Why is my check engine light on?

You already know how to find a mechanic, but let’s say you want to find out why your check engine light is on before going to the shop. Cars from the late 90’s or newer have a computer that will tell you what’s wrong. In fact, your car has more computing power than the Apollo spacecrafts that took astronauts into space.

Check Engine Light Logo

To tap into your cars computer, you just need to the right diagnostic tool. All mechanics already have a diagnostic tool and now you can, too, with a new slew of apps available to drivers. So stop wasting time going to the mechanic to find out why your engine light is on and hack the process a bit.


OnStar ButtonIf you’re check engine light comes on while driving in your GM vehicle, you can click the OnStar button to get a diagnostic report. OnStar can also set up an appointment for you at the dealership, give you turn-by-turn directions, hands-free calling and a whole bunch of other stuff you’ve probably seen in their commercials. When buying a CPO or new GM car, OnStar is usually free for a year or two. If not, you’ll be looking at a monthly fee of $20.00 to $30.00.


Automatic App

Plug the Automatic Link gizmo into your car and you’ll not only find out why your check engine light is on, but you’ll find out why you’re such a bad driver. I’m not joking. Automatic’s tools provide feedback on how a driver is braking or accelerating and where they can improve their efficiency. The Automatic Link also acts as a GPS so you’ll be able to find your car when you lose it in the mall’s parking lot on Black Friday. Automatic will be available for both iPhones and Androids by the end of 2013 for a one-time charge of $99.95.

Garmin Mechanic

Garmin Mechanic AppGarmin Mechanic is very similar to Automatic or OnStar. After installing the ecoRoute HD, a plug that connects into the same diagnostic system as the Automatic Link, drivers get a report of how they’re driving, where they can improve efficiency and learn why their check engine light is on. The Garmin Mechanic App is free, but to tap into all of a cars resources, drivers need to purchase the coRoute HD plug for a one-time charge of $99.99.

Torque Pro & DashCommand

Hack your car apps

Torque Pro for Android and DashCommand for iPhone have nearly all the same features as Garmin Mechanic and Automatic. Torque Pro and DashCommand don’t boast emergency response, but they can still track MPG and diagnose why the check engine light is on. One catch – you need to buy a OBD2 Blutetooth scan tool to plug into the cars diagnostic system. You’re still saving money, though, since the scan tool costs about $25 and Torque Pro only costs $4.95, while DashCommand costs $9.99.

Written by Max Katsarelas
Photo source: DEC