Let me warn you, this article contains spoilers as to what exactly happens to your car when it comes into a mechanic shop. I know what our beloved mechanics do seem like absolute miracles, and in more than a few cases they are. A good mechanic is worth his or her weight in gold…. but some of that gold belongs to their diagnostic computer.
More often than not, a mysteriously appearing light on your dashboard or a strange sound under your hood can be tracked down by a diagnostic computer. While you won’t want to spend thousands on the most expensive models out there, your average $100-$300 diagnostic computer will do everything for your personal use that a mechanic’s will. It’s just a question of understanding what that computer tells you.
Knowing the Code
Modern vehicles have state of the art computers that make sure all the systems are working properly. Is the engine overheating? You’ll get a warning light on your dashboard before a properly functioning computer shuts down your vehicle to protect it. Your oil’s low? Your car knows it and forwards the information on to you.
These two fixes probably don’t need you to plug in a diagnostic computer. Most oil and coolant leaks are pretty obvious to those who have turned a wrench a few times in their life, and are usually pretty simple to repair. It’s when your check engine light comes on at ½ tank of gas every time for the past six refuels and your vehicle is running fine that you should pop out the diagnostic computer.
When you plug in your diagnostic computer, you’ll scan your vehicle’s interior computer. Already you’ve saved anywhere between $75 and $200 just by doing this yourself. If there’s something wrong, you’ll get a code back and perhaps a brief description of the problem. Usually these descriptions aren’t enough to fix your vehicle.
The Power of Google
That’s where search engines, your owner’s manual and the diagnostic computer’s manual come into play. At one of these three places you will find a complete diagnosis of your vehicle’s problem. Whether this means that you simply didn’t turn the gas tank cap enough times or you have an oxygen sensor malfunctioning, you’ll know very quickly.
If you get conflicting reports, check your owner’s manual and the diagnostic computer’s manual for further information. If there are multiple codes, they may mean something different when diagnosed together than apart.
Sometimes these repairs that come up are out of our comfort zone. They may suggest working on a transmission or an engine in a way that you just aren’t set up for. Take your diagnostic computer with you to the shop. Show the mechanic what your machine says. This will keep them from having to re-diagnose your problem and save you a pretty penny. A mechanic who knows what he’s looking for, what parts to order, and how to fix the problem is a mechanic who won’t have to charge you labor fees to diagnose.