As we were driving down to North Carolina this weekend the check engine signal burned brightly from our dashboard. I opened the car’s manual, searched for the description of the warning and read the details to my husband. In essence, the manual said any number of things could make the light go on and the best course of action was to drive to the closet Toyota dealer for a diagnostic test.
Well there aren’t any Toyota dealers down here and we knew a mechanic could perform the same test, so we continued to make our way down south and stopped by a local shop this morning.
A very friendly mechanic popped into the driver’s seat of our car, pulled out a small screen, hooked up a wire or two, turned the key, clicked on some buttons and then reported that he could not find anything wrong with our vehicle. He informed us, (just as the manual said), that a lose gas cap can cause the warning light to go on and with that he stepped out of the car and collected $40.
That’s right in roughly three minutes the mechanic collected $40 and told us that there was nothing wrong with our vehicle. Not a bad gig for him, but there are a million other things I would have rather done with that money.
I was so shocked by how quickly the diagnosis was made that I wondered what it would cost for me to buy one of the devices he used to troubleshoot the problem. According to Consumer Reports
If you want to diagnose the malfunction yourself, you can buy a scan tool at most auto parts stores. Prices range from about $40 to several hundred, depending on the model and the features. The tools come with instructions on how to hook them up and decipher the codes. But unless you have a good knowledge of automotive diagnostics, you’re probably better off taking the vehicle to a professional. Some automotive parts stores will read and interpret the code for you without charge.
Next time around I’ll try an auto parts store before going to the mechanic. If they won’t do it for free I would consider buying the device and trying to diagnose the problem myself. (Anyone ever bought or tried one of these?)
I’ll also try to tighten the gas gap. According to the same article from Consumer Reports a simple tightening might resolve the issue, although it may take several trips before the light resets.
I’m not sure that the light in my 1999 Toyota Camry would’ve reset without a mechanic, but it would’ve been nice to try this fix before spending $40.
I will say that I am happy we didn’t just keep driving with the light on. I’d hate to have a problem that strands us on the side of the road with an eight month old in hot summer heat. We will make a 280+ mile trip home next weekend and it was worth it to spend $40 for simple peace of mind.