Special Report: DIY car repairs

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Updated: 6/28/2012 11:59 pm
Kenny Wong is pretty handy when it comes to his cars.

"The occasional problem here and there causes us to find ways to fix it on our own and not take it to the shop because of the cost of car
repairs," he said.

But when his engine light comes on, it may be harder to figure out what's causing the problems. Cars are so computerized these days they can be complicated. Even mechanics use special devices to diagnose what's wrong. That's why Kenny was really happy to discover a slew of new do it yourself diagnostic code readers available to regular people like him.

"Keeping the code reader around will at least give us a good idea, uh, we can target the area that's malfunctioning," he said.

With a family of eight, he's looking to keep his cars on the road as long as possible, and he's not alone, the average vehicle in the U.S. is now almost 11-years-old.

"200,000 is the new 100,000 miles," said Dan Edmunds of Edmunds.com, "especially in a down economy people will keep cars longer and try to save money here and there."

And Edmunds says the readers may make that easier than ever to hit that mark. From the Car M.D. to the Scan Gage Two, DIY diagnostic tools are affordable and simple to use.

"The onboard diagnostics port is right underneath the steering wheel below the dash board," said Edmunds, "and the devices will plug in and read the code and display a code number."

Then you just look the number up online or in the manual and can decide from there if it's something you can handle on your own, or you need a pro.

Said Edmunds, "knowing what the code is, in some cases there are some fairly benign codes that might have to do with a gas cap that's loose or got a cut in an O-ring and you can fix that yourself."

But sometimes you need to see a pro, and at least you'll go with some knowledge about what's wrong.

"It's very helpful to us," said Wong, "because it gives us an idea about how much we're looking at and how much we have to pay for repairs."

"The code is a little difficult to decipher sometimes, and it doesn't always lead directly to the answer," said Edmunds, "but if you go to the mechanic at least with some level of knowledge you're in a better position."

Kenny plans to keep his on hand … just in case.

"It would definitely be a handy tool to have around the house in case of future issues," he said.

Here's one word of caution when it comes to DIY diagnostic tools: they aren't the end all be all when it comes to diagnosing a car problem, and could lead people to jump to conclusions that may lead them to spend money they don't need to spend.
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