Automotive Diagnostic Tools
Trouble Under The Hood
Newer vehicles feature computer systems, also known as On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) systems. This computer tracks and collects information about what is going on with the vehicle's systems at any given time. In the late 1980s, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommended that vehicles be equipped with diagnostic capabilities, and the basic OBDI systems became standard by the early 1990s.
The need for emissions testing inspired the SAE to recommend an updated system, now referred to as OBDII. The new system included standardized Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC). In 1996, OBDII became mandatory for all cars manufactured in the United States. OBDII, like the computer found on a late model Honda Accord, can provide a wealth of status information including the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), as well as the error codes for multiple systems on the car.
Error codes appear most commonly for the Powertrain and Emission Control Systems. When a warning light illuminates on the dashboard, an automotive diagnostic or scan tool can be plugged in to the computer's port, which is usually located near the steering column. Once the diagnostic tool displays the codes (usually a letter followed by four numbers), it's important to know what those trouble codes mean. The first letter of the code indicates the system with the problem:
- P = Powertrain issues
- C = Chassis issues
- B = Body issues
- U = Network issues
Diagnose & DIY Like A Pro
Don't let engine diagnostics intimidate you. Routine car maintenance and vehicle service doesn't have to be done by an automotive technician at a body shop. While a mechanic might be needed to complete necessary work or a certified auto repair, a diagnostic test with an at-home scanner is a simple process for most owners who can navigate standard technology and applications.
The basic car diagnostic scan tools will only read and subsequently clear the codes your car's computer is presenting. Internet research or referring to your car's manual can narrow your search for the vehicle's specific issue. NAPA AUTO PARTS offers a wide range of straightforward scan tools and diagnostic tools. We also carry tools for air conditioner diagnostics, leak detectors, multi-meters, programmers and data loggers.
Some of the more complex systems of a vehicle require more complex tools. Automotive borescopes use cameras connected to wires that can be inserted into small areas, like gear boxes and exhaust systems to visualize problems. Automotive oscilloscopes read the signals of electrical parts to provide a graph for analysis. Automotive stethoscopes work just like the ones your doctor uses, allowing you to listen for any knocking or grinding.
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