Nothing worse than being in your car, listening to some old classic rock, thinking about how great you are doing with your freshly reviewed budget; having some flashbacks of that cheap but delicious beer or wine you drank the night before in honor of your great plan to FIRE and there comes up that damn light to ruin your day!!! Because you know that means one thing: Money, money, money.
If you are like me, who chooses to drive a 14-year-old car, and who chooses to invest wannabe monthly car payments into my 401K, student loan, mortgage or any other sort of investment, you know that feeling then. It seems like when everything is going well, with no extra expenses and you are starting to look up for a brighter tomorrow it always happens; more expenses come your way.
Your mind starts roaming with the what ifs and you just don’t want more car debt or having to buy another vehicle.
Well, this has happened to me several times, but after the first two. I got smart. You should too.
If you have been to the mechanic lately you know that just for taking the car in, most likely, you will be charged at least a “diagnostic fee” and they aren’t cheap. Well, a few years back, I was in need of getting my car checked because my engine light was on. I panicked. At the time the car was just about 10 years old and my first thought was “is there something wrong with the engine?” What else could it be, right? After all, it’s a light that looks like an engine.
I never felt any difference or symptom while driving the car though…
Sure enough, I take the car in and I had to leave it overnight. A total hassle.
The next morning I get a call from the shop telling me it was a sensor and it had to be replaced. If I recall right, it was around $350.
About a year later, the same thing. The light turns on. S***!!!! “This is ridiculous!” I took it in again, this time they told me it was nothing and the light just needed to be reset. They charged me a diagnostic fee, plus a bit more for resetting the light for a total of $125. “Luckily, it wasn’t $350 again”, I thought.
The idea of getting the light “reset” got me thinking. I started researching on YouTube and some forums and I found out that particularly oxygen sensors tend to throw error codes that will cause the engine light to go off sometimes. Ha!
Now the question is, how do you know? What can you do? Do you take it to the shop? Ignore it?
Most people take the car to the shop blindfolded and trust mechanics with no other option. If they tell you, you have to replace X or Y most people probably don’t even know where X and Y are.
Well, I found out too that you can go to auto-part stores like Autozone, Advance Autoparts and the likes and they can scan the car for you to see what the error code is. Of course, you will need a part, and the part most likely will be available at the store you are at. Win-win situation, right?
Well, that got me thinking too about what would I need for a DIY engine light car diagnostic? And that’s when things got interesting and significantly cheaper.
Scanners for cars are expensive( $70+). But if your job doesn’t depend on the tool you can always shop China through websites like Aliexpress. All you need is a tiny OBD II device with the same connector that is used when you take your car for the gas and emissions test.
If you are afraid of fixing anything with your car, don’t stop reading quite yet. It’s so easy that you won’t believe it. This port or connector that you need for the scanner usually is on the passenger side under the dashboard. It almost looks like the ports of the good old Atari; I said in my story that I was in my 40’s, didn’t I?
The part you need to do this can be bought for only $6. It takes a while because it comes from China but it’s worth it. Then you need to get an App. that works with the device. I use Torque. Your phone and device synch via Bluetooth technology, and before you know it you can even find out the temperature of your coolant.
Needless to say, there is a window that shows you all the error codes your car is spewing. If the car is not stalling or giving you any particular issue you can just press that magic button that says “reset”, and you will continue on your way to FIRE feeling a bit richer.
As a matter of fact, on my way home tonight my engine light turned on. It’s already cold in the midwest and apparently, that can affect the functioning of Oxygen sensors in a car.
With a full stop at a traffic light I pulled my phone out, opened the App, check the error code and it was the oxygen sensor that didn’t complete the reading in the car’s computer. Since the car was not giving me any issue or symptom I went ahead and reset it the light. The traffic light changed to green and I kept on driving. On the next light, I turned off the car and waited for 10 seconds before starting it again.
Once I started the car, the light was gone and once again I got that feeling of triumph. I am keeping my money and using it for better things like my 403B or simply staying out of debt.
I have done this with both of our cars, and even for friends. I have saved thousands of dollars over the years. Seriously. I have reset the engine light no less than 10 times. Thanks to this six dollar device, it has cost me nothing. Nichts! Nada!
Plus, remember, you always want to trust the people you are giving your car to. If you trust your mechanic and feel they treat you honestly and fairly, well that’s a relationship to treasure. But also think that even if your mechanic is the nicest person on Earth, his job is to make money through his job. Your job should be to keep as much of it as you can.
My disclaimer here of course: I am not advising anybody to fix their car by themselves. This post is simply commentary and my opinion based on personal experiences that help my family stay on track financially.