The "check engine" light on a car's dashboard can mean just about anything when illuminated, including everything from a broken oxygen sensor to a failing fuel injector. In some cases, it might be something as minor as a loose fuse or plug. There's no way to determine the source of the "check engine" warning other than to plug in an on-board diagnostics (OBD) scanner. A scanner will usually set you back anywhere from $40 to $170, or even more, depending on brand and quality. However, you can always just borrow or rent one of these diagnostic units.
Check with your local repair shop. The best place to rent or borrow an on-board diagnosics (OBD or OBD II) scanner is often at a mechanic's office or garage. Scanning may or may not be a free service that they will offer. Oftentimes, a mechanic will scan your vehicle for free if you will be buying repair services from his shop. Simply drop by a reputable garage and pop up your hood. In some cases, the plugs for an OBD II scanner will be under the hood, while with some cars the plugs will be under the dashboard.
Try to get the diagnostic equipment from an auto parts store. These shops will usually carry different brands of on-board diagnostics (OBD II) scanners. These can cost you from $40 to $170 for an outright purchase in 2010. However, you can convince the sales representative to let you rent or borrow the scanner instead. The shop might ask for the retail price of the scanner as your deposit. After using the OBD II scanner, you can return it for a full refund minus any rental fee. If you are able to get the car to the store, the workers may even use the scanner to assess the problem for you.
Connect the scanner. Look for the contacts where you can connect the scanner. Current standards require the OBD-II interface to be located within two feet of your car's steering wheel. Some on-board diagnostic scanners are simply code-readers, which will give you the reading as an error code, which you will have to interpret. The more feature-rich OBD scanners connect directly to a laptop via USB. These will contain software that you can use for a full diagnosis of your car's condition and also for a full evaluation of performance statistics, such as horsepower and acceleration.
Tips & Warnings
- More advanced OBD scanners will let you access or reset advanced functions, such as ECU controls, airbag and ABS. Some will even let you tune the ECU for performance.
- Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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