Whether you are buying a used car or already own one, at one point in time, you can experience a Check Engine Light or Malfunction Indicator Light. When that happens, the first thing you do should not be to take it to the dealership or a mechanic or clear the codes! We are hearing more and more of auto shops that rip everyday consumers off by performing unnecessary repairs or even not performing the service that you paid for.
Learn how to scan these check engine codes and know what they are. You might be able to repair yourself or at least understand the problem before you head to a repair shop. A CBC Marketplace documentary also revealed that dealerships are upselling repairs, services and performing unnecessary repairs/services too (check at the end of this post for a link to that video). Today, most service managers are just sales people in disguise!
Glossary of Terms:
- CEL – Check Engine Light
- MIL – Malfunction Indicator Light/Lamp
- DTC – Diagnostic Trouble Code
- SES – Service Engine Soon
- OBD – On Board Diagnostic Port
- ECU – Engine Control Unit
- ABS – Anti-lock Braking System
When you get a CEL/MIL/DTC/SES, first thing is to Scan your car for the fault codes by using an inexpensive and easy to buy OBD2 Bluetooth adapter and Android App. DIY right?
Then diagnose the issue based on the code(s) read/scanned from your vehicles On-Board Diagnostic port. There’s lots of info online and I will point you to the best type of sites sites to use in this post. Or you can choose to ask a reputable mechanic as the power is in your hands now.
You can even use the tool combo shown below to check if some of your vehicle sensors are within spec. Use this tool and app combo and it will even point you to info on the code that was read.
Before we continue…
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Should we read the codes ourselves
Today’s cars are jammed packed with many computers, electronics and sensors and any of these systems can have problems as the car ages and sometimes even when fairly new. When that happens, how can you tell what happened or even start to decode what’s going on. Most the time we need to bring our cars in and have a mechanic decode things for us when the Check Engine Light on the dash lights up. Dealerships even charge a lot of money to read the code. Locally, we can get charged as much as $75 CAD plus tax just to read the code, without any work done on the car. You could spend less money to get the tools to read and reset these codes.
Though there are tools out there that allow us to read Diagnostic Codes from the cars ECU, they tend to be expensive. From the cheaper $40 units to the more expensive ones that cost hundreds of dollars, it doesn’t make sense to pay so much when there is a better and less expensive solution.
I will show you how this Android app can allow you to read your cars Diagnostic Trouble Codes, clear them and much more for a very affordable price! I’ve used this for 3 different cars I’ve owned plus for many of my friends and family. So this has worked for me on many different car makes from Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Dodge to Mercedes (for reading and clearing codes).
This inexpensive Must-have OBD Scanner tool can also be used for other purposes:
- Check if your car or if a used car you are buying has any pending or existing fault codes
- Clear/reset/erase all Check Engine, Malfunction Indicator, Service Engine Soon lights/codes and any pending DTCs
- Calculate estimated HP/Torque
- Graph sensor values
- Check Emissions check status
- Track and log your car around a track/race course
- Use as a HUD (Heads Up Display)
Watch our video here
I would also like to mention that as companies and people get greedier nowadays, we are also hearing more and more reports that many businesses are taking advantage of everyday consumers. We’re talking about businesses ranging from banks to car repair shops that charge you for services you don’t really need.
As a consumer we have to stay informed and not let that happen. Let’s take a look at how this app can help us help ourselves when it comes to our cars. All you will need to spend is about $25 CAD and this tool will pay for itself in more ways than one. If you ever have to deal with Check Engine Light or Malfunction Indicator Lights, buying a used car, racing your car on a track, calculating fuel economy or are just a gadget geek then continue reading to find out more.
What is OBDII?
The Check Engine warning light tells you that one of the ECU systems/sensors is not working properly and should be checked. Cars that are manufactured after 1996 are required to have and OBDII system (pronounced O-B-D-2). The check engine light is part of this system and the OBDII Port allows mechanics to connect a reader to it and read trouble codes and better pinpoint issues.
The OBD port is usually located under the dash on the driver side but sometimes it is on the passenger side. Some are off to the side while others are right under the steering column somewhere.
One thing to note is that the codes do not specifically tell you what is wrong as often times different system issues can lead to similar trouble codes. All the sensors in a vehicle have a range they must work or return values in. Whenever a sensor returns a non-acceptable value for a specified time frame, then a Check Engine code is thrown. Different situations can cause a particular sensor to be out of specified range, which is why a particular code does not necessarily point to one problem. So some investigation will be needed along with the codes your retrieve. Read on to see where to check for solutions.
