CarMD Vehicle Health System review: Device is a poor substitute for a real mechanic

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CNET Editors' Rating

2 stars Mediocre
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The CarMD Vehicle Health System is very easy to use.

The Bad In our testing, the device gave a false result. CarMD does not reset warning lights, and the information it provides seems of limited use.

The Bottom Line The CarMD Vehicle Health System turns up very limited data compared with the cost of the device, and it offers few real features.

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Cars have changed since the days of adjusting carburetors and gapping points; they have gotten much, much better, with less required maintenance and more reliability. But when the mysterious Check Engine light comes on, what do you do? Lifting the hood and looking at the plastic cover sitting over the engine will not tell you much. CarMD seeks to give drivers a little more information about what is going on with their rides.

All post-1996 cars come with an OBD port somewhere in the cabin. Sometimes referred to as an OBD-II, this port accesses a standard Onboard Diagnostics system, with data from the engine computer and components. The CarMD Vehicle Health System plugs into this port and reads the car's data, then, when plugged into a PC, should show any issues on the CarMD Web site.

The CarMD box holds the port scanner, a plastic handheld device, along with a USB cable, installation CD, and user manual. The port scanner takes two triple-A batteries. A small monochrome LCD is mounted on the scanner, which can show a car's error codes, and color LEDs indicate its status when reading a car's data.

Plug it in
To test out the CarMD, I plugged it into a 1999 BMW Z3 Coupe, which, at the time, had an airbag warning lit up on the dashboard, but no other warning lights.

Following the instructions, I plugged the CarMD scanner into the car's OBD port, then turned on the car without starting the engine. The scanner beeped twice to indicate it had a good connection, and I had to wait until it finished downloading the car's data. In this car, the port was very accessible on the passenger side of the transmission tunnel, but it was angled in such a way that the scanner's LEDs and screen were not easily visible.

After about a minute, the scanner beeped four times to indicate it had successfully downloaded the car's data. With the software already installed on a PC, I plugged the CarMD into the PC's USB port and it automatically launched the CarMD Web site. After registering a free account on the site, I entered the car's VIN and it brought up the correct make, model, and year.

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Where to Buy

CarMD Vehicle Health System

Part Number: 2100

MSRP: $119.85

See manufacturer website for availability.