My personal opinion on free check engine light services. Plus a video at the bottom from a morning news show with an opinion on this free diagnosis scam. There are a few companies that offer free scans of your vehicle to let you know why the engine light is on. In fact recently more businesses have been jumping on the bandwagon to bring new customers into stores.
The problem for me is that telling drivers
what code is set in memory doesn't really tell them exactly what is
wrong with the car. Also most of these businesses offering the free scan
will not clear the code to see if it's an intermittent problem. This would be the logical first step in diagnosis.
If you're in 1.California or 2.Hawaii they will say it's against the law. In other States they might say it's store policy not to erase codes. This means that you roll out the way you rolled in (with the light on). This can surprise people. Note: Some stores clear it anyway even if it's against store policy because in the end it's up to the person holding the scanner!
I do not want to mention any brand names for obvious reasons. But I am sure you have seen and heard these companies that are heavily advertising on both television and radio. Just a few examples are several very popular auto parts company's.
Also one of the largest retail auto repair transmission services. You can probably guess who they all are. These companies would not be throwing down plenty of advertising dollars if this service did not create a generous amount of revenue or a positive return on investment for their companies.
The free check engine light service may seem like a great deal at first. But it can lead to larger auto repair bills if your not careful. Ultimately the results are reliant on the experience of the employee holding the scan tool.
In any case why not be prepared for the best and worst results. Let me give you a real world example of how this complementary service can backfire on some people.
I recently moved to secure a new job working for local government. I left 20 years of loyal customers behind. A longtime customer that had his check engine light pop on decided to track me down and contact me. I recommended that he purchase a diy auto scanner so he could tell me what codes where set. This way he could retrieve codes and clear the check engine light himself in the future.
I explained to him how simple it was to plug in the scanner and hit the read button to retrieve the stored trouble codes. Then I advised him to write the code numbers down and then hit the erase button to clear the codes.
He agreed and visited a popular chain auto parts store to buy one of these DIY auto scanners. Here is what happened to my long-time customer. When he went to the local parts store and asked to see the different types of auto scanners available a young man behind the counter offered to scan the vehicle for free.
My customer took the sales clerk up on the scan. He later told me that he wished he had said no to this free service. The young man pulled an O2 sensor voltage low code specifically for bank one sensor 2 from the cars computer memory.
The parts counterman said all you need to do is replace that sensor and reset the check engine light. My customer's car was just out of the base warranty, as it had rolled slightly over 36,000 miles. He bought the oxygen sensor and a special tool to replace it. The grand total spent at the local parts store was $165.
He went home and replaced the oxygen sensor in his driveway. Then he had to return to the parts store to have the code cleared. On the return trip back to his house the check engine lamp came back on.
He went back to the parts store and they pulled the same exact code for bank one sensor number two. To make a long story short my ex customer took his vehicle into the dealership and the vehicle had a bad catalytic converter.
This was covered under the emissions warranty. Repairs where done at no-charge. He asked for a refund at the part store. But denied because oxygen sensors and electronic components are not returnable per store policy. This is to stop the try before you buy part changer.
DIY auto scanners like the Equus 3030 on the left can be purchased for less than $50. You can read and erase codes yourself. If you reset your code and the check engine light comes back on.
You can either take your vehicle into a dealership or auto repair center armed with the first stage of diagnosis to supply to your repair center. This will let the shop know that one you are an educated automotive consumer and two you will have performed the first step in diagnosis, which is to retrieve and clear the codes.
This process will save you money on your auto repair bill. If you have some do-it-yourself skills you may be able to repair this fault on your own. A scan tool, coupled with the diagnostic chart for the code that has been set is very effective in solving even the most complicated problems.
A good automotive scan tool that can read data streams will cost around $140. Add a user friendly online auto repair manual for your specific vehicle, this will cost $30. So for about $170 you would be able to take care of unlimited check engine lights yourself. Or you could spend triple that for one single auto repair.
My mother use to say that nothing in life is free. In my opinion this statement also applies to the free check engine light diagnostic services offered in a variety of locations.
Let's be realistic, no company that I know of will spend millions of dollars on advertising that does not return anything for their investments. The two major companies that I did not mention have different strategies at turning a free check engine light service into profits.
The local parts company might pull the codes and then sell you those parts and the special tools required to replace them without any further diagnosis of the target system.
As in the above mentioned example, if you set an oxygen sensor code this does not necessarily mean that you need to replace an oxygen sensor. The set trouble code means that you should confirm any failed components by further diagnosis of that particular system. In my opinion the best way to go is by following a tree chart for the specific codes set to find out what the problem is.
The service Company that offers the free check engine light diagnosis might pull your code and then prepare an estimate to solve your car problems. In some cases, this estimate has been padded to include the diagnosis that they said was free in the first place.
Bookmark this free check engine light page or share with friends.
This next link takes you back to more of my pages dealing with check
engine light diagnostics and reading scan tool data. Also learn about 3
more reasons to own an
This link takes you back to the auto facts.org homepage where you can learn more about me and this automotive website.
My favorite part of this check engine light video is towards the end the news anchor tells the mechanic what happened to her when she went in for diagnosis of her service engine lamp. The story caused so much pain for the mechanic he had to cover his ears.
Free check engine light help video.