7 On Your Side: Cracking The Code - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

2/07/05

7 On Your Side: Cracking The Code

When your car breaks down, repairs can cost you big bucks. Just ask John Fakan: "I probably had a transmission failure. Transmissions, of course, are very expensive." So expensive, he considered buying a new car. But first, "I wanted to see what I could do with that car myself," he says. John's dabbled in auto repair before, but knew he couldn't go it alone this time. "I had to have some tools because the computers on cars nowadays are not like the old days."

John bought something called a "code reader," a digital device designed to tell you what's wrong with your car without ever popping the hood. Just connect the device to a plug under the dash of cars 1996 or newer and it will spit out a code designating the problem. Some devices spell out what the code means.

Others say, "You need to have a tool to retrieve that code and you can go from there on your diagnostics," says Mechanic Ken Davis of Bud Jones Garage in Tyler. Either way, Dan Kahn of Edmunds.com says it's information you need before tackling the job yourself or heading into the repair shop.

"One of the main benefits of having a code reader is that you can actually check up on your mechanic and see if he's being honest," says Kahn. "You can plug it in and check it at home and say o.k. it has a code stored and I know what it is and then you can take it to your mechanic," adds Davis. While you can avoid hefty diagnostic fees by detecting problems yourself experts say there are drawbacks. Some codes are proprietary to car manufacturers and may not be caught by the code readers.

To see how accurate the readers are, we had auto expert Dave Solomon and a master mechanic rig some problems on a car and then plug in three different readers: Pocketscan, EZ-Read 1000, and Autotap. All three accurately diagnosed the problems.

So, which one's right for you? "It's a pretty big investment I guess but it depends on how much they want to know," says Davis. For about $200, the Autotap is the most detailed. It plugs into a laptop or palm pilot and gives a lot of information about your engine's systems. For around $160, the EZ-Read 1000 spells out what the codes mean right on the device. You have to look up the codes with the Pocketscan, but it only costs about a hundred dollars. "I got p0122."

As for John, his code reader determined it wasn't the transmission after all, but a simple $175 part... a lot cheaper than replacing the car! "The perfect cure. Everything in the car is now working exactly the way it's supposed to."

Christine Nelson, reporting. cnelson@kltv.com

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