minivanThe engine warning light went on in our 14 year old minivan, and the dealer said we should add some goop to the gas and that might make the light go off. We’re giving you the short take.

Somewhere deep in there, the automatic sensors in the car’s computer didn’t like the engine exhaust, or the carburetor setting or something like that. This incited Bob to a fit of high dudgeon (which is common for him) because back in the old days when he drove a 1962 Morgan, he could tune the engine himself. Everything was accessible to the owner back then, but now you need a computer analysis.

Well we have one. It turns out that every car made since 1996 has a socket under the dash for plugging in a device that will shake hands with the auto mechanic’s computer. Who knew? It’s called an OBD (On Board Diagnostics) port. So we got this $100 gizmo that’s about the size of half a pack of cigarettes — which is something people used to have back when they could tune their own car.

It’s called “BlueDriver” and it works with an app on your smartphone. You plug it in and it connects with the app on your phone and tells you all about your car’s engine, including whether you’ll pass a smog check. Using it is kind of an intelligence test, because it’s not in the same location in every car. Good luck. We finally located ours under the steering wheel.

Some of the info it gives you is the kind only a car mechanic or auto enthusiast would understand. However, if you’re dogged, the BlueDriver Repair Database does offer over 4.5 million fixes for problems listed in the detailed reports. More info at BlueDriver.net.

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