If There’s an App for Everything, How About Fixing My Car?

Go ahead, try to change the spark plugs

Go ahead, try to change the spark plugs

Days like yesterday remind me just how intertwined our cars are with daily life.

First, as I was making my way down a winding and perilous dirt road, the brake light illuminated on my Suzuki’s dash. That’s never a welcome sight, especially when I can look over the edge of the road and see the rooftops of houses. Needless to say, I ended up at the brake repair shop instead of the coffee shop.

My local brake place is an independent shop I’ve used many times over the years. They are always honest and charge fair prices. As I waited for my car, I pulled out a copy of Car and Driver and read a head to head test of a Ferrari California against a Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG. Good reading.

Before I could find another article to read, the brake guy informed me that the fluid was a little low, but the system otherwise checked out A-OK. The tab? Nothing. Had I gone to the dealer I know I would have been out at least $65 for that diagnosis and would probably still be trying to prove to them that I don’t need new rotors.

When I got home (with my coffee, finally) I read about an iPhone app that can remotely start your car and a car that is controlled by an iPhone. Then I saw this blog about a renewed interest in the Right to Repair Act. That’s when my day of car repair fun came full circle.

We all know that the days of diagnosing our own engine problems are long gone. Even changing spark plugs is a job for a NASA engineer. So when it’s time for maintenance or repairs, dealers are often the only ones who have the info needed to decipher the diagnostic codes our cars spit out.

I’ve said before that those codes should be made available to all mechanics (even to the general public), so schmucks like me don’t get bent over when we need our cars fixed.

The people at righttorepair.org are making a push to get a bill through Congress that forces manufacturers to release proprietary diagnostic codes to the general public. The full press release is here, but the main point is this:

Cars, trucks, motorcycles and all other vehicles are becoming increasingly complex with the addition of more computer technology. Without Right to Repair, millions of vehicle owners will be forced back to the dealership for service because they have been denied access to non-proprietary information and computer codes from the manufacturers. Rural communities where there is no dealership in the area are particularly vulnerable and could be forced to tow their vehicles longer distances, adding significant cost to the repair.

Today, I was lucky that everything was okay and no dealer-specific repairs were needed on my car.

Tomorrow, it’s my hope that diagnosing a car’s troubles will be as close as my iPhone. Surely someday, there will be an app for that, too.

If diagnostic codes were available, would you use them to try and fix your own car before going to a mechanic?


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