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Code Reader

As I wrote in my last article Santa was not ‘great to me’ but as usual he was ‘good to me’. I did not get the magic computer that solves all vehicle woes with a simple key stroke.

Many of you may have seen ads for devices that can solve your check engine light problem with very little investment. Yes, that pesky orange light that glows at you from time to time. It may put that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach. The thought of a trip to your mechanic always seems to bring that same feeling.

Maybe you asked Santa for one of those magic check engine light extinguishers and he came through. Maybe you bought one yourself. Maybe you are currently being tortured by the orange glow from your dash and are just about ready to ‘checkout’.

Yes, these devices are cheap. Yes, even your mechanic will use and have one of these. Even I won’t travel without one. They are quite capable of a sort of sleight of hand.

Thanks to government and emission controls in and around the 1996 model year all vehicles were equipped with a common diagnostic connector that could access certain data from your engine and transmission control computers. All vehicles had to speak a common language of sorts.

This common connector and common computer language allowed tool manufacturers to make tools that could be simple and useful on all vehicles built after a certain date. The flood gates opened.

Now a free or next to free app and OBD II scan tool can put you in control of your check engine light for very little expense. I have seen twenty dollar devices! Always remember though you get what you pay for.

These devices do vary in what they can and cannot do. I have yet to hear of any that have ruined an engine computer or did anything catastrophic.

The damage inflicted, if any, will usually be self inflicted. The simplest of these devices will clear the codes (in layman's speak ‘turn out the light’). Depending on the type of problem that light will turn right back on or stay off for a few minutes, hours, weeks, months, ….. . Yes, the problem is still there but when it comes back on just turn it off again.

Using one of these tools to just repeatedly turn off the light could very likely do more harm than good. The light is an indicator that all is not good with your engine. It is not running the way it should.

Instead of just turning out the light any of these tools will ‘read codes’, Read the codes. Call your favorite mechanic (maybe your mechanic is ‘google’ but I know a lot of better ones). Get his/her opinion. Some codes need immediate action, some can wait but all of them need some attention. Preventive action will save you money not cost you money.

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