Technology

Automotive: really useful, on-board computer readers?

The devices can diagnose problems with your vehicle by connecting to your on-board computer. Are they really useful?

Most of the time, the car will tell the driver that it has a problem by activating the famous “Check Engine” warning light, which is located between the dials behind the steering wheel. However, your vehicle’s on-board computer surely has a lot more to say about the situation. Despite this, it is still difficult to obtain data on mechanical problems and failures.

To be able to interpret them correctly requires specialized equipment, which few people outside of auto mechanics have. In addition, the information comes in the form of error codes that indicate where the defect is located: transmission, brakes, electronic sensors, etc. Often only experts can understand these diagnoses. And that’s not counting the fact that some specific codes can only be read by the mechanical department of the manufacturer in question.

There are now on-board computer readers and adapters that provide access to these diagnostics. With that said, some vehicles may have as many as 150 electronic modules that generate their own fault codes. Therefore, we may wonder how useful these devices are… We answer this question for you!

Hobbyist Readers

If you have auto mechanic skills and want to do a repair yourself, you may want to know what your vehicle would normally reveal to a specialist. To do this, there is an accessory that you can get at a specialized auto mechanic shop: an on-board computer reader, also called an OBD2 code reader. These terminals have a small screen and a keyboard. Its price varies between $200 and $500.

Simply plug the device into the vehicle’s diagnostic port (or OBD2 port), which is usually located under the dash. It then interprets the error codes and translates them into words that you will understand better. So you won’t have to grope to find the nature of the problem and you can directly get your hands dirty.

More affordable adapters for everyone

There are also adapters that plug into the vehicle’s diagnostic port and then transmit the information they receive from the on-board computer to a mobile app via Bluetooth. They are easier to use than on-board computer readers and more affordable; they often cost less than $100. You can leave them permanently connected to the OBD2 port of your vehicle.

Some adapters go a step further by connecting directly to cellular networks. They can cost a hundred dollars to buy, and then you have to pay a monthly fee to access wireless services. These, however, go beyond simple diagnosis.

Thus, the Montreal company Vehicle Mind offers with its Hub an application that provides an appointment service with a mechanic in your area if the device detects a mechanical problem that requires a quick repair. In addition, Vehicle Mind makes an economic contribution to Planetair’s reforestation program based on the mileage of its users, which offsets polluting emissions.

Adapters like the ones from Vehicle Mind will help you determine if you can do the repair yourself or if it can be done by an independent mechanic instead of a factory-certified mechanic (whose services are more expensive). These devices also offer useful additional services to drivers, such as the automated calculation of travel expenses.

3 devices to decode your vehicle

Here are three devices that will give you more information about the error codes generated by your vehicle’s on-board computer.

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Innova CarScan Pro 5610
Price: $430
One of the most versatile readers on the market, according to trade publications such as CNET and Autoweek. It is compatible with almost all American, European and Asian vehicles. You can also simulate certain error signals, such as an emergency brake alert, to test the reaction of certain electronic components.

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BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scan Tool
Price: $120
This adapter transmits data from the on-board computer to an app (iPhone or Android). It uses the same online database as professional mechanics to translate fault codes.

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vehicle mental center
Price: $130 for the adapter + $10 per month for the platform subscription
The only Quebec option of its kind, this adapter connects to wireless networks (4G/LTE) to transmit data from the on-board computer to a mobile app. To this is added, in particular, an anti-theft service and very precise reports of your mileage and your movements.

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