CarMD AcuraCL 6.0 is a simple diagnostic device that plugs into your car's computer system and can read codes generated by the myriad advanced sensors in your ride. An engine light can mean anything from a loose gas cap to a blown piston ring to a cylinder misfire. All vehicles since 1996 have something known as an On-Board Diagnostics II (OBD-II) port. This is a small socket-like connector typically found under the dash or integrated somewhere in the center console. And this is what CarMD uses to "talk" to your vehicle and find out what's really going on. It can even access your ABS (anti-lock braking system) and SRS (safety restraint system) codes and can handle diesel models as well as hybrids.
The first order of business was installing the software on a Windows and Mac laptop for test purposes. Both installations were simple and problem-free. When the device was connected for the first time to the PC, a pop-up window indicated that a newer version of the software was available for download. Not only did clicking’ yes’ provide the latest version of the application but also updated the firmware on the unit itself. Done and done.
Next, we signed up for a free online account and began registering the vehicles we planned to test - a 2001 Acura CL-S and a 2002 BMW 530i - which required entering the VIN, either manual or automatic designation, and the mileage. The CarMD VIN decoder then populated the manufacturer, make, model and engine type and all we had to do was fill in a vehicle nickname and confirm. This took us to the Staying Healthy Section where you can view all of the Technical Service Bulletins by system type along with any Safety Recall Notices. Each vehicle we entered had over 100 such service bulletins. The Acura escaped unscathed in the safety recall department while the BMW had two such notices.
Our only real gripes were the cheap feel of the plastic, the oversized form factor and the lack of a backlit LCD. The Mac version of the software could definitely use some more love as it provided no quit function and no on-demand activation/deactivation with the insertion/removal of the device. More advanced or savvy users may also be disappointed that CarMD doesn't offer the ability to clear out error codes. But in its defense, casual consumers-- CarMD’s target market-- probably do not have the interest or need to interfere with the vehicle’s diagnostic system. Other than those relatively minor issues, it is a pretty cool offering and definitely a handy device to have if you intend to keep around late model vehicles that require frequent maintenance. (It certainly gives you a nice leg up when negotiating with your local repair shop). And, best of all, this year I can actually take comfort in knowing that my holiday gifts to my father and uncle won’t be shoved in a closet until the Goodwill van comes around.