July 25, 2007

Fair Question

Dr. Reynolds links to Amazon's page where they're selling diagonostic code readers for cars, and wonders:

SO HOW MANY MECHANICS WILL THIS GADGET PUT OUT OF WORK? Not as many as if you integrated it with a Web service that took the codes and gave you step-by-step instructions on what to do, specific to vehicle type. I wonder if anyone will try that?

Good question. They've been selling code readers at parts stores for several years now, so it's not exactly like it's a new thing, but I figure they won't put much of a dent in mechanic's pocketbooks for a few reasons.

First, trouble codes and check engine lights don't come on a lot nowadays. Cars, despite what you might think about your heap, are generally pretty reliable, and spending a goodly sum of dough on a reader that you might use once or twice over the car's life isn't that attractive.

Second, few people, even if they know the trouble code and had step by step instructions, are actually equipped to work on cars. It's not quite like sharpening a pencil or installing a lamp. You have to have specialized tools to fix most of the things that would show up as a fault code, as well as a place to work on it, as well as the time to do it. Even back when cars where akin to Fred Flintstone's in their technical sophistication, it was still a chore to fix them yourself. With the rise of urbanization (and hoity-toity communities where they don't like it when you have your ancient Volvo up on jackstands in the driveway for weeks on end), there are fewer areas where you can actually do mechanical work of this sort.

Third, if you're like me and you DO have tools, and DO have a place to work on your car, and DO have some practical experience with how to work on cars, and DO have several old beaters that you're financially bound to keep driving because you're barely able to keep enough money in the bank, and you've kept them long enough for them to start requiring an increasing amount of diagnostic attention, you'd probably be better served to do what I do, which is a modification of Glenn's suggestion.

Most of the parts stores around town will, as a courtesy, use one of those diagnostic readers to read your code and reset your check engine light, then give you a little readout of the code. Again, not knowing anything, this is useless, but the online part Glenn mentioned can still be done, although you actually have to do a bit of Googlefu to find it.

Every time this has happened with our Focus, I take it down the hill to the Advance (or AutoZone--sorry, never can keep them straight) and they check the code, reset the light, give me the readout, and then I plug in the code and bit of verbiage that comes with it into Google along with something like "ford focus" and after a few minutes you generally will find links to manufacturer's technical service bulletins or other online professional mechanic's websites that will give you some good, useful information on the fix and parts and tools and time required.

Of course, there is an alternative to this, although it does require killing trees.

Simply get a Haynes shop manual for your car. It has all the codes in it, and detailed instructions on fixing it, and it's pretty cheap. Sometimes you can even find copies at the library.

SO, in conclusion, mechanics don't really have to worry about these things cutting into their business, and they are handy if someone you know owns one and doesn't mind you mooching off of them to let you use it, and the link to the way to fix things is not that hard to establish, especially if you know how to read a book, and it sure would be nice if I had enough dough not to worry about having to fix my own cars, but it's nice that I can.

UPDATE: Oh, hey, by the way, if these things DO get to be the in thing for upwardly-mobile sorts to purchase, I would like to remind everyone that Possumblog Medical Devices is your one-stop source for home MRI units. Show those expensive medicos a thing or two!

Posted by Terry Oglesby at July 25, 2007 10:54 AM