Sunday, January 26, 2014

Automotive Stuff

Last year I was one of the first buyers of the Automatic Link. The Link is an OBD-ii reader you plug into your car's dataport to get data directly from the car's computer and send it to your smartphone. There have been (cheaper) OBD-ii readers available for years. What set Automatic's apart is the the slickness and user-friendliness of the user interface. We have it in our Kia Sedona minivan.

The initial app release had limited functionality, but over the past year they've been issuing regular updates to add new functions and they're not done yet. Eventually, the Link (hopefully) will provide full real-time stats from the engine. 

What it does now is monitor your driving to track your car's mileage, provide a summary, complete with map, of every trip taken, tell you how much you spent on gas, and monitor bad driving habits. There are also two other really cool features. The first is Crash Alert which, if you get in a crash, will call up to three phone numbers you give it and tell them you've been in an accident. It will also contact a staffed On-Star-like call center. None of this requires a subscription, it's all included in the price of the Link.

The second really cool thing is that when your check engine light comes on, the Link will give you the specific engine trouble codes involved. This allows you to figure out what's wrong, possibly fix it yourself, and avoid having to take the car into the garage. It also allows you to turn off the check engine light. When we were returning from Indiana last month, the check engine light came on and with the app we were able to see that it wasn't a crucial problem and so could continue our trip. That was a huge relief.

Last week, the light came on again and we got an error code indicating a problem with air flow to the engine. Then we got another, similar, code. Eventually, we ended up with six different trouble codes. Yikes.

I've never taken an automotive class in my life. I have learned to do some simple car maintenance tasks like changing light bulbs, headlights, and various filters, but the task has to be fairly simple. But I like to save money, so me doing the repairs is always on the table. I did some research and the biggest problem associated with the codes was a leak in the engine air intake hose. That's this ugly fellow.

There wasn't any breakage visible, but others reported that the problem was often on the underside. Great. So, yesterday after some amount of struggle, I got it out. And then you can see this:

That's a big tear. I've ordered a new hose and hopefully I can get it in. The part cost $45 on eBay but that's the entire cost and I figured I saved at least a couple of hundred bucks. Hopefully, this will clear all the trouble codes. It might not, in which case I'll still have to have the dealership look at it, but the savings for the hose will still be there. The Link has already paid for itself a couple of times over.

Oh, and through my research, I also learned that the van has a replaceable air filter behind the glove compartment that filters all the air that goes into the cabin through the heater and air conditioner. Ours had never been changed. Here's what it looks like. Note that I did not add the sticks and leaves. Those were there.

Yikes. I've ordered a new one of those as well.

(I highly recommend the Automatic Link, but if you're interested in a cheaper OBD-ii setup, this unit is only $24 and is the best seller on Amazon. It pairs with an Android app called Torque.)

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