In January, we take a look at how we might change our lifestyle. So why don’t we look at our cars as well? Nowadays you don’t even need a mechanic–you can diagnose the problem itself.
Well, the word “diagnose” is a bit strong. Look at it this way. You see the light on your dash that says something is wrong? You still don’t know what’s wrong. Well you can, if you have a car health monitor.
They’ve had code readers for a long time. Think of it this way. Your car has a number of sensors on critical parts. If you have low oil pressure for example it triggers the engine light. So all these sensors are triggering the same light, but your car knows which one was triggered and if you get a code reader, it will tell you which one.
External Diagnostic Devices
Aside from getting a better description of a problem than just a dash light, the other reason to get some sort of car health monitor is peace of mind at the mechanic. How much more confident would you feel walking you’re your mechanic and saying, I’m pretty sure my alternator is shot,” vs saying, “my car sometimes won’t start.”
You feel the difference? You might not have a clue what an alternator is, but how much faster are you going to get answers to simple questions like, “when could you have this done,” or “what’s it going to run me to fix this?”
With the old method your mechanic grins broadly and says, leave it with me for the day and I’ll call you when I know what’s up. Then he hooks up the same machine you could buy…when he gets around to it…later today.
Another place that has a car health monitor is the auto parts store. Although they have their own health monitoring service it will save you a trip if you purchase one of your own. If your problem doesn’t need to be fixed right now you’ll wait for the weekend, if you have to go to the store to find out what’s wrong, you’ll end up buying the part while you’re there.
Is there a difference between a simple code reader and a diagnostic? Yes! An external diagnostic can read into the code or even double check the reading that are causing the diagnostic. Some are even programmed to check against the way that engine type is meant to operate. It’s a language interpreter of sorts.
This type of monitor is the OnBoard Diagnostics which started in the early 1990s. It could be said that these tools are in the second generation of development, though having said that OBD-II came out as early as 1996.
There are various different types of device, the most common of which is a type of scanner which operates by plugging into your scanner and displaying the car’s info on a little screen. The simplest of these can only show the Check Engine codes, but the more advanced models can give a whole variety of codes for whatever predicament.
If you’re confused about why we’re talking about plugging something in when it’s called an OnBoard Diagnostic it’s because there is a port where you engines computer can attach to an external code reader or diagnostic, and an OBD can just stay plugged into that port, then broadcast wirelessly to your phone or other device.
What all does my ODB monitor?
Things that can always be shown on the scanner are fuel rate, the voltage of the O2 sensor, the voltage level of the battery and the time that your engine has been running, even for something like a loose fuel cap. The idea of the scanner is to show you information beyond the simple flashing lights on the dashboard.
It has been illegal since 1996 to not include an OBD port in a vehicle, though of course older vehicles will have to rely on the older type of scanner. The port has sixteen pins and it is regular practise for mechanics to use the port in order to work out the fault with the car.
There are various protocols associated with these ports. A protocol is dependent on what type of vehicle it is, for instance is it a Ford or a General Motors vehicle? In 2008 the Controller Area Network was introduced and all vehicles have to use the same protocol.
With a special USB adaptor attached to the port you can read these codes from your laptop, rather than a scanner screen. Most of these tools do work the same way though. Alternatively some of them work via an app on the regular type of tablets and smart phones. Some produce current data (also known as “live data”) so you know that there is a problem as soon as it occurs. The phrase “peace of mind” must surely be mentioned here.