Today while on my way to work I was listening to morning radio when an alarming commercial played. Typically, I am able to drown out the white noise of radio advertisements, but as a mechanic and a man who values integrity, this particular ad struck a nerve. It began by making outlandish promises of predicting exactly what your car needs and when without any real inspection. I listened in awe of the misinformation the spokesperson was enthusiastically promoting.
This “service” is a device that you can add to your car with the idea that it will easily tell you exactly what needs to be fixed. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the technology used to find this information could just as easily be found in an automobile manual. This product simply recites what the code is when the check engine light turns on. No, really, ALL IT DOES IS TELL YOU WHAT THE CODE IS IF THE CHECK ENGINE LIGHT COMES ON. This is the opposite of innovation and could potentially be damaging to your car (and your wallet!).
In the ad, they claim that their product has the ability to tell you what exactly is wrong with your car without any diagnostic, which is frankly irresponsible advertising. The service they mentioned in the ad is what’s known as a code reader. Auto parts stores have been misleading people for years using code readers. Let me explain how the whole thing works…
Whenever the check engine light comes on in a car a ‘code’ will be stored in the ECM (electronic control module, also known as the car’s computer). The code will indicate what circuit is faulty that turned on the check engine light. Code readers simply read that code. They don’t go beyond that. When I’m working on a car, and I read the code, I then know what test procedures to follow to find the problem. Each code has a different set of test procedures. There are no code readers that perform test procedures. For instance, if I read a code and it is a P0171 that indicates that the system is running lean on bank 1 (the oxygen sensor detects too much oxygen in the exhaust system) the cause of this could be a vacuum leak in the intake, a fuel injector, a fuel pump, or even a wiring problem. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people have a P0171 code read than buy an oxygen sensor because they are lead to believe this will solve the problem. People will come to my shop with an oxygen sensor they bought and ask me to install it based on being told they have a P0171 code. As a business owner myself, I know the value of a dollar, and it always pains me to watch others waste their hard-earned money on a part that is not ultimately the problem. In the end, reading a fault code is kind of like reading the title of a book—you can’t read the title and say that you now understand the whole book. Hell, it’s not even the cliff notes!
At Ek Auto we don’t believe in blindly replacing parts in hopes that it fixes the problem, our mission is to fix the problem entirely the FIRST time. Guessing can be very costly, which is why our inspection process is so thorough. I understand that in an age of so many technological advances this gadget may sound legitimate, but it is merely a re-advertised tool that has been around for years.
I looked up the company online to find out the cost and wholly cow, their advertising agency should get a raise for convincing consumers that this service is worth this much! The piece you plug into your car was upwards of $30, and then there was a onetime activation fee of $20, and THEN a monthly subscription fee of $10. That comes to $170 a year just for a code IF the check engine light come on. That’s more money than a diagnostic at Ek Automotive!
The lesson of the day being, before you go spending money on a gadget for your car that you’re told does everything under the sun, talk to a professional first.