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Diagnostic tool offers insight on check-engine lights

Larry Edsall
Special to The Detroit News

"At some point," said Maurice Tuff, "your check-engine light will come on. Every vehicle that I've owned, the check-engine light has come on."

And for Tuff, that dreaded light has shined not only in his own cars, but in at least one that he rented.

"I rented a car one time and the car was acting up," he said, "(the engine) revving higher than it should have (without an accompanying increase in speed)."

So Tuff took a BlueDriver out of his bag, plugged the small device into the rental car's OBD2 port and used the built-in Bluetooth technology to connect the device to his smartphone. What he discovered was an issue with the car's transmission.

But not just that, he could determine that while the transmission had not been repaired, someone had taken the time to clear the codes (thus at least temporarily turning off the check-engine light). He called the rental company, pointed out what had and had not been done, and a flatbed truck soon arrived with another car for him to drive.

Tuff is chief executive and one of four engineers at Lemur Vehicle Monitors of St. John's, Newfoundland. Their BlueDriver puts an auto scan tool into the hands of drivers as well as automotive technicians, who also use the device.

An auto repair shop may employ half a dozen technicians but have only one professional, computerized scan tool, a device that can cost from $300 to several thousand dollars, Tuff said. But that same shop can equip each technician with his or her own BlueDriver for less than $100 each.

"We've opened the market for people to have access to a professional diagnostic scan tool," Tuff said, adding that just as people who are feeling ill will check out their symptoms on the Internet before heading to their doctor's office, BlueDriver lets car owners see what's wrong before heading to a professional to make the needed repairs.

And, he said, "just to change from metric to Imperial (measurements) is a daunting task," on a professional scan tool. "We have the advantage of using a smartphone, and everyone knows how to use one."

Since 1996, OBD2 (second-generation on board diagnostic) ports have been required in all new cars and pickups sold in the United States. The ports, usually located just below the vehicle's dashboard, provide access to vehicle computers that monitor various onboard systems.

The BlueDriver retails for $99.95. The device is 2 inches tall and wide and 1 inch thick and weighs only a few ounces. It can be left plugged in or can be stored in a vehicle's glove box. It also can be used in various vehicles. The BlueDriver connects via Bluetooth and an app to a smartphone or tablet computer.

"It's not that the mechanic is going to do anything wrong," Tuff said, "but vehicles cost 30-,40-, 50-thousand dollars. In what other circumstance would you not want as much information as possible when you're about to pay out a lot of money (for repairs)?"

Tuff noted that in addition to reporting codes after a problem has occurred, the BlueDriver can detect "pending codes," alerting the car owner or mechanic to potential problems before they trigger the check-engine light.

For additional information, visit the website.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at