Your Android device may not be able to fix your car, but you can certainly use it to help narrow down automotive electrical problems and possibly save some money on auto repair and prevent multiple trips to the DEQ. This Android customization project takes us outside, to your car, to tackle a task usually reserved for the professionals.
In the automotive world the task we are looking at is referred to as checking for faults. As I am sure you are aware, your vehicle is largely controlled, or at least analyzed by a computer system. As you can imagine, there are ways to interface with this computer, and they are done through your OBDII port. That’s the port under your dashboard that your local DEQ connects to, the same port your local auto repair shop connects to when your engine light turns on. Now it’s your turn.
Before we begin
To follow along today, you will need a fairly modern car, most vehicles after 1996 support the current OBDII connector and standards. From there, you will need to purchase an OBDII Bluetooth scanner, this may not be very easy, or inexpensive, or you can get lucky like I did, more on that in a moment.
Finally, you will also need to invest in some software, I have opted for Torque Pro, a $4.95 app in the Google Play Store. Do try the lite version before you invest.
As far as that OBDII connector goes, I have been successful with the now $6.49 ELM 327mini. This exact product had only a few reviews when I purchased it in 2013, since then, it has gained a 2.3 star overall review, bottom line, most purchasers are receiving dead units, or the unit simply does not work with their car.
Unfortunately, this is a reality with any purchasing class of OBDII Bluetooth device. You can spend into the $100 range for better results, but still may end up with a failed connection. Please proceed with both caution and the desire to experiment for best results.
The ELM 327mini I am using has worked flawlessly on both a 2004 Chevrolet Aveo and the 2000 Toyota Tundra in the project today. Further, the app and scanner have successfully paired on a number of devices, including the first gen Moto G, Nexus 7, HTC Desire 510, MediaPad X2, Nexus 5, Nexus 6 and Nexus 6P. I can’t promise this scanner will work for you, but as you can see, it’s worked well for me.
How to use Android to save on auto repair bills
I hope my title is not too misleading, I am speaking exclusively from experience on this one, the tools saved me over a thousand dollars on one repair alone last year. The A/C stopped working on the Aveo, the first diagnosis was to replace the A/C compressor and some lines, a $1200 fix. A quick scan with Torque Pro and the ELM 327mini revealed an electrical/sensor problem, looking into the sensor it turned out to be a broken wire (stupid mice) and I was back up and running in no time for almost no cost.
My success story may not be true for all, but I obviously believe it is worth the cost to try it out. Not to mention, as we’ve discussed before, Torque is a pretty cool app to turn your phone or tablet into an advanced and customizable dashboard companion.
Let’s get started.
Today we have a Tundra that has its engine light engaged. Uh-oh. It is also more of a work/camping/hunting vehicle, please excuse the mess. It is time to get this vehicle DEQ’d, that is, it goes through emissions testing before it can be re-registered for legal use on the road. You know how this is done? I hope you guessed that they connect an OBDII scanner and search your vehicle for faults. They also look at other emissions aspects of your vehicle, but that is a little beyond our scope here today.
So, your emissions test involves an OBDII scan, why not do this at home instead of waiting in line for an hour?
With OBDII connector in hand, and an app like Torque Pro installed on your Bluetooth enabled Android device, head on out to your car.
Plug the OBDII Bluetooth scanner into the OBDII port, usually found under the steering wheel in the dash. The Tundra has it just above the gas peddle.
Give it a moment to connect with your car and engine, then fire up Torque on your Android device. Of course, you may need to go into your system Settings, into the Bluetooth section, to manually connect to the scanner. Just have a look in the Adapter Status section to see if you are connected.
Once connected, you can ignore the prompts to setup a car Profile for now, instead just hit that Fault Codes button.
Tap here to scan for faults, an aptly named button, go ahead and tap it.
The process will take a minute or two, just leave your car idle while this works. Unless you have a reason to try higher RPMs or throttling up/throttling down actions, don’t bother at this point.
Once the scan completes, I hope you see no fault codes found. On the other hand, there is a fairly extensive database of known fault codes attached to the app, as in this case, the fault presented is specific, calling out a particular sensor failure.
Please resist the urge to clear the fault code without actually fixing the problem with your car. Clearing it will not hide it from your emissions test, and that engine light will be back on in no time anyway. However, the save log option is fairly handy, you know, for those older vehicles that are prone to issues.
Fault code in hand, use the built-in database or connect to the web to learn more about what ails your automobile. Hopefully your fix is easy.
If you are not comfortable performing automotive repair, please do not attempt it. I mean, I’ve got four years of automotive training, plus a few years of on the job experience, and I’m still pretty unsure of what I’m doing under the hood. Don’t be ashamed to head to your local repair shop.
When you do go to your local mechanic, share the information you’ve gathered. They may not reduce their rates on the repair, but you may certainly help cut down the diagnostic time involved, and by giving them a specific problem to fix, they may not go overboard suggesting unnecessary repairs.
Another quick note on the available OBDII scanners, the basic units discussed today are very much entry level devices. The professionals have thousands of dollars in advanced equipment, tools that are capable of performing far more actions than the consumer scanners we have looked at here. My point is, if you are an aspiring mechanic, these are not the caliber of tools you are looking for, and if your mechanic wants to scan again, let them, their equipment may find something that yours has missed.
I am inspired to follow up with Torque, to show off some of the fun things it can do, but I am also itching to get back to the root tools on that Nexus 7 or play with Android Wear. No matter what, I’ll do my best to make next weeks Android customization something fun, we’ve been too serious lately, it’s time for some games or practical jokes or something.
Do you have any fun stories of how Android has impacted your driving experience?
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