Talking to the car

Friday 13th February 2015

I took my car for a day on a race track recently, which I'd really recommend if you've got a suitable vehicle. As you can see in this video, I span it at the end of the first lap, and after my heart rate fell below 200bpm I noticed that the engine management light had come on. At the time I was having way too much fun to worry about it, so I disconnected and reconnected the battery (which turned off the light) and carried on driving. 

I've been doing an evening class in vehicle maintenance, and my attitude towards car problems has changed a lot - six months ago I would have probably stopped and taken it to a mechanic. But with my new adventurous DIY car repair spirit, I thought I'd try to figure out what was wrong and fix it. The class teacher said many times that as cars become more computer-oriented he understands them less.  I'm the opposite - if it's got a computer in it, I might stand a chance of understanding it.

In an incredible example of standards actually working, all cars made since 1998 in the UK have an Onboard Diagnostics (OBDII) port, which looks like a massive old joystick port, intended for garages to interrogate your car and fix it. Mine's hidden on the underside of the dashboard next to the fuses, entirely hidden unless you're lying on the floor on the drivers side. For £6.99 on eBay (I love eBay) I acquired an OBDII to USB cable, above, and software. And after a lot of fiddling about in Windows I actually got the laptop to talk to the car!

The car tells me that the error is P0011, which the software helpfully translates into the camshaft being over-advanced. Why that happened and how to fix it is for another day. It also tells me hundreds of other facts, such as the car is currently breathing in air at 11°C at the rate of 3.31 grams per second, and that the coolant is at 58°C.

You may or may not find that interesting. Let me know in the comments...

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