by Phil Cross, KOKH Investigative Reporter (Republished from our sister station in Oklahoma City)
We've all been there. Just driving along, minding our own business when all of the sudden the ‘check-engine' light comes on. As many drivers know fixing a check-engine concern can cost a lot of money.
"A check engine light is nothing more than just letting you that there is something causing your car to have higher than normal emissions," said Brad Walker, an automotive instructor at Oklahoma City Community College.
We asked Walker to help us test a new device that promises to connect your car to your smartphone. The device is called "Automatic." It plugs into your car's data port, and that port has been standard on all cars since 1996.Automatic
costs nearly $100, but promises to help diagnosis a check-engine light and save you hundreds of dollars by keeping track of your driving habits.
With Walker's help we created a check-engine problem by unplugging a sensor. After the car sputtered to a start, the app that is connected via Bluetooth to the device plugged into the data port showed our failure.
"To me this is a really good diagnostic tool, but it doesn't definitely tell you what's wrong with your vehicle," Walker said after seeing the results. The device and app did offer suggestions on what could be wrong and Walker said about half the time it could be as easy as replacing a sensor, but mechanics have other diagnostic tools that can make sure there isn't a problem further down the line.
"You can treat yourself a little bit, but at a certain point you want to go to a good doctor," said Automatic's Ljuba Milikovic. Automatic's team says you will need to go to a trusted mechanic sometimes, which is why the app includes a list of well-reviewed mechanics near your location.
However, Milikovic and Walker both told us a majority of check-engine light problems are due to loose gas caps. So instead of paying a mechanic to diagnosis the problem, Automatic would save you time and money.
That isn't the only feature of the device we tested. It also tracks your driving habits and lets you know if you are stopping to quick, speeding off from stops or driving too fast. "We've done some research and he average driver could save about a third of that gas money about 1,000 dollars each year just by driving more efficiently," Milikovic told Fox 25.
We took the device for a spin on the turnpike where the legal limit is 75-miles-per-hour. The app gave us a driving score of 50 out of 100. It also showed us how much we spent on gas for the trip and told us how improving our driving could save that money.
Walker says the device is a good tool for any do-it-yourselfer and could even help empower those less familiar with what's under the hood. He did offer some tips for people who panic when their dash lights up.
"If the check engine light comes on, and it's running normally, then that kind of means you need to have it looked at; but maybe you can drive it there," Walker said, "If your check engine light comes on and it's flashing, it's not on steady, but it's flashing that means you probably need to have it towed in."