The Cost of “Free” Diagnostics

2 10 2012

“Come in, we can diagnose your vehicle for free!”

It’s a phrase anyone’s heard after calling a service center with that all-too-familiar “Check Engine Light” (Malfunction Indicator Lamp). It’s common to wonder what exactly happens during a “diagnosis” and just how “free” it is.

Most diagnoses are formed using electronic devices.

Technicians use scanners, which are electronic tools that can be plugged into a vehicle to read vehicle computer systems information.Some scanners may have the capability of two-way communications, which aids in the diagnostic process – they can’t actually fix your vehicle though.

Like a thermometer, doesn’t cure your vehicle – just lets you know what it could be.

Error codes (diagnostic fault codes) point to possible problems, but can’t fix them.

For example, a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro might have the “Check Engine” light, and codes P0271, P0273, and P216A appear on the scanner. These codes all point to specific faulty circuits, but it’s more likely there’s an issue in the system than the individual parts associated to those circuits.

Even if a parts store has the capability to determine defective parts, they still have to determine the cause of the problem. However, you’d likely be on the hook for hundreds of dollars without knowing if the problem is solved.

Actual vehicle service diagnostics are more than codes from a machine.

Yes, the codes help pinpoint errors to take a look at, but they don’t necessarily offer solutions. By troubleshooting and finding the root source, the issue can be fixed in an efficient and cost effectivemanner. In turn, this potentially saves you from the cost of expensive parts and labor that don’t necessarily solve your problems.

Question your service center.

Don’t settle for just a parts cost estimate, but instead try to see if the technicians and/or shop personnel have any way of troubleshooting to find the root cause. Sometimes it will be one part causing the issue – but be sure that it is. After all, it is your choice; why not choose to have the correct job done right the first time?

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