How to read OBDII diagnostic codes?
All you need is an OBDII adapter, an Android/iOS phone or tablet and the Torque Pro app (Android only). For iPhone users, you can use apps like EOBD Facile – Car Diagnostic.
Buy the OBDII Adapter online for about $20 – $30 CAD and the app for $5 and you have yourself a fully functional OBDII scan tool. See below for links to where to buy both the adapter and app.
Once you have the adapter, install the Torque app then just plug the adapter into the OBDII port of your car. Connect the app to the adapter using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Once connected you can choose to create a profile for your car. Use the app to scan for codes. When the code(s) come up, Torque app actually lets you click on the code to do a search for the code. You can do that or read on to see what are other good sources decoding for fault codes.
Buy the adapters here
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Buy the Torque Pro App from the Google Playstore!
What do you do with the trouble codes?
So now that you have the tool what do you do when you have a Check Engine light on?
First is to determine how important the warning is. If the check engine light is solidly lit then it is not as severe but you should get the issue looked into. Secondly, if the light is flashing, then it is serious and you need to pull off the road safely and turn off the car. Further driving it in this condition will cause serious damage to the car.
Once you scan for the Diagnostic Trouble Codes, you can start doing research into it. Aside from just google, I’ve found that car Forums are a great place to get information on solutions. Often times people with the same vehicles will have the same problems and already have a solution for it. So look for a forum specific to your make and model. Take the time to research and that will give you a starting point. Whether you decide to fix the problem yourself or take it in to a mechanic, at least you will have an idea and it will be a little harder for bad mechanics to trick you into getting more work done than you need. Sometimes the problem can be as simple as a loosely closed gas cap so using this tool and a bit of your time you can definitely save some money.
When you have a code and have taken a look at it, resolved the problem and want to clear it, the tool can also be used to clear these trouble codes easily. But note that the codes will eventually come back if the issue hasn’t been resolved.
Note that there are two kinds of codes you can get. The first is an existing valid fault code which indicates that the system has determined there to be a problem that needs to be resolved. The second is the Pending fault code. This is a code that is still being tested by the system before it is thrown. The system needs more data points first before finally accepting it as a valid fault code. Pending codes don’t typically set off the check engine light while valid fault codes do.
I have used this adapter and app combo to repaired my car and my family’s cars using this tool and have been able to diagnose and repair by correctly replacing parts from Oxygen sensors to Ignition coils to simply cleaning the MAF air sensor or tightening the gas cap. The tool has more than paid off for itself.
Did you know your car can be stolen by programming a new key through the OBD port. Nowadays, high-tech thieves use this method on Keyless cars.
Find out more here!
Also, if you are looking to buy a used car you can use this to scan for some of the existing issues. Note that these codes are not the only things you should look for but are a starting point. Be aware that the existing codes can be just as easily cleared by the seller. You can at least scan for codes after your test drive as some codes can come back within a short distance of driving but know that other codes will only show up after longer durations of driving. In some cases, the cars computer makes available the distance driven with and without the Check Engine light on and that can be read and displayed by the Torque app.
If you are a car enthusiast you can also setup the tools dashboard to show you live readings from the different sensors in your car ranging from RPM, Boost pressure, Vacuum, Fuel Economy to Coolant temps and much more. Not that which sensors available for reading and displaying will be dependent on the sensors available in your car and whether the manufacturer has made these reading available.
Which OBDII adapter should I buy?
Make sure to buy a quality adapter. I’ve had better experience with Bluetooth. Sometimes the Wi-Fi ones are susceptible to interference from the many Wi-Fi access points in the neighbourhood so I would recommend Bluetooth ones in general.
Also for usability, try not to buy the physically long adapters. Shorter ones like the ones I link to are out of the way when connect to the car and so they don’t stick out and easily get bumped out of place by your knees and such.
As mentioned earlier, if you need the Enhanced diagnostics (ABS, Airbag, Transmission, etc…), then checkout the Enhanced OBD adapter.
Well, I hope you found this post useful. If you enjoyed it please consider sharing it and our video to anyone else that may find it interesting or useful, especially those new to cars or love DIY!
If you would like to buy these adapters, click here to go back to our links.
As promised, here is the CBC Marketplace video documenting how dealerships up-sell services and how some service managers are actually sales people that work on commission!