Not only has BMW electrical architecture changed over the last decade, but so has the equipment to service them. The equipment has changed, the interfaces have changed and also the complexity of setup and use.
Back in the 1990’s, the Group Tester One (GT1) was introduced. There were a few versions, like DIS Plus (stationary setup), however the GT1 is the most common and is what will be referenced here. The GT1 is a portable device which contained a rechargeable battery. It has a touchscreen display for easy use. It contained software for Diagnosing and also had software called TIS (Technical Information Display) which is the Service & Repair Information. Early versions of Diagnostics also contained software called Coding, Programming & Individualization (CIP). So from the same tool, you could Diagnose the problem, look up how to replace the component and then perform the needed initializations for the new part. Two interfaces were used: EDIC (yellow interface) and the OPS (orange interface). Later versions of the OPS were called OPPS, since they carried additional diagnostics for the Byteflite system and they were also yellow, but much bigger than the EDIC. Authentic GT1s are on the portable touchscreen unit. There are many “cloned” units out there, adapted to work on a PC. Either genuine or cloned, the interfaces work the same and connect via an Ethernet port.
Later versions of the GT1 software removed CIP, and moved it to a separate computer (for storage), but still accessible from the GT1. This new software was called Progman (short for Program Manager). This new software contained all of the CIP functions and added new features like multiple car programming and dual channel programming for each car (DIAGBUS and MOST bus simultaneously).
Third Generation equipment
Fast forward to about 2008 when the Third Generation (3G) of equipment was released: ISIS. The contents of ISIS are so large, that dedicated servers are installed at the dealership. An online version is available to the aftermarket for a fee, called OSS. It can be found at BMW’s tech website. With the introduction of ISIS comes a new interface, called ICOM. Previous interfaces (EDIC & OPS) won’t work with ISIS. ISIS consists of a few parts, since it completely replaced GT1 & Progman. The main part of ISIS that is used in the shop is called “ISTA”, which can be further broken down into two parts: ISTA/D for Diagnosing vehicles and ISTA/P for Coding, Programming & Individualization.
GT1s can be found just about anywhere, including eBay for very cheap. BMW realized that the tool was easily cloned and sold worldwide. Many levels of security have been put into the creation of ISIS to prevent this, in both resident servers and online versions. This makes it much harder for non-dealer shops to work on the newer cars. One would think that since the GT1 was discontinued in 2009, you could just keep using that for several more years until the newer system became more available, however, BMW stayed one step ahead! Whenever a car is programmed with the new ISTA/P, it upgrades the software beyond the level of what Program can recognize. That means, once a car has been updated with ISTA/P, you can NEVER use Progman on it again, rendering the “cloned” versions useless on that particular car. Also, when a new module is installed, the software that is pre-installed on that module is also newer than what Program can recognize, which can stop the entire programming process, forcing the car to be programmed by ISTA/P.
So what does that mean for the BMW owner? As a result of the newer systems, many BMW owners can no longer repair the cars themselves. Many aftermarket shops are also sending the cars to dealerships as a result. However, not all aftermarket shops have fallen behind. There are a select few of BMW specialty shops that stay on top of manufacturer technology, so that no car is turned away! When looking for a place to service your BMW, make sure they can do ALL aspects of repair, including Diagnostics and CIP!