CarMD Handheld Tester

CarMD Handheld Tester

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A great device with a minor annoyance

Feb 12, 2007 (Updated Aug 29, 2011)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Inexpensive, extremely portable and easy to use

Cons:Unnecessarily crippled by the manufacturer

The Bottom Line: CarMD can empower you to know what is wrong with your car and how much it should cost to repair before you take it to a mechanic.


The CarMD device plugs into your 1996 and newer cars ODB II connector (all 1996 and newer cars have an OBD II connector). OBD stands for On-Board Diagnostics.

The unit has three lights: Green, meaning everything is okay. Yellow, meaning there might be a problem. And red, there is a problem.

You plug the unit in and within 6 seconds it reads the codes from your cars computer (if there is something wrong and your check engine light is on).

Then unplug the unit from your car and plug it into your computer via it's USB cable and go online. It will tell you what the error codes mean and what is most likely actually wrong with your car based on a database CarMD has. CarMD will even tell you how much the repair should cost based on your zip code.

I tested all three of my cars. None of them were suffering any problems and the CarMD verified that with a green light on each car checkup.

Sadly, the folks at CarMD only let you register three cars with the unit. Of course, if all you see is a green light, there is no need to register the car. But if you want to make sense of the error codes, it needs to know the VIN of the car to know the make, model and year to determine the most likely issues and costs. I registered all three of my cars anyway...I was testing the unit after all.

Also, CarMD limits how many times you can go online with new error codes. Three times per month is the stingy limit.

Then the greatest thing happened! My sister came over for a visit in her Ford Explorer and her check engine light was on. I was quite excited about this! So I plugged the CarMD unit into her car and got the error codes.

Then I plugged the CarMD unit into my laptop and was very curious how I was going to be able to read her codes when I already have three cars registered. Before I could get that far, a window appeared informing me a new version of the software was available and if I'd like to download and install it. I thought this was odd, because the unit did this to me about 3 weeks earlier when I first received it and used it. I clicked 'yes' and then it said it was updating the firmware on the unit. I like this, as most devices force you to get the firmware manually, so often it doesn't get done. This automated process is a great idea and worked flawlessly.

After all the updates were completed, I was able to start the CarMD software and, well, I don't know if CarMD increased the number of cars you can register or just made a change to my personal account but it allowed me to register her car as well (I now have four cars registered).

CarMD produced a report that I printed out and gave to my sister to take home with her (about a 2 1/2 hour drive). She called around to get prices to see how repair shops in her area compared to the CarMD quote. I explained to her that the quote CarMD gave was for my zip code and her area may be slightly different, but should still be in the same ball park. The repair shop she called quoted her $25 more for the repair then what CarMD predicted. Impressive.

She has a friend who is an authorized Ford mechanic and she took her car and the CarMD print out to him. He agreed that the CarMD was dead-on with it's assessment of what was wrong and repaired her car for about one-third the price (it's good to know people!).

Her check engine light is now off and the CarMD unit has impressed me with its accuracy on the diagnostic as well as quoted repair price. If you're curious, she had two error codes that CarMD explained individually and then suggested that when combined, that typically means the intake manifold gasket is leaking. When an intake manifold gasket 'leaks' it sucks air in the engine (nothing drips like you would expect when someone uses the word 'leak').

When the mechanic removed what was suppose to be a rubber gasket, it was hard as a piece of plastic and cracked and shattered. Yeah, it was bad all right!

I do hope CarMD re-considers its limitation on uses. If Google can offer 7GB of database space to each GMAIL user for free, certainly CarMD can triple, or at least double, its current limitation of cars and inquiries. In fact, if they did that, I'd be hard pressed to find anything negative to say about the device!

The only question that remains is, how was I able to register a fourth car?

We sold one of our cars and replaced it with another. I tried to register the new car on CarMD but it said I had reached my limit. I emailed CarMD and asked them to remove the car we sold. They did, and then I was able to add our new car without issue. Still shows four cars registered.

If you keep the device in your glovebox (as I do) and run into an issue while on the road, you can call CarMD who has ASE certified mechanics who will take your information about your car and the CarMD codes over the phone and tell you what is most likely wrong with your car and how much it should cost to fix. Nice touch.


Recommend this product? Yes

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