by Lori Cunningham (@wellconnectdmom)
Not too long ago, I found out about a new gadget that puts more power into your hands when you take your car in to get it repaired. Don’t you hate it when the vague “check engine” light turns on all of a sudden and you’re not sure why? Or how about when you take your car in for an oil change and all of a sudden your anti-lock brake system is apparently malfunctioning according to the car repair man? Ugh! How can you tell whether the issues the mechanic is telling you are correct?
Well now there’s a tool called the CarMD that you can use on a regular basis to get a better idea how your car is performing BEFORE you take you car in. CarMD uses the same exact technology a mechanic uses to diagnose any issues with your car. I love it! Here’s what you can learn about your car, depending upon the issues it’s facing:
- Why the “check engine” light is on
- Whether your car will pass an emissions test
- Any safety Recalls
- If there are any TSB’s (Technical Service Bulletins) issued on your car. TSB’s are administered from the car manufacturer about any known issues about your car’s make/model
- If there are any issues with:
- Electrical misfiring
- Fuel system
- Evaporative system
- Oxygen sensor
- Oxygen sensory heater
Now it’s important to note that CarMD works only on cars built-in 1996 or older. This is because cars built-in the US in 1996 and afterwards were required to include a port with on-board diagnostic second generation (OBD2) technology. It is this port that you connect your CarMD with to generate your diagnostics.
How Do You Use CarMD?
It is very easy to use CarMD. I have used CarMD several times on my 2009 Ford Edge*. Here are the steps:
STEP ONE: First, you plug the CarMD into your car’s diagnostic port. There are generally 9 possible locations. To find out your car’s exact location, see Find My Car’s Connector page on CarMD’s website. Plug the CarMD into your port. You should hear two beeps soon afterwards.
STEP TWO: After you hear two beeps, turn on your car and wait for four beeps. After four beeps you can turn off your car and remove CarMD. You will see a code on your CarMD screen and either a green, yellow, or red light. Here are what the lights mean:
- GREEN: Your car has no issues
- YELLOW: Your car has some warnings you should be aware of
- RED: You should take your car into be serviced
This is what my report looks like for my Ford Edge:
From this report you can see that my engine and emissions are working fine. Phew! It looks like my brakes may be OK, but there is an issue with my restraint system. Looking at the second report, the error codes I saw on my CarMD gadget are listed above. Apparently, there looks like an issue with the front passenger restraint system and an issue with my Accessory Protocol Interface Module. So, I don’t know exactly what this means but I believe I received a red light because there was an issue with my restraint…I’m guessing it refers to my seat belt? So, to do my due diligence in writing this review, I took my car into my local Ford Dealership.
I actually printed the first two pages of my CarMD report and gave it to the Ford Service Admin. I wanted to ensure they would check the things written on the report. I also told him about a problem I have with my phone no longer connecting to my SYNC computer system. I can no longer use my phone to make hands-free phone calls. I told him that I guessed that might have something to do with the “Accessory Protocol Interface Module” error. Within 15 minutes my car was checked in and I was riding home in Ford’s customer service vehicle.
Three hours later I received a call to tell me that they checked into restraint error I received and conducted a few more tests. The restraint issue referred to my air bag and they found that it was functioning fine. They told me that this code would likely pop up again on my CarMD, but that it has been thoroughly tested and everything is fine. Nothing to fix.
Unfortunately, the news was not as good for the “Accessory Protocol Interface Module” issue. I was correct that my phone connecting to SYNC was related. The only way to fix this problem is to replace the interface module, which is the “brain” for the phone area of the SYNC computer system. The cost for labor and parts would be $910. Ikes! And of course, I am just a couple thousand miles over my 36,000 warranty. Bummer. Using the SYNC’s speakerphone is like a lifeline for me, but paying $910 to fix it is hard to swallow.
UPDATE!!!! After publishing this article, I went to pick up my Ford Edge from the dealership. They informed me that in putting my SYNC back together again, the phone module began working again! Perhaps there was a loose wire. I tested it with my phone and I can again make phone calls! Woohoo! And it gets better. Ford picked me up from my home to bring me to the dealership. Upon arriving I asked about the whereabouts of my car. They said, it would be a few moments, it’s being washed and vacuumed! Then he handed me the bill. The total cost came to $0.00. I was blown away. Yeah!
What the CarMD can’t do:
- Fix your car for you
- Indicate the condition or needed replacement of your tires, belts, pads, etc.
- Track your mileage (you need to do this manually)
- Let you know when you need an oil change
- Report it’s findings directly to a dealership (though you can print out a report)
- Give cost estimates for every type of work needed (such as computer modules/interfaces/etc.)
You Have Questions
Now, to answer some questions you might have, like….
Is there a monthly charge?
No. You pay just one time for the CarMD device and access to your reports online is included.
How many cars can you diagnose with CarMD?
You can diagnose three cars. You will need to enter the cars’ VIN # into your CarMD account to run reports on them. If you’d like to add another car, you can pay $14.95 for each additional car.
How many reports can you run each month?
You can run up to six reports each month.
How do I find my diagnostic port on my car?
You can find the exact spot on the CarMD Find My Car’s Connector page.
A Mom’s Perspective
My car is a newer car, so it did not have as many issues on it than an older car would have. If my car had other issues, one of the great benefits of CarMD is that it not only identifies the problem, but it also gives you an estimate on how much it should cost to repair it! Wow, talk about valuable information! I suppose I didn’t receive an estimate because my issue had to do with the computer interface, which can greatly vary by manufacturer.
All around, it looks like the CarMD is a nice investment. Imagine walking into your car repair place armed with knowledge rather than that usual powerless feeling you have. After conducting your own CarMD test, you can have more confidence in knowing what needs to be done with your car. Will the mechanic find extra things? Probably. They’ll come up with things like worn belts, break pads, filters etc. But you will be more knowledgeable about the bigger cost items, and will likely have estimates beforehand as well.
I saw one of CarMD’s videos where a guy took his CarMD device with him to buy a used car. He used the CarMD on the car to see if the car gave him a green, yellow, or red light. Clever. Of course, to get a full report, he’d have to register the VIN # in his online CarMD account, but just using the CarMD alone gives you a good idea of any car’s health and it does not reflect on your car limits…until you plug it into your PC or Mac.
About to take a long road trip? Is your son or daughter driving off to college? Give the car a test with CarMD to give you more confidence in the journey. The CarMD is a great tool and one I plan to use regularly to better care for my car and give me a sense of empowerment when it’s time to take my car in for repairs.
Here’s a 3 minute video I found that gives a good overview of CarMD:
What drives you crazy when you have to take a car in for repairs?
* I was given a CarMD to check out for myself. All opinions in this post are based on my own findings.