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Innova OBD2 Code Reader Model 3100

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Pretty well every car and light truck sold in the western world made in 1996 or later has a common feature – a bit of plastic hidden somewhere in the passenger compartment called an OBD2 port. OBD stands for “on board diagnostics.” It’s an interface to the computer that manages the engine and innumerable subsystems in contemporary automobiles.

Aside from fiddling the ignition timing and reminding you to change your oil, the computer module in your vehicle is responsible for running a suite of diagnostic procedures. It will tell you if something’s amiss with your car.

Sadly, it probably won’t tell you what’s wrong. All you’re likely to see is the “service engine” light on your dashboard, or one of several other similarly cryptic indicators.

If you take your car to a garage to have it serviced, someone with greasy fingers who charges sixty-five dollars an hour will plug a code scanner into the OBD2 port in your car and find out what’s really wrong. Until recently, this was pretty much the only way to determine what those dashboard warning lights meant, and whether they deserved to be taken seriously.

This latter issue has become more of a concern with the current generation of computer-equipped cars, as their designers have been hanging an increasing number of functions on their indicator lights. These indicators can be triggered by relatively trivial issues.

My BMW Z3’s most recent illumination of its service engine light, for example, was prompted by a P0441 code, which means “evaporative emission control system incorrect purge flow.” This is a very complex, technical description for the gas cap being loose.

Because it’s impossible to know whether a dashboard indicator reflects a genuine engine fault or is just pulling your leg, having a tool to read the OBD2 system codes yourself will assist you in determining whether a trip to your dealer for service is really warranted. You probably wouldn’t want to get involved in fixing the complex mechanical and electronic problems that can arise in late model cars, but most of us can tighten a gas cap with the best of them.

The Innova 3100 code reader is one of the most comprehensive such devices I’ve seen. It will prove easy to use even if you had trouble programming stations into your car’s radio. Plug it into your OBD2 port, power the engine and within ten to sixty seconds, it will display one or more numeric codes that indicate the problems which have illuminated your dashboard unduly. Its manual includes a complete list of its codes and their meanings.

This having been said, some of the meanings can be a lit cryptic, as I noted earlier. A subsequent session with Google might be required to determine what the codes really mean for your car.

The Innova 3100 code reader can also be used to erase an error code, if one has appeared for a reason which has subsequently been corrected – to wit, the gas cap was tightened. It’s important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t do this if you encounter a error caused by something you can’t fix, as your mechanic will want to view the error codes to determine what’s broken.

You can also verify the emission monitor status of your car with the Innova 3100 code reader, likely to be an issue if you live somewhere heavily populated with serious government emission control legislation following you wherever you drive.

In addition to the code reader itself, the Innova 3100 includes a USB connector and Innova’s TekLink Windows interface software to let the code reader call home. Innova’s web page includes an updated database of codes, and a database to help you find the location of the OBD2 port in your vehicle. The latter is extremely comprehensive – provide it with the manufacturer, year and model of your ride and it will show you a photograph with a yellow arrow indicating where the connector’s hiding.

The TekLink software will also allow you to create printed or e-mailable reports about problems found by the reader, and it will download and install firmware upgrades for the reader.

The complex and somewhat obscure nature of automotive on-board diagnostics arguably makes owning an OBD2 code reader all but essential – you can blow away a lot of time and cash taking your car to be serviced for trivial or non-existent problems without one. The Innova 3100 code reader is a comfortable balance between a sophisticated instrument capable of fully implementing the complete OBD2 standard, and a box you can understand and use without a three-day seminar.