Your “check engine” light comes on in your car. What do you do? Some people might choose to ignore it and hope it goes away. Some people might tap the light in hopes that it will magically turn off. Since those aren’t the smartest of options, you really need to know a bit about modern Do It Yourself (DIY) Engine Diagnostics tools and how they work to find and fix problems in automobiles that are growing ever more complex by the year.
What are engine diagnostics tools? – The EPA mandated in 1996 that car manufacturers had to provide a common standard for mechanics to be able to measure your car’s electronic information. It’s known as On-Board Diagnostics (OBD). A 16-pin connector, similar to what you’d find on a computer, is mounted under your dashboard to plug in a diagnostics tool and gather important electronic information about the car’s powertrain, computer, chassis and body. If errors are found, the OBD Engine Diagnostics tool will output four-digit codes that tell you what the problem is.
What’s a DIY diagnostic tool? – It used to be that only trained mechanics had access to OBD diagnostics tools, but today they are available to consumers in prices ranging from $50 to around $450 for a top-end machine. You plug the device into the 16-pin connector if you have a warning light flashing on your car and it will be able to find the problem and output codes describing the faults and malfunctions that are found.
What do I do with the information I’ve found? – Knowing the four-digit error codes, you can look them up online for your car’s brand and model or in your car’s user manual to see exactly what they are. This allows you to determine if the problem is something that’s serious enough to take your car into a repair shop or if it’s something that you can fix on your own.
There are limitations with DIY diagnostic machines, though. Commercial types found in repair shops like Neal Tire & Auto Service are quite a bit more complex and expensive than ones you can buy for yourself. A DIY tool is great for giving you the basic information and allowing you to fix simpler problems, but commercial-grade OBD tools are needed to diagnose and repair any serious problem.