I tried a $70 scanner that's supposed to quickly diagnose car issues and save you money on repairs - here's what it was like to use

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obdlinkmxplusAmir Ismael/Business Insider

  • Between figuring out the issue your car is experiencing and finding a trustworthy mechanic, having your car repaired can be daunting. You run the risk of replacing unnecessary parts or being taken advantage of at the auto shop.
  • But with the OBDLink MX+ Bluetooth Car Diagnostics Scanner ($69.99), you can easily scan your car for trouble codes on oxygen sensors, catalytic converters, transmissions, cam sensors, mass air flow meters, and more.
  • It also provides access to other information like miles per hour, miles per gallon, 0-60 times, and engine temperature.
  • I tried it on my mom's car (because my vintage BMWs aren't compatible) and the app made the process efficient and easy to navigate.

There comes a point when turning up your car radio to avoid the clearly abnormal sounds your car has been making doesn't work anymore - usually when your car finally conks out. In addition to figuring out how to get around until you can get your car fixed is the looming thought of how much it's going to cost you.

Every car owner has been at the mercy of a mechanic, anxiously waiting to hear if their automotive mishap will turn out to be an easy and affordable fix or a wallet-emptying nightmare consisting of expensive parts and long hours of labor - and trust me, it's not fun. If you're not knowledgeable about the inner workings of cars, you'll never be 100% sure if your mechanic is being honest about the prognosis and how much it will cost to fix or if you're being taken for a loop with false issues and inflated prices.

Even if you can't afford to get the work done right away, you'll likely be charged for the diagnosis - but that's where the OBDLink MX+ Bluetooth Car Diagnostics Scanner comes into play.

Read more: I use this Alexa-enabled car charger for streaming music, making hands-free directions, and getting directions

41e72nakCXLAmazonThe OBDLink MX+ is super easy to set up and install. You don't have to be savvy with cars and tech to do it.

Designed to work with all cars model year 1996 or newer (with the exception of hybrids and electrics), the OBDLink MX+ is a small, yet powerful Bluetooth device that plugs into your car's OBDII port. When connected to your smartphone, it provides advanced diagnostics by revealing auto manufacturer codes associated with maintenance issues such as oxygen sensors, catalytic converters, transmissions, cam sensors, mass air flow meters, ABS, SRS, A/C, and a lot more. The device will save you from having to pay a mechanic to diagnose your car, and since you'll know first-hand what the problems are, it can potentially save you thousands of dollars in bogus repairs.

How to set it up

Since all of my cars are pre-1996 OBDI cars, I used my mom's 2007 Honda CR-V to test the OBDLink MX+. First, you'll need to download the OBDLink App on the App Store or Google Play. Next, you'll need to locate your car's OBDII port. It's usually located on the driver's side of the interior near the steering column and knee bolster. For the CR-V, it was located almost directly under the steering wheel. If it's not immediately visible, check your car's owner manual or do a quick Google search. Once you've located yours, plug it in, turn your car on, make sure your phone's Bluetooth is on, and press the connect button on the OBDLink MX+ Diagnostics Scanner.

For owners of Ford, GM, Mazda, Nissan/Infiniti, or Toyota/Lexus/Scion vehicles, you can download free OEM data upgrades within the app.

Using the OBDLink MX+ for car diagnostics

The ability to read trouble codes is easily the most useful feature of the OBDLink MX+. Without knowing exactly what's wrong with your car, you or a mechanic can only make an educated guess on what it could be (unless your mechanic uses a diagnostic scanner as well).

Second to getting completely taken advantage of by a shady mechanic is fixing parts that could be the source of your car's current problem ... only to find that the problem still exists. You'll end up spending money on unnecessary repairs before finding the real root of the problem. Keep in mind that the OBDLink MX+ won't fix your car by itself, but it'll make the overall repair process a lot smoother by eliminating the guessing game and telling you exactly what to fix.

For example, if your car is misfiring and sputtering, it could be a number of different problems. You can go in the app and learn that the engine coil pack on cylinder three is not functioning. From there, you'll know to fix that one coil pack instead of repairing the long list of potential other problems or having a greedy mechanic tell you your whole engine needs to be replaced.

As someone who owns cars with OBDI systems, I can't quickly scan my car for detailed trouble codes and I've spent a lot of money replacing things that didn't exactly need to be replaced because of that. If you're an OBDII car owner, you don't really have an excuse for doing unnecessary repairs, since tools like this make it easy to figure out what's actually wrong. For that reason alone, the OBDLink MX+ is well worth the $70. Your car could be running fine now, but it will absolutely pay off in the long run.

OBDLink AppAmir Ismael/Business InsiderHere's a look inside the OBDLink app. You mount your phone using a dash mount to create a real-time display of data while driving.

Other useful parameters

In addition to car diagnostics, your car's OBDII system is also tied lots of other parameters. Inside the app, you'll be able to read things like miles per hour, revolutions per minute, battery voltage, engine temperature, SMOG readiness, trip logging, 0-60 times, and quarter-mile race times. Depending on the make, model, year, and trim level of your car, your instrument cluster might display some of this information, but it's good that you can access it in the app because most cars don't have all of them.

On select vehicles, you'll be able to remote-start your car and lock and unlock your doors within the app. This wasn't available for my mom's Honda, so I suspect this to be available for the previously mentioned manufacturers with add-ons in the app.

Under the performance tab (the screenshot on the right), you'll also be able to see your engine's horsepower and torque ratings. These are the only two measurements I wouldn't rely on because there are so many variables that can drastically change the accuracy of these values. Power loss due to aged and worn parts, power increases due to performance upgrades, and measuring horsepower/torque numbers at the wheels versus at the crank all play a part. If this sounds like a foreign language to you, then it's not important - just go by what your factory vehicle specs are. If you do understand what I'm saying here, you probably already know that a professional dyno machine is the only reliable way to measure these features.

With the exception of the horsepower and torque numbers, which I personally wouldn't trust, someone who's into performance and racing, or even someone with a broken instrument cluster, will get the most use out of these features.

The bottom line

The OBDLink MX+ didn't reveal any issues in my mom's car because it's been meticulously maintained, but that didn't stop me from seeing how useful it is. Everything from the set-up process to navigating the app is easy and cohesive.

From a functionality standpoint, one of the best features is the BatterySaver sleep mode, which allows you to leave it installed without having it drain your battery. This is great because you'll only have to install it once, and since it's so small, it remains out of sight and out of mind. My mom is the type of car owner to freak out any time a warning or "check engine" light comes on, so it will definitely be staying in her car for when that time comes. The next time her car has any issues, I'll be sure to use the OBDLink MX+ Diagnostics Scanner to figure out the problem.

Whether you're an average car owner with minimal knowledge about cars, an at-home mechanic, or a speed-seeking car enthusiast, the OBDLink MX+ Diagnostics Scanner can help you learn more about your car and save money on repairs.

OBDLink MX+ Bluetooth Car Diagnostics Scanner, available on Amazon, $69.95

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