pulses, etc.
The new Automotive PicoScopes have a bandwidth of 20MHz (20 million cycles per second) and a sampling rate of up to 400 million samples per second. 250 million samples of 4,096 levels can be accommodated in its buffer. A multi-meter has many applications but cannot replace the functionality of and insight provided by a PicoScope.
The PicoScope has enormous storage capability and can also be used to look at things that happen very slowly (e.g. hours). Find that elusive, intermittant fault by looking back through the PicoScope's waveform buffer.
How do I connect the scope to the vehicle?
A large range of very high quality sensors, connectors and accessories are available to help you to make your measurements. Many are included in our range of cost-effective kits (links at the bottom of the page). Some examples include:
- Ignition (primary and secondary)
- Injectors and fuel pumps
- Starter and charging circuits
- Batteries, alternators and starter motors
- Lambda, airflow, ABS and MAP sensors
- Electronic throttle control
- CAN bus, LIN bus and FlexRay
- Compression, Vacuum and Fuel
- Noise Vibration and Harshness
Scan tool or scope?We are often asked "Should I buy a scan tool or a scope". The short answer is that you need both. A scan tool can often point you in the right direction, perhaps indicating a misfire on a specific cylinder but too often the less experienced technician then ends replacing several parts before the problem is solved. Oscilloscopes should be used:
- To eliminate guesswork and test individual components before they are replaced. This avoids "parts darts" where more and more parts are replaced until the fault goes away.
- To find intermittent wiring and connector faults.
- When a vehicle has a problem but no code has been set or when multiple / misleading codes have been set
- As the best way to find charging and starting problems.
- To find problems with actuators such as motors and injectors that are not monitored by the ECU.
- To identify mechanical problems such as compression and slipped / incorrectly fitted timing belts.
Open your eyes with PicoScope softwarePicoScope 6 is the most advanced automotive oscilloscope software available to date. With award-winning features and intuitive design, this software is designed to make sure you get to the heart of the problem, fast. Features such as auto setup, tutorials and the guided tests quickly get new users up to speed. Advanced features such as maths channels, waveform buffers, advanced triggers and reference waveforms ensure the experienced user will not run out of power. The modern user interface is easy to use. There are no old-fashioned knobs and dials. We leave the space free for what matters: your waveforms displayed in crisp, clear high resolution.
PicoScope Guided Automotive TestsThere are over 150 guided tests, ranging from simple injector tests through to more complex topics such as CAN bus testing, integrated into the software.
When you select a guided test all settings are configured for you, and an example waveform is loaded. Diagrams and photos then show you the leads and accessories you need, how to connect to the vehicle, and how to perform the test. Once the test has been completed you will find guidance on understanding the waveform, how the component works, and typical faults/fixes.
As vehicle technology changes we continue to add more tests through the free software updates.
Waveform LibraryThe library enables you to share and back up your waveforms online and also search a global database of waveforms uploaded by PicoScope users from around the world. The powerful search options let you find “known good” waveforms from vehicles identical to the one you are working on. Not sure if you have a slipped timing belt? There are hundreds of cam vs crank waveforms to compare against. Not sure if the cranking current is too high? Download a waveform to compare.
WPS500X Pressure Sensor Kit (optional)
Adding the WPS500X to your PicoScope opens up a new world of diagnostics by turning pressure readings into waveforms. In-cylinder waveforms show valve and timing issues, mechanical failures, blown gaskets and blocked catalytic converters.
Most pressure sensors can only measure over a limited range (so you need different ones for different tasks). The WPS500X has three ranges in one sensor so it is flexible enough to work right around the vehicle - fuel pressure, transmission pressure, intake vacuum and even pulses from the exhaust.
Supplied as a complete kit with hoses (compression, fuel, vacuum, bleed) and adaptors (exhaust, M10/M12/M14 plugs and universal).
Noise Vibration and Harshness (NVH) Diagnostic Kit (optional)
Improvements in damping and sound insulation in modern vehicles mean that vibrations and noise that would previously be ignored (by turning up the radio) are now diagnostic headaches. Many hours can be spent, and many parts swapped, in tracking down customer complaints.
The NVH kit works with your PicoScope to quickly identify the source of the problem. If the customer complaint is noise, use the microphone; if it’s a vibration, use the accelerometer. Sophisticated software quickly pinpoints the source of the problem.
The kit can be enhanced with accessories to also allow on-vehicle driveline balancing.
Getting started - help all the way
Many technicians know that they should be using oscilloscopes but are worried they will be too difficult to use. If you are confident using multimeters and scan tools, you will have no problem learning to use a PicoScope.
