CES 2007: Check engine light? Analyze this!

How many times have we heard our dads say, "These new cars, you just can't work on 'em." He's right. Instead of blue smoke out the tailpipe and a chatter under the hood, modern cars have vague "check engine" lights and incomprehensible error codes. At CES we saw two devices that translate at least some of those ones and zeros.

Both the Actron AutoScanner Plus and the CarMD have the same goals. For those who have more money than time and prefer someone else poke around under the hood, these two competing devices give some knowledge of your car's problem before turning it over to a pro. No reason to get hosed $4,000 for a fouled plug anymore. DIYers can take those translated codes to the Internet where each company provides database solutions to your problem.

Follow the jump for details on each device.

CarMD is the leader in the field of handheld, consumer-level car diagnostics, but Actron brings a good game. The Actron's best trick is its ability to record real-time diagnostic information. Say your car sputters every Thursday after bowling night. The Actron device records all the info from your car's computer while you're driving. When you get home, dump it to your PC, send it to the Internet and, using their website, narrow down more closely your car's problem.

CarMD sells for $90 and has a toll free number with techs waiting for your car repair questions. It also features three LEDs. Green says ain't nuthin wrong with your car. Yellow says either a recent repair has been performed and the computer has yet to reset itself (useful for used car shoppers), or a code is pending. The red LED means there is an active code with a problem needing to be addressed.

Actron is asking $179 and seems to target small mechanic shops or DIYers.

Hopefully we can get our hands on some evaluation units soon and put the two devices through our own diagnostics.

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