By 'Doctor Dave' Greenbaum
I'm about the worst person at taking care of my car. I'm like the computer owner who never backs up, doesn't run antivirus software, and always unplugs the computer instead of doing a proper shutdown.
I'm a mechanic's nightmare. However with CarMD (US$98), at least I'm not a total n00b anymore in taking care of my car.
CarMD takes advantage of the OBD (On-Board Diagnostics) port built into most cars made after 1996, which is usually located somewhere under the dash. The CarMD web site tells you exactly where to find the port on your particular car. Once you find the port, all you have to do is plug it into your car and wait until the device beeps that it's read your car's info.
Three simple lights give you a quick diagnostic of your car's status: a green checkmark indicating all is ok, a yellow question mark indicating there might be a problem and a red x indicating something needs to be corrected. The CarMD includes a USB cable and software to hook the device up to your computer. The software primarily creates a bridge between the device and the CarMD website.
The first time you use the website, you have to put your car's information and mileage into the system. One account can support up to three different cars. I easily added my car and my spouse's. They suggest using the device when checking out a potential used car for purchase, but with only three cars on one account, the usefulness in this area is somewhat limited.
The first time I tried the device, my car just had a major milestone of service, so I knew everything checked out ok. Ironically, my CarMD had an yellow light indicating a problem. I panicked and spoke with their support people. Apparently when you get your car serviced, certain logs are cleared out so there wasn't enough diagnostic info in some areas. Whew! A few weeks later the device had no problem giving my car a clean bill of health.
In addition to explaining your "check engine" light on your car, the CarMD website also informs you of any recalls or technical service bulletins. For an additional $19.95 you can unlocked an unlimited number of these TSBs, or you can simply research them yourself. For a car dummy like me, it's best just to pay for the premium so you have all your car info in one place. In the future, CarMD promises the Premium Membership will include data about scheduled and preventative maintenance.
Overall, I really liked the device. I panic when any strange lights come on my car or whenever I have a problem. For less than the cost of a shop visit, I can arm myself with enough information to make an informed decision about my car care.
Pros: Quality information about your car and its current state
Cons: Premium membership is a bit costly for what it does
Macsimum rating 9 out of 10