The manual guides you step by step through installing the PicoScope and making your first measurement of battery voltage and from there the guided tests take over, showing you how to test the common components on vehicles. Next we offer a huge range of free resources to help you get the most out of your PicoScope including online training, videos and case studies. There is also a great community of users who share knowledge, waveforms and advice as well as helping us by suggesting software improvements.
Many of our customers tell us how owning a PicoScope has helped them understand how a modern vehicle really works and over time has opened new career opportunities as they become respected experts in diagnostics.
Buying a PicoScope is unlike dealing with some other companies who lose interest as soon as they have your money. At Pico we stand behind our products and offer free lifetime technical support by phone and online. Software updates are also free - your PicoScope keeps getting better with no subscriptions or ongoing fees to pay. It is no surprise that PicoScopes are chosen by more vehicle manufacturers and aftermarket customers than any other oscilloscope.
PicoScope Oscilloscopes: Future-proof
Pico have been designing, manufacturing and improving our oscilloscopes for over 20 years. Our objective is simple: to make the best automotive oscilloscope in the world.
The recently introduced two-channel PicoScope 4225 and four-channel PicoScope 4425 are our 5th generation of automotive PC oscilloscopes. They are 5x faster and have 8x more memory than the previous generation, ensuring they are powerful enough for the next generation of vehicles with new technologies such as CAN FD.
Other innovations include:
- New floating inputs for non-grounded measurements and voltage drop tests
- Higher voltage ranges (up to 200 V without attenuators)
- ConnectDetect® to ensure you have a good connection
- Advanced triggers to capture intermittent faults
- Hardware filters and frequency measurement
- USB 3.0 connected and powered.
When you purchase any diagnostic tool you not only spend money but you also spend time learning how best to use it. We protect that investment in two ways. First we develop hardware and software that is easy to use for those starting out with oscilloscopes yet has the power and features demanded by experienced users. Second, we do not compromise on quality or specifications, so expect the PicoScope you buy today to still be an essential part of your diagnostic toolbox 10 years from now. automotive oscilloscope with floating inputs.
Floating input channels are a unique new technology that allows safe, low-noise measurements even in situations where none of the inputs are grounded. Floating inputs allow a single input to perform voltage drop tests (for example, along the battery to starter motor cable) and measurements on non-grounded signals like hybrid electric motor drives. With floating inputs the maximum allowable voltage difference between any two channel grounds is 30 V. The inputs can now measure up to 200 V (up from 100 V on the previous generation of PicoScope). A key benefit is that external attenuators are no longer needed for measuring injector voltages.
Remember: on a floating-input scope, grounding one input does not ground all the others. You must provide signal and return connections for each input that you are using.
Oscilloscope Connect Detect Feature
Making sure that you have a good connection to the signal you want to test is not always easy. With ConnectDetect® enabled, indicators on screen, and lights on the scope itself, turn from red to green as soon as a good connection is detected.
Once a good connection is established, the on-screen icons fade so as not to obscure the waveform. If, however, the status changes (for example vibration causes a probe to become loose), the icons will highlight the change.
Deep Memory Oscilloscope
The best way to diagnose an intermittent fault is often to set up the scope to measure from several components and wait for the fault to occur. For an intermittent misfire, you might want to capture several minutes of cam, crank, ignition and injector waveforms. These types of tests require an oscilloscope with a "deep" memory buffer, so that you can capture for long periods of time and then zoom in without any gaps or loss of detail.
With PicoScope you can collect 250 MILLION samples, more than any other automotive oscilloscope. Our advanced "always on" memory technology uses hardware acceleration to make sure that the processing of large amounts of data does not slow the oscilloscope down even when you are using a slower or older PC.
Deep memory allows long recordings at high speed – you capture a complete test drive whilst looking for intermittent faults. When not using the full memory for a single waveform, PicoScope automatically stores up to the last 10,000 waveforms in the buffer, so you can stop the scope and “wind back time” to see every capture.
Crisp, clear high-resolution Display
A deep waveform memory gives you a high time resolution, but a high vertical resolution is equally important. It allows you to see small changes in signal such as ignition coil oscillations and the small dip in current when an injector opens.
Many oscilloscopes only offer 8-bit resolution which allows 256 vertical steps. As most PC monitors have vertical resolutions of over 1000 pixels, this results in a low-resolution "blocky" display. The PicoScope 4225 and 4425 have 12-bit resolution (4096 steps), and when not using the full sampling rate of the scope this can be enhanced to 16 bits (65 536 steps).
