BlueDriver gives car owners insight into their autos' innards
by Jim Bray
Wouldn't it be great if you had access to the same type of vehicle diagnostics that your car's technician uses to find problems with your beloved wheels? Well you can - at least somewhat.
There are multiple products on the market that can help you find out why your baby is throwing a tantrum, from computer software programs that couple your laptop to your car via a big, specialized cable to the subject of this piece, the BlueDriver from Lemur Monitors of St. John's, Newfoundland. The $99 BlueDriver consists of a little black plastic thingy you attach to your car's on board data port (all cars in North America have had these since before Y2K) and interacts with an app you install on your Android or iOS smart phone or tablet.
This is a very cool device and it's very easy to use - easier to use than it is to understand some of the stuff it reads out!
The manufacturer says BlueDriver is a "professional-grade vehicle diagnostics tool," and that may well be - though when I took it to the technician who keeps my baby healthy he said it was a great idea but not something he'd use there because he already has subscriptions to the databases of the marques on which he works. That said, however, he was impressed with the system and said it's a great tool for consumers.
Why would you want to read your car's codes? Well, as Phil, my technician said, it can give you peace of mind if you're away from home and the check engine light comes on - in that you can diagnose exactly why the light came on (other than just to freak you out, which I swear seems the case sometimes!) and if it's something relatively minor you can reset the light so it doesn't bother you on your trip.
Of course, since the BlueDriver has given you a diagnosis, you also know exactly where to point the dealership or technician when you get there.
For example, I am the proud owner of a 2005 Audi A4 Avant "sport wagon," which sports a 3.0 liter V6, six speed manual transmission, lowered suspension and pretty well every option available for the A4 at that time. It's a fantastic car, the best I've ever owned. But it isn't perfect. And for some reason, it doesn't seem to like my wife, since every time the check engine light has reared its ugly head has happened while she has the car. So it was again, shortly after the BlueDriver arrived, which other than being a pain in the butt was a lovely bit of serendipity because it gave me a perfect chance to try the BlueDriver.
So I plugged it into the data port (it's usually somewhere under the dashboard on the driver's side), fired up the app and ran the codes - and a few seconds later the BlueDriver told me my automotive pride and joy was suffering from random misfires in its engine. This was no surprise; I've had this message before, diagnosed both by Phil, one of the local Audi dealers and a local Audi club member who had the necessary technology to run the codes.
The BlueDriver didn't just diagnose the issue, however; it also gave potential solutions - and according to my car's history it appeared to be the correct one: the coil packs need to be replaced, which is apparently a known issue for some Audis. But the BlueDriver didn't stop there. It gave me a list of potential fixes, one of which was to replace the engine; let's hope it doesn't come to that! It also gives you the ability to email yourself a printout of its reports, which you can then take to your favorite service centre so they don't spend all your money running unnecessary (or dishonest) tests and doing unnecessary (or dishonest) work. You can also share the reports on social media if you so desire.
Once I ran the codes, I used the BlueDriver to reset the check engine light so it wouldn't bother us any more until some other problem rears its ugly head, which so far hasn't happened ("touch wood," he says, grabbing his noggin).
The app appears to work identically in Android and iOS (I used it both on my Samsung phone and my iPad Air) and it's very straightforward. All you really need do once you've installed the app is to punch in your car's VIN and it identifies more information about your vehicle than you may have known existed. It's quite fascinating to peruse the list.
You can track multiple vehicles with the BlueDriver (heck, you might even be able to make a couple of bucks off it, diagnosing other people's cars' problems), changing vehicles simply by entering a different VIN. You can also choose from drop down menus for make, year and the like, but putting in the VIN is a quick way to get exactly your vehicle rather than just the same model.
Running the diagnostics only requires a few seconds, and the wireless nature of the unit makes it even easier to use. I store the thing in my Audi, in the central arm rest, where it's handy whenever I might need it.
Other features include checks on whether or not your vehicle is up to snuff for emissions testing, you can also perform a Freeze Frame "snapshot" of your car (kind of like a CAT or ECG scan of a human, I suppose, with a readout you can save and/or share), as well as check ABS Codes for Ford, GM and Chrysler vehicles. I haven't had a chance, or the need, to explore all its features yet, but I look forward to using the BlueDriver as cheap insurance that can help prevent me from being taken to the cleaners by less than competent or honest technicians.
Fortunately, I don't have a problem with that, since I found a private shop I trust (thanks, Phil!). But thanks to the BlueDriver, I shouldn't have such problems even if I'm travelling far from home when the car decides to pitch a fit.
And think of the potential to use the device on a used car you're thinking of buying! You could find out if there are some ugly surprises waiting for you - or not. I don't think you'd necessarily want to use the BlueDriver as the gospel in such a case, but it can certainly give you a leg up on your due diligence - and maybe a negotiating point.
Heck, the app will even turn your smart phone/tablet into a flashlight, so you can actually find the data port, another handy factor about it.
Copyright 2014 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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