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Why CarMD’s Vehicle Health Index is Important

Today’s cars are complicated—and they become increasingly more complex with every succeeding model year. While modern cars can be thought of as self-tuning, thanks to their sophisticated on-board computers, inevitably, some things will need to be fixed. Since 1996 all cars funnel access the inner workings of the on-board computers through a common computer interface called on-board diagnostics, second generation (OBD-II or OBD2). The sophisticated scan tools that mechanics use for this can cost thousands of dollars, and require a lot of training (and oftentimes proprietary knowledge available only from the car manufacturer) to use properly. This can leave an ordinary vehicle owner, even one with some knowledge of automotive technology, at the mercy of vehicle dealership and repair shops. The CarMD handheld device and website offer a reasonably-priced alternative for consumers to understand what the issue might be—and what the repairs might cost—before consulting their mechanic. Because the device is web-enabled, it allows CarMD to collect data about needed repairs every time one is plugged into a home computer to assist in a diagnosis.


For the last 25 years, I’ve answered questions about vehicle repair in my magazine and syndicated newspaper columns, and on my website. One compelling thing I’ve taken away from the tens of thousands of letters and emails I’ve read is that consumers and mechanics alike are often clueless about how to go about fixing a problem that causes the CHECK ENGINE light to come on, even after consulting the most sophisticated scan tool. Surprise: a CHECK ENGINE light triggering an identical trouble code on two different vehicles can have two profoundly different resolutions—and profoundly different repair costs, both for parts and labor. And who isn’t concerned about which vehicle is likely to wind up leaving them with high maintenance and repair costs during their ownership? CarMD’s Vehicle Health Index, because of the statistically correct, unbiased method of its collection, offers an amazing insight into which vehicles are the least likely to need expensive repairs. Moreover, as repair data is collected and added to the database daily, it will reflect trends in failures as they appear.


Who can benefit from this information? The automotive repair industry certainly can, by fine-tuning their repair procedures and reducing the amount of head-scratching mechanics do when a car rolls into the service bay. The auto parts industry can use this data to be sure the right parts are available in the right quantities. The car manufacturers now have a hard target of their competitors’ failures to beat. But by far the biggest winner will be the car- and truck-buying public, who can use this data to choose a safe and reliable vehicle for their families and businesses.


Looking through the data in the Vehicle Health Index is instructive and enlightening, and has a number of surprises. It contains data on the 100 most reliable vehicles sold in the US for the last ten years. Buying a more expensive or luxurious car is, surprisingly, not a guarantee of higher reliability. Some used cars with reasonable amounts of mileage on the odometer might be more reliable than some new cars. This report is sure to be controversial. Stay tuned.


Mike Allen, the Saturday Mechanic


About Mike Allen

Mike was Senior Auto Editor at a large national magazine for 25 years, is an ASE-Certified Service Technician, welder, and racing and test driver with 11 world land speed and endurance records on his office wall. His NY Times-syndicated newspaper column reached over ten million readers weekly. He’s appeared on national television including Mythbusters, Monster Garage, Dateline NBC, CNN, CNBC and many others. He currently operates SaturdayMechanic.com, a website for drivers who still believe they can work on their own cars.