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lou's garage

The 1980′s were well known for questionable fads and trends that thankfully didn’t stick around, but one thing that did was the notion that motor vehicles needed to produce less emissions. Thus, the push away from carburetors and toward fuel injection was an imminent task for all manufacturers.

Early fuel-injected vehicles had by today’s standards primitive electronic control units that varied wildly. Each company had its own ideas, with no universal self-monitoring system. Anyone trying to service a vehicle outside a dealership was in for quite the ordeal. This first generation of non-standardized vehicle was known as On-Board Diagnostics version 1 or simply OBD1. As governing bodies became more involved, manufacturers were forced to come up with a system that offered universality in trouble codes, interpretation and testing equipment.

All vehicles sold in North America from the 1996 model year onward had to feature a new standardized interface known as OBD2, which is still used today. It didn’t take long for basic OBD2 scanners or code readers to become readily available and reasonably priced, offered for sale just about everywhere. You can even buy a Bluetooth OBD2 adapter that interfaces with your cellphone to act as a code reader.

Which brings up the question, just because you can buy a cheap code reader and scan your own car, should you? The answer is both yes and no. For the record, I have no problem with DIY’ers servicing their own vehicles and saving a buck. Where it does become somewhat arduous for professionals is when customers ask for a quote to fix their car providing only a code they proudly retrieved with their code reader. While not based on any factual research, it seems to me that 80 per cent of those that buy their own code readers have little idea what to do with that code. They do what everyone else does; an internet query based on their vehicle model and the trouble code number. Their subsequent repair path is based upon the cumulative wisdom of internet opinions. But I’m not going to knock it, you can get lucky at this method more frequently than I would have initially thought. That being said, this method also results in plenty of misses, leading to a plethora of unnecessary parts being replaced. In these cases, eventually the DIY repaired vehicle usually makes its way in for professional service with multiple new parts installed in a questionable manner.

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If you are in the market for a scanner however, let me try and help with your decision. Ones less than $80 tend to provide information on only the most basic systems. They are realistically only usable as devices to read/reset basic engine, transmission, and brake trouble codes. This is ideal for the person who just wants to perpetually reset their check engine light without ever actually fixing their car.

The sub $400 market is the most confusing as every model seems to offer something different from Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity to maintenance reset features. I believe the sweet spot for the advanced DIY’er is around the $250-300 range. One can get something like a Launch CRP129X Android tablet-based tool that will get you much further into a vehicle’s management system and perform basic maintenance resets, allow you to service the parking brake and perform basic tire-pressure monitor sensor learning. As long as the unit you are looking at has a decent sized legible screen, don’t pay extra for Bluetooth or WiFi connectivity as I doubt you will use it often. Also look for a unit that is easy to update and comes with a lifetime supply of free updates. Another company that makes a great tool in this price range is Autel. Good luck with your diagnosis.

Your automotive questions answered

Hi Lou, Our 2012 Toyota Prius V is approaching 265,000 kilometres. The dealership is recommending a transmission fluid flush – a service that appears nowhere in the vehicle’s factory recommended maintenance schedule. Is this a necessary service given the vehicle’s mileage? My understanding is that automakers are increasingly using lifetime-fluid transmissions.

Steve Y

Yes Steve, transmission fluid is vastly superior to what it used to be. However, most transmission manufacturers consider the lifetime of a transmission to be in the 160-180,000-kilometre range. That is, in their engineer’s opinion, if the transmission takes you that distance without any issues, then it owes you nothing. At 265,000 kilometres you are already well past that distance proving how decent of a transmission your Prius is equipped with.

Some manufacturers have their transmissions completely dialed in and will travel 4 -500,000 kilometres, while others can’t seem to get past 200,000. If this Prius was my car though, I would be changing the transmission fluid as soon as I could.

Hi Lou,

I have a 2007 Saturn Vue, which I bought used 10 years ago and it has served me very well. My mechanic regularly gives it a clean bill of health and as I don’t drive a lot these days, I would like to keep it as long as possible. My problem is with the blower motor. It works at the high setting but not at the intermediate settings. After tracking down a schematic and doing some testing, I determined the resistor pack failed (it has an integrated fuse which has likely blown). So I replaced the resistor network and all was well for about two weeks, but now it seems to have failed again. Any idea what would be causing this?

Thanks again and all the best.

Paul N

Thank you, Paul. I believe your problem lies within your blower motor. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but as an electric motor slows the current draw increases. Any electric motor consists of an armature, commutator and multiple wire windings. As simply as I can put it, each of the multiple electrical windings are only meant to be energized for a fraction of a second. At start up, the blower motor’s revolutions per minute start at zero and climb to operational speed. During this brief start-up period, the winding is energized longer, allowing current to climb. Therefore, we can say that current draw is highest at start up, because of the slower shaft speed.

So why do we care about shaft speed? I suspect your blower motor is seizing because of age or a debris-based obstruction. This means the shaft is spinning slower than it was designed to. Guess what, this also means your blower motor’s current draw is higher overall, especially at start up.

The resistor’s job is simply to resist electrical current, and a by-product of resistance is heat. When the resistor is handling more current than it was designed to, elevated heat literally burns it out, hence your repeated resistor failure.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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