Automotive oscilloscopes

A PicoScope (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. You can purchase a PicoScope on its own, but most people purchase one of our award winning Automotive Diagnostics Kits. These money-saving kits contain everything you need – just add a PC.

PicoScope oscilloscopes - future-proof

Automotive oscilloscope history

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 inputs

A unique new technology is the floating input channels which 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. 

oscilloscope connect detect feature

ConnectDetect®

Ensuring 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) then the icons will highlight the change.

deep memory oscilloscope

Memory buffer

Often the best way of diagnosing an intermittent fault is 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.  Such tests require an oscilloscope with a "deep" memory buffer so that you can capture for long time periods and then zoom in without gaps or loss of detail.

With a PicoScope you can collect 250 MILLION samples, more than any other automotive oscilloscope.  Our advanced "always on" memory technology uses hardware acceleration to ensure processing the large amounts of data does not slow the oscilloscope down even when 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.

Ignition waveform

Ignition waveform captured at 8 bits (black) and 12 bits (blue)

Crisp, clear high-resolution display

A deep waveform memory gives you a high time resolution, but a high vertical resolution is equally important to allow 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 (4 096 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 in 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. 

FlexRay waveform

FlexRay Waveform

Fast sampling

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 USB 3.0.

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.

Graphing a digital MAF sensor

Digital Mass Air Flow (MAF) sensor

Advanced features

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.