Taking your car to a workshop for a diagnostic scan may seem like a hassle-free way to have it checked for errors, but you are wasting fuel, time, and money on this endeavor. Did you know that you can utilize a consumer-grade diagnostic tool to perform a diagnostic scan on your car from your home? In this article, we explain what a diagnostic tool is, how to use a diagnostic tool what it can tell you, and why you should seriously consider purchasing one.
What is a diagnostic tool? It’s a consumer-grade solution that allows anyone to diagnose errors in their car through querying the myriad of control units for error codes. Solutions can be wired or wireless and can cost from tens to thousands of dollars. We recommend Carly as a great solution if you’re looking to do this yourself.
What Is a Diagnostic Tool?
Let’s get right into diagnostic tools — it could be one of the most crucial ways of saving you money with your new or old car.
A diagnostic tool is a solution that connects to your car’s OBD port and queries the myriad of control systems for error codes. The modern car has over fifty control units for its systems, connected by tens of kilometers of wiring and over a hundred sensors, actuators, servos, and output devices. A diagnostic tool allows you to identify errors and rectify them before they cause major issues.
What about the Check Engine Light (CEL) you say? The CEL will light up if there’s a moderate to major issue, but most minor errors don’t trigger it, to avoid causing unnecessary panic for drivers. When you see the CEL, it means you should drive to a workshop as soon as possible. However, a diagnostic scan can help you detect minor errors before they reach CEL level.
Professional-level diagnostic tools are used at workshops and cost thousands of dollars. There is a burgeoning market of consumer grade diagnostic tools that cost tens to hundreds of dollars, that allow anyone who is suitably inclined to perform a diagnostic scan on their car.
How Does a Diagnostic Tool Connect to Your Car?
Thank the OBD, or On-Board Diagnostics protocol for that. The current standard OBD2 has been around for over two decades and continues. It’s present on every car from a major manufacturer that was made after 2004. The OBD2 port is unified, and there are common error codes as well as manufacturer-specific ones. To connect a diagnostic tool to your car, you either use a wired or wireless connection. A wired connection consists of a cable, while a wireless connection utilizes an adapter that communicates with the host device via Bluetooth or WiFi. Once a connection has been established, scanning can commence.
What Will a Car Diagnostic Tell You?
Once you’ve connected the device to your car, you need to run a diagnostic scan. This will typically take a few minutes, so grab a coffee and sit tight. The device will scan as many systems as possible. But be warned — budget devices may only be able to scan for common error codes, while more sophisticated and costlier devices will be able to scan for manufacturer-specific codes as well. Once the scan is done, a report will be presented.
There’s something else to bear in mind too. The format of the report also varies. Cheaper and less function-rich devices will simply present a list of raw error codes, which you need to decipher with the help of an internet search. More sophisticated and function-rich solutions such as Carly will present error codes with explanations in English, as well as indicate which errors require immediate attention, and which ones on you can delay rectification for now.
A diagnostic tool can also present real-time performance parameters such as engine revolutions, fuel consumption, intake air temperature, exhaust gas temperature, turbo boost pressure, current speed, coolant temperature, oil temperature, and pressure, and much more, depending on what’s supported.
What Kinds of Diagnostic Tools Are Available?
There are three main kinds of consumer-grade diagnostic tools. You can find dedicated hand-held devices that connect to your car via a proprietary cable. These devices can be kept in your car’s glove box when not in use, and their functionality varies depending on price. Cheaper devices will have a single-line screen and buttons, while more expensive devices come with larger, color touchscreens and can display more information at a time. Some devices come with manufacturer support in the form of regular updates, while cheaper ones lack this and may turn obsolete in a relatively short time.
The second type is software that you can install on a laptop and use a dedicated cable to connect to your car’s OBD port. Laptop software is very powerful and you can enjoy a larger screen with much more potential for performance monitoring and error reporting. It’s why you see many tuners driving around with a laptop on the passenger seat. However, it’s not ideal for the casual user, as it’s quite cumbersome, and the software can be costly. You may also need to pay for future updates.
The third type is the adapter and mobile app combo. This comprises a small adapter that plugs into the OBD port of your car and communicates with your smartphone via Bluetooth or WiFi. A mobile app is utilized as the control interface. Some manufacturers only produce the adapter, or mobile app, while others like Carly offer holistic solutions that are designed to work together.
Can You Recommend a Good Solution?
We recommend Carly. It’s a two-part solution that’s been developed to work hand-in-glove. Costing under $100, Carly offers powerful diagnostic scan capabilities, as well as the ability to undertake coding, real-time performance monitoring, service reminder resets, and the Carly Used Car Check which detects mileage tampering in a used car that you are checking out.
Using Carly is simple, and you can install the free Carly lite app to determine what’s supported on your car by entering the make and model. Once you’re convinced, you can make a purchase. The Carly Universal OBD Scanner is the hardware component that plugs unobtrusively into your car’s OBD port. It can remain plugged in at all times should you desire. The Carly Universal OBD Scanner communicates wirelessly with your smartphone, on which you must have the Carly app installed. You can download the app at the Android or Apple app stores. Once you’ve downloaded the app and paired it to the Carly Universal OBD Scanner, you’ve got the power of Carly at your fingertips.
Always Have a Diagnostic Tool in Your Car
Savvy motorists always carry a diagnostic tool in their car, allowing them to perform a diagnostic test wherever they may be. It’s fast replacing the comprehensive toolkit that cars of yesteryear used to carry in their trunks. Having a diagnostic tool on hand means that you can quickly identify the cause of any issues, and determine if you can safely continue your trip. With solutions such as Carly, it’s now cheaper than ever to do so, and you have recouped your purchase cost after three or four scans, making consecutive scans effectively free of charge!