Having a car (or truck or minivan or crossover) means electronic issues, of one kind or another, popping up every now and then. Here’s how to avoid the heavy costs.
If you’re relying on a service center to assess the situation, you’re looking at upwards of $50 every time just to diagnose a problem with your ride’s electronics.
Having your own diagnostic tools, and knowing how to use them, can save you not only money, but time and anxiety as well. With these tools and know-how, you can get almost instant diagnostic results on a variety of potential problems in your vehicle on your own time, plus, in the future, if you’re shopping for a used car, you can put them to use to make sure your purchase doesn’t come with a host of problems.
Below we look at 5 affordable and useful diagnostic tools that can come in extremely handy to all types of drivers from passionate hobbyists to basic commuters.
Vehicle OBD 2
The ultimate tool in vehicle electronic diagnostics, the OBD 2 code reader is a must-have for any driver. This tool, often small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, offers serious bang for your buck (you can get one for under $15), and there are many choices out there that can link up with most vehicles built in 1996 and after. There is also the option of stand-alone readers or readers that link to your smartphone via Bluetooth. OBD 2 code readers scan your ride’s computer sensor network and relay valuable intel, even if your check-engine light isn’t on.
While most readers can detect issues with engine sensors, some can read driveline and transmission sensors as well. Select models even have the ability to read manufacturer-specific trouble codes as well as other value-adds. No matter what model you choose, you’ll have the benefit of a meaningful view of the health of your ride’s sensor network.
Useful for new and old vehicles alike, a multimeter can assist in the diagnosing of an assortment of would-be problems with your ride. Small and affordable, like the OB 2, this tool is extremely valuable. Use it to confirm proper resistance across a circuit or check for a bad ground due to a non-functional feature, among other things.
Universal Data Logger
A universal data logger is a key piece of diagnostic equipment, especially if you’re driving a modified vehicle. These little guys can record and save tons of data related to the most important parts of your ride (think engine, transmission, knock sensor operation and more) and then make it available to view on a computer or smartphone.
If you’re a DIYer in terms of performance-tuning your vehicle, having the ability to analyze a variety of detailed data streams can be advantageous for future troubleshooting, tuning or even just studying the performance of your vehicle. Perhaps the biggest bonus here is a data logger can save you significant cash in the long run by recognising issues that could, potentially, lead to engine failure or at some other type of major damage.
Fuel Consumption Meter
Tracking your fuel economy is a fantastic way to ultimately save money over the life of your vehicle, and a fuel consumption monitor will help you do just that. These diagnostic tools can precisely track fuel use by recording and saving mileage data every time you drive, leveraging your ride’s built-in sensor and computer network. A diligent driver can assess this information to zero-in on any driving habits that may be costing (or saving!) money or find a sudden increase in fuel consumption that might be a sign of something more serious with a vehicle. Some units can even make recommendations on how to drive with better fuel efficiency.
Battery Load Tester
A weak battery is bad news for electronics, particularly in newer vehicles. Running on a low battery can cause multiple systems in your vehicle to malfunction, undo the programming of alarms, infotainment and immobilizer systems (that you’ll likely have to pay to reprogram) and even prevent your ride from starting at all. All of this is ends up being a big ol’ waste of time and money to take care of.
A well-functioning battery becomes more and more important as these auto electronics continue to evolve. A battery load tester can be used to check the condition of your battery, and identify problems with charging or battery life before your find yourself in an inconvenient and/or expensive situation. A majority of testers don’t need a battery of their own and can be used to check batteries both in and out of your ride.