The image shows the same ignition signal captured at both 8 bits and 12 bits. With the 8-bit oscilloscope the coil oscillations are distorted while at 12 bits they are in clear high definition.
The latest PicoScopes can capture signals faster than ever. With sampling rates of up to 400 million samples per second, there is nothing that can escape the scrutiny of PicoScope.
CAN and FlexRay are now common on vehicles, and new protocols such as SENT for digital sensors and CAN FD (up to 5x faster than the current CAN standard) will appear in new vehicles from 2017. The fast sampling rate ensures that the PicoScope 4225 and 4425 have the speed to handle future needs as vehicle technology changes.
USB 3.0 for Power, Speed and Simplicity
As with our previous generations of PicoScope oscilloscopes, no external power supply is required and there are no batteries to go flat, just a simple reliable connection to the USB port.
The PicoScope 4225 and 4425 have the latest SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port to interface to your PC. Don't worry if your PC only has USB 2.0 ports – the PicoScopes are fully compatible with these too. If you have USB 3.0 on your PC you will notice slightly faster screen update rates, faster file saving and USB streaming. As more of our customers move to PCs with USB 3.0, free software updates will ensure that you get the full benefits available from the new standard.
Our unique fast USB streaming allows continuous gap-free data to be collected straight to PC memory. This makes features like our cylinder balance, battery test and (optional) NVH tests possible. It also allows the oscilloscope to display live, real-time data without waiting for the screen to refresh.
Most new users start by using the guided tests to configure all the settings automatically. As your experience grows there are many advanced features to explore. These include:
- Advanced digital triggers. Unique among automotive oscilloscopes, these trigger modes allow you to trigger when there is too long a time gap (such as when an injector fails to fire). They can also be set to trigger and sound an alarm when a sensor signal goes out of range.
- Filters. Some signals are noisy as wires in the loom pick up noise from other wires. The ECU filters this noise out. The PicoScope 4225 and 4425 have selectable hardware filters to remove this noise, so you see what the ECU sees.
- Hardware frequency measurement. Flow sensors and some airflow sensors output a digital frequency signal. Most oscilloscopes can't extract usable diagnostic information from this, but your PicoScope can convert it to a conventional analog waveform (as shown in this MAF sensor example).
Every aspect of your PicoScope has been designed for a long working life, and it has the performance to ensure it will not be obsoleted by the changing technology in new vehicles. The hardware is robust and reliable with no moving parts or batteries to fail. Combine this with free support and free software updates for the life of the product and its easy to see why a PicoScope is the choice for professional diagnostics.
PicoScope Automotive is the powerful software package that turns your PC into a diagnostic oscilloscope when used with a PicoScope device. PicoScope has been designed to make it easy for you to diagnose vehicle faults. Packed with features such as automated measurements, reference waveforms and the ability to save and print waveforms, PicoScope Automotive is the ultimate tool for your diagnostic toolbox.
Also included is PicoDiagnostics software to quickly test batteries, alternators, starter motors, compression and cylinder balance. Professional reports allow you to show your customer what you have checked and any problems you have found.
Visit the PicoAuto download page to get your free copy of the software with a built-in 'demo device' so that you can experiment and see how it works. It runs on Windows 7, 8 or 10. You can explore the capability and see how PicoScope can benefit your business and customers.
Regular updates to our software include new features and new tests, and are free for the life of the product.
PicoScope guided tests
There are over 150 guided tests, ranging from simple injector tests through to more complex topics such as CAN bus testing, integrated into the software.
When you select a guided test all settings are configured for you, and an example waveform is loaded. Diagrams and photos then show you the leads and accessories you need, how to connect to the vehicle, and how to perform the test.
Once the test has been completed you will find guidance on understanding the waveform, how the component works, and typical faults/fixes.
As vehicle technology changes we continue to add more tests through the free software updates.
The library enables you to share and back up your waveforms online and also search a global database of waveforms uploaded by PicoScope users from around the world.
The powerful search options let you find “known good” waveforms from vehicles identical to the one you are working on. Not sure if you have a slipped timing belt? There are hundreds of cam vs crank waveforms to compare against. Not sure if the cranking current is too high? Download a waveform to compare.
PicoScope Software - continual improvements
We have been upgrading and improving PicoScope software for over 20 years. This allows us to make the maximum use of the latest technology both in the oscilloscope hardware and the PC itself.
The modern user interface is uncluttered and easy to use. There are no old-fashioned knobs and dials. We leave most of the space free for what matters: your waveforms.
Recent new features include:
- 720 degree rotation rulers: ideal for looking at engine timing (see waveform showing crankshaft, camshaft and in cylinder pressure).
