Problems Cars can Diagnose on their Own

Today’s cars are more wired and connected than your average household. With a massive computer and tons of sensors, your car has the ability to monitor and be aware of the majority of things going on under the hood. The system that keeps track of all of this is called the OBD – or “on board diagnostic” – system. Your car has tiny little sensors everywhere from the tires to the seat that can tell the vehicle if or when something’s gone awry. Luckily, most of the time this means you’ll know when to take your car into the auto mechanic before something goes horribly wrong.

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One of the handiest features of on-board diagnostics is the “check oil” light. Instead of having to rely on keeping track of miles since your last change – “wait, was it at 90,000 or 80,000?” – now your vehicle will let you know when it’s getting thirsty for some more of the thick, black stuff. Changing your oil frequently will help keep your vehicle running smoothly and more efficiently. Today’s oil sensors will even account for your driving habits and suggest when to change your oil accordingly.

The brakes are an example of one of the oldest forms of self-diagnosis for vehicles. When your brakes need replacing, you’ll know it by the unbearably high-pitched screeching and wailing when you attempt to slow down. However, by then, it’s usually too late to do anything but replace them completely and get a stern talking to from your automotive service technician. Today’s computerized systems can tell you as soon as your brake pads are getting thin and their stopping power is reduced, meaning you can nip the problem in the bud even without auto technician training.

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Even the smaller, more minute things are made much easier with advanced on-board diagnostic technology. You can eliminate the need for manually checking your transmission and windshield washer fluids altogether. No more messy dipsticks, trying to shield your eyes from the sun to see where the line is, or getting out of the car on an icy cold night to fiddle around under the hood to see if you’re out of anti-freeze. The sensors in an on-board diagnostic unit will tell you the exact minute you start to run low on these fluids, meaning it’ll be as easy as pulling into your nearest service station.

The mother of all self-diagnosed car problems however, and the one that causes people the most headaches, is the “check engine” light. It can be on for months at a time, seemingly without any cause. An extremely frequent culprit for the light coming on is a loose gas cap. Unfortunately, unless you have one of the high-end luxury cars with an advanced OBD that can tell you specifically if it’s that tricky gas cap or not, you’re going to have to get to the nearest service station and have a technician check just to make sure. Only by resetting the sensor will that light go away.

If you see that light come on, it’s best not to take any chances at all and head on into your nearest station. Chances are it’ll just be the cap, and you won’t have to shell out thousands of dollars. But then again, do you really want to take that chance? Even computers make mistakes!

Check out this video about how to use an OBD scan tool:

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