December 21, 2011 at 1:23 pm
by Christina Tynan-Wood
I’m packed and ready to go on a holiday road trip with my husband, Dan, and our two teens. Usually, as part of our pre-road-trip ritual, we take the car to a mechanic for a once-over because none of us enjoy being stranded roadside by mechanical failures. But about a week ago, the folks at CarMD –makers of a doodad that lets you do a quick car checkup at home – asked me if I’d like to try a unit. How perfect was their timing? Obviously, I said yes and skipped the trip to the mechanic.
I trust my mechanic and feel reasonably sure he would never tack on extra repairs to pad his Christmas budget. But it’s not as if I’d really know. And this is a busy time of year. So checking out the car at my convenience sounded easier than taking it across town.
My bags are in the car and I’m ready to go. But my daughter is locked in the bathroom, my son can’t locate his shoes, and Dan is packing a cooler. It’s a little late in the game but I decide this is as good a time as any to do a physical on the car.
It takes about ten minutes to get the CarMD unit out of the box, put batteries in it, install the software on my laptop, and head to the car with the hand-held unit where I locate the “OBD Data Link Connector” – a plug near the car’s dash that gives access to its on-board diagnostic system. (There is one in all cars sold after 1996.) The plug is under the steering wheel in my car, which requires that I stick my head under the dash and my butt out the door. Grateful for my family’s disorganized preoccupation with trip preparations as I assume this awkward pose, I turn the car on and wait about a minute. CarMD beeps that it’s ready and gives me a green light – indicating my car is ship shape.
That was easy.
Back in the house I try to share this news. But Dan is looking for his keys, Ava is having hissy over her fashion choices, and Cole is angrily hunting for his cell phone. I plug the CarMD unit into my laptop via USB and up pops a readout on the inner workings of my car. Everything is in working order. But there are three recall notices on my vehicle I hadn’t hear about. None are serious so I make a note to bring the car to the dealer when I get a chance and relax on the topic of life-threatening car failure.
The folks at CarMD recommend taking their unit along when shopping for a used car as well. Art Jacobson, vice president of CarMD, suggest that a CarMD unit can not only save you from buying a lemon, it can give you bargaining power at the point of sale. “If it gives you a yellow light,” he says. “Run away. There isn’t enough data, which could mean the car hasn’t been driven or has been tampered with. A green light means the car doesn’t need any repairs – nice to know. But a red light gives you the leverage to negotiate a lower price.”
And suddenly my family is ready to go. “What are you doing?” My husband demands. “I thought we were leaving!” “Yeah, Mom! Let’s go!” says Ava. Cole is already in the car with earbuds on.