- Channel labels: it's important when saving a file to identify what each channel is measuring but it can be time-consuming. With channel labels you just type in a few letters and a time-saving list of names is presented.
- Vehicle database: a list of makes and models is included with the ability to store customer details too. The last few vehicles worked on are stored in a list for quick recall.
Alongside our PicoScope 6 software, you also have our highly powerful PicoDiagnostics software. Included free of charge, this software turns your PicoScope into a highly powerful diagnostic device. See the tests listed below for a glimpse into how PicoDiagnostics can turbocharge your performance.
Check for mechanical issues in seconds: Simply clip the test leads to the battery and crank the engine. The relative compression of each cylinder is shown in an easy-to-understand bar graph format.
To show absolute compression, add an optional pressure transducer to one cylinder, and the software will calculate the pressure for all cylinders in bar or PSI.
Battery, Starter and Alternator Test
Did you know that your PicoScope also can operate as a highly accurate and efficient battery and charging circuit tester? This allows you to test your customers' vehicles without the need for dedicated, expensive test tools.
Using PicoDiagnostics, you can check the battery, starter, alternator, and wiring, all in one quick test. Easy-to-understand reports with red, amber or green indicators can be printed for customers, either to show the electrical system is in good condition, or to explain why a component needs replacing.
The battery test checks the state of charge, the voltage drop during starting, and compares the cold cranking amps (CCA) with the rating for the battery.
The charging test checks the alternator is correctly charging the battery and spots problems, such as overcharging or excessive ripple due to a blown diode.
The starter test helps identify a failing starter motor by measuring its coil resistance.
The drop test measures the voltage drop (and resistance) of the cables running from the battery to the starter motor. This will discover starting issues caused by corroded or damaged battery cables, or poor connections to the chassis ground.
Once your test is completed, you can print out a copy of the report for your customer. This report is fully customizable with your own company details and logo to give a professional appearance.
Cylinder balance / Misfire detect
Check for misfires, and check if each cylinder is contributing the same amount of power, with the cylinder balance test.
Simply connect channel A of the PicoScope to the vehicle battery and start the engine. The software detects changes in engine speed as each cylinder fires. An easy-to-understand bar graph display shows the relative power output from each cylinder.
Please note: this test will not work correctly on certain vehicles that disable cylinders for emissions control reasons, or on low-compression engines with 8 or more cylinders.
Noise Vibration and Harshness (NVH)
The PicoDiagnostics NVH software can analyze vibrations and help to diagnose NVH problems. All you need is a PicoScope Automotive oscilloscope, the PicoDiagnostics NVH kit and a software license key (available from Pico Technology support).
PicoDiagnostics has had strong development focus this year, ensuring the software performs and evaluates better than ever before. Special focus has been given to NVH testing and, in particular, the way to view results and additional vehicle data.
The main updates are:
- The new filter tab in the Advanced Options dialog box contains these options:
- Low pass filter – which allows any frequency below the set threshold to be detected.
- High pass filter – which allows any frequency above the set threshold to be detected.
- Band pass filter – which allows frequencies between the Low pass and High pass range to be detected.
- Band stop filter – which allows frequencies outside of the Low pass and High pass range to be detected.
- There is an added OBD PID functionality for managing and using Parameter IDs (PIDs). PIDs are codes that are used to request data from a vehicle for diagnostics. The SAE standard J/1979 defines several PIDs, but many more PIDs are specified by the respective vehicle manufacturer. Typically, technicians use PIDs with a scan tool connected to the vehicle's OBD-II connector. The PID is sent to the vehicle's controller area network, a device on the bus recognizes the PID and reports the value for it back to the bus, from which it is sent to the scan tool and displayed to the technician. Note: You can only view the values from the PIDs in the Time Domain view on the record and analyze tab.
- Time domain is a real-time feature you can use to measure harshness, such as knocks, creaks and squeaks. Noises and harshness like these are annoying but are only present for a very short period of time, with insufficient energy to be transferred to and displayed in the Frequency display (FFT) of the NVH user interface. Events (e.g. pothole strikes) are not transferred for display in the FFT as it requires a minimum of 2.5 seconds of continual disturbance in order to process the event. Until now, symptoms like these would be reserved for listening devices, letting the technician listen to the intensity of noises delivered to a headset from microphones placed around the offending area of the vehicle. These results, however, would be subjective and open to misinterpretation. These events are captured in the signal history as it displays the input of the attached microphone or accelerometer live (relative to time). The time domain feature will capture and display the momentary amplitude of these noises.