Technology Tuesday: Become a Master Mechanic for $18

Funny how sometimes you just stumble onto something that you never knew existed. Last year I wrote about Geocaching  after I stumbled upon a Geocaching app while looking for a regular compass in the Google Play Store. A few weeks ago, while searching for Bluetooth speakers on Amazon, I came upon an awesome gadget for a mere $18 which I didn’t know existed.

Have you ever dreaded the mysterious “Check Engine” light in your car? I cringe every time it pops up and fear that I am at the mercy of the garage that I take it to and they could tell me absolutely anything they want and needlessly leave my wallet several hundred dollars shorter. Well, what if you could own a device for less than a Jackson that tells you exactly what the light means and allows you to clear it?  And what if it also gives you dozens of other diagnostics for your car comparable to what the multi-thousand dollar devices do that your service station technician uses? Unbelievably, with the Soliport OBD2 Diagnostic Scanner…you can!

What exactly is this? Bluetooth device that plugs into your OBD-II port of your car and transmits a slew of information to your Android device, laptop, Windows Phone or (possibly) your iPhone.

What is OBD-II and Do I Have It?  OBD-II (On Board Diagnostics) is a standard that has been mandated on all US cars since 1995. Somewhere near the steering wheel there is a connector that allows for an OBD-II device to be attached that can gather all sorts of information from the incredibly complex system of modern car computers and chips. It is the same connector that your local service station plugs into when getting emission inspection and other diagnostic work.

How do I use it? You need to have Torque installed on your Android device or the supplied software for Windows computers. Apparently there is some app for Jailbroken iOS devices as well. If you are not Jailbroken, there are products that do the same thing but cost upwards of $100 or more. Simply plug in the scanner and pair it with your device like you would any Bluetooth device.

What can I do with it? For me, most importantly, get a quick diagnosis of any engine trouble codes that display your check engine warning light. Every bit of data that your car transmits is also available for display, graphing and analysis. This includes such things as engine RPM, coolant temperature, speed, throttle information, fuel pressure, oxygen sensor and dozens of other readings. You can even graph readings over time like fuel efficiency.

If you have your check engine light lit, you can easily display the fault that is causing it. Sadly, in my case, I have two. Both my catalytic converter is not working properly, nor is my fuel gauge sensor which is giving faulty fuel level readings. Fortunately though, as my inspection sticker needs to be updated, I can easily clear the faults from displaying allowing me to pass the inspection. Not only will you get a quick description of check engine light reason, but touching the warning allows you to bring up a web-page with further information about potential causes of your problem and how to fix them.

You can customize your Torque dashboard with literally hundreds of widgets, dials, graphs and displays showing exactly what interests you about your car. For someone that is knowledgeable about cars and knows how to interpret all the data, I imagine this will pretty much be car information heaven. For someone like myself that doesn’t much at all about cars, much of it is not much more than interesting data to look at and a curiosity.

Additionally, you can configure Torque to act as an actual “black box” with an overlay of all the OBDII readings on a Google Earth map of your journey. How cool is it to check out a long road trip after the fact? Other of the many features offered are 0-60 MPH speed timings, CO2 emissions readout, audible warning alarms that can be set for many different conditions, and MPG reporting.

Check Engine Warning Light Fault Indicator
Several of the hundreds of dials and displays available

Word of Warning and Bottom Line I’ve had my OBDII plugged in for two weeks now and it always pairs automatically and instantly with my Bluetooth with no issues. I’ve really enjoyed using it and feel like it is the best $18 I’ve ever spent. It was simple to set-up and intuitive to use even for a car novice like myself. However, reading reviews of both the Torque app and the hardware itself, some people report that they need to re-authenticate the Bluetooth on every use. This is par for the course though with Bluetooth and some other devices I own. Similarly, others report that the device fails right out of the box and never connects. Nothing really to fear if you buy from Amazon though as their return and replacement policies are stellar.

This is a handy device to own even if you never use it for anything more than the occasional check engine light while you are driving on a long trip and you are not quite sure if the situation warrants immediate attention or if it is something minor like a loose gas tank cap. Perhaps keep it in your glove compartment along with your Spare One?

Happy driving and diagnostics!

 

Soliport ELM 327 Bluetooth OBDII OBD2 Diagnostic Scanner

Torque Lite (The lite version is free while the “Pro” version at a couple of dollars affords more reporting capabilities)

 

Rating: 8 out of 10 Hidden Tracks (for both the scanner and the software)

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**Supertooth Disco**

Last week we reviewed the terrific SuperTooth Disco and asked you to tell us which one track you’d listen to first if you won. What an awesome playlist the entries all made. I am currently putting them all together into a streaming playlist that we’ll link to next week. Should be about eight to ten hours of audio bliss! Anyways, thanks for all you entries and song choices. Without further ado, the randomly selected winner is: Tom M who would like to listen to Miles Davis. Please get in touch with me at the contact info below to make shipping arrangements. Congratulations!

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Hidden Track Technology Tuesday

email: [email protected]
twitter@tmwsiy
voice-mail:  (781) 285-8696

Have an idea for an article? Product, app, or web service you are passionate about? Feel free to get in touch with me.

 

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