Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Bargain Not Made in China

My wife's TrailBlazer turned on the Check Engine Light a few days ago.  Usually, this means either a dirty air filter (and do we have problems with that where we are) or a loose gas cap.  I replaced the air filter (it needed it), but the light stayed on.  I was not looking forward to taking it to the dealer, but then I saw that the price for the basic OBD-II readers that plug into the electronics on the car have dropped a good bit.  I picked up an Actron OBD-II reader from AutoZone for $59.95.  With it, I could see that there was only one code, P1400, which often indicates dirty air filter or input restrictions, cleared the code -- and the light has not come back.  This is such a useful product for effectively all 1996 and later cars, because there is so much information available through that interface under the dash!

You can buy the same unit from Amazon for $49.95.  Shockingly enough, Made in Mexico, not China.


  1. I've thought about purchasing a code reader. But I'm fortunate that the local auto parts stores will check it for free. It appeals to my frugal nature. "Well, problem is solved so I don't need to spend the money..."

  2. You also never know when you might need a reader and are not near a store or other location to scan it. I would not own a '96 or newer car without having one....When they were many hundreds for the cheapest maybe not but now that there are plenty that are good enough for the basics for under $100 it doesn't make sense to not have one.

    Now if only the ABS and AT scan tools would also be that cheap.

  3. I bought an OBD-II bluetooth reader for under $10 and a good smart-phone app that talks to it also for under $10.

    It is much better than my previously purchased (emergency on a trip) stand-alone unit.

    Note: the bluetooth reader is powered from the OBD-II interface.

  4. My PT Cruiser has a mode where I can read the codes on the odometer.

    I've routinely had check engine lights, for codes that translate to problems with the "evaporative purge system".

    Which I read up on and decided wasn't worth fixing.

  5. As a side-note, I just got a vehicle new enough to have OBD-II.

    I got a Garmin GPS system for it... and their $99 dongle that connects to the OBD-II port and the GPS.

    Not only does it read (and clear) OBD-II codes, but it gives realtime access to various sensors (varies by application) and does fuel economy calculation.

    So I got around installing and mounting a voltmeter, because it can just read it for me ... and useless things like incoming air charge temperature, and less uselessly the actual coolant temperature.

    Not cheap for the whole deal, but very handy.

    (Total was just under $300, but if one is getting a midrange GPS and an OBD-II reader anyway, the marginal cost is closer to $100.)