Decipher your car's idiot light with CarMD

Updated automobile diagnostic tool also gets a refreshed Web service

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
The CarMD sensor. CarMD

LAS VEGAS--A new version of the CarMD device and service was released here at CES. Like RepairPal and DriverSide, CarMD now has a database of common repairs for most modern (post-1996) cars, including price ranges and do-it-yourself instructions for some of them.

What makes CarMD different is its hardware: There's a probe that attaches to your car's diagnostic port (it's probably under the dash). The probe reads data from your car's computer. It will display simple info on its LEDs and LCD screen, and if you connect it your computer (via USB) it can tell you a lot more.

The new hardware looks the same as the previous version of the device but is more attuned to safety and emissions than the previous model, reading in additional data about airbags, for example. It's also been updated to handle diagnostics from hybrid cars.

The site itself has been updated with new, folksy, medical-like terminology. It tells you about your car's proposed "cure" and how to keep it "healthy."

The device costs $99 and looks like a good second opinion to your local mechanic. And if you're shopping used cars, you can take the gizmo with you to see what the car's computer knows or to verify the owner's claim that the lit check-engine light is just because the gas cap wasn't screwed on tight a week ago. One thing the CarMD won't do is reset your own car's check-engine light.

The new Web site explains what your car thinks is wrong with it. CarMD