Motormouth: Fancy diagnostic tools of limited use to average driver

Tribune Content Agency

Q: I have been reading about the “must haves” for 2020. Several articles have stated that portable car diagnostic tools are one of the must haves. When I go to my dealer or gas station, they use a car diagnostic tool to tell me what is wrong. Can these portable tools do the same thing? Are they worth the money? Bottom line, is it worth it to self-diagnose the engine light or stick with the professionals?

— L.I., Oakbrook, Ill.

A: These tools are probably not worth it for the typical car owner. Lower-priced units are not worth the money; upper-end tools have features most will never use. They basically provide readouts of trouble codes, the problems triggering the check engine light. But you need to decode the trouble codes. That often means going to your computer and logging onto the product’s website. Most auto parts stores will loan you a reader for free. The employees may even look up the code for you.

You still need a professional technician to correct the problem, though. How often will you use the device? Seldom or never.

Q: I was given an old Volkswagen that was sitting in a barn for 22+ years. Nobody knows anything about it. There is no title. It’s in nice shape, but of course it doesn’t run. Before I sink any money into it, I’d like to have a title. Any idea as to how to obtain one?

— B.B., Harvard, Ill.

A: The steps to obtaining a title vary from state to state. Your first step is to contact the Illinois DMV. Have the vehicle identification number (VIN) handy. You also need to prove that you own the car. A bill of sale or canceled check usually suffices. The DMV will tell you if you are eligible for a bonded title.

You can get a bond from companies such as Surety Solutions. You may have some leg work to do, but it isn’t as hard as it sounds.

Q: I have been a mechanic for over 40 years and have used Rain-X on all my windows, including the rear windows. The visibility is dramatically improved, and a rear wiper is not needed. I also use Rain-X on my side windows so I can see to each side at intersections. And don’t forget the side view mirrors!

— C.C., Bridgewater, Mass.

A: I have been using glass treatments for nearly that long after being introduced to the precursor of Rain-X at an industry trade show. I received a sample in a blue bottle still bearing a military spec for use on aircraft. Today, there are nearly a dozen products and all I have tried worked well. Some require retreatment more often than others, but I don’t plan to rate them in this column. For those who have never used a rain repellent, try it.

Q: Back when I started to drive, it was very common to start a car by pushing and then engaging the transmission to turn over the engine. Automatic transmissions no longer allow this. I now own a 2018 Subaru Forester with a CVT and wonder if that car could be started by pushing? It would be easy to try, but I’m afraid I might break something.

— R.R., Eden Prairie, Minn.

A: Fugeddaboutit. Today’s engines need enough electrical power to operate the engine control module (computer), the fuel pump, the fuel injectors and more. If your battery is dead, no amount of pushing, even downhill with a tailwind, will get it started.



Bob Weber is a writer and mechanic who became an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician in 1976. He maintains this status by seeking certification every five years. Weber’s work appears in professional trade magazines and other consumer publications. His writing also appears in automotive trade publications, Consumer Guide and Consumers Digest.

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