Pocket Mechanic: BlueDriver On-Board Diagnostics

Review of the Car Scan Tool Monitor Plugs Into the Vehicles OBD Port

Lemur-BlueDrive.jpg
Portable tool plugs into vehicle’s OBD port and delivers diagnostic codes and reports to iPhone, iPad and Android devices via an app. Lemur

As a kid growing up in the Philippines, I remember my grandfather having a mechanic nicknamed “Tinker.” Let’s just say that it wasn’t meant to denote stellar expertise in his chosen craft nor an affinity with a Disney fairy whose name ends in "Bell."

One weekend, Tinker was, well, tinkering with my grandfather’s Volkswagen Brasilia and taking stuff apart. I remember him taking off parts of the car bit by bit, placing screws and other parts in a tub filled with a bit of gasoline to remove the grease. As the sunset of a long day finally arrived, he pieced everything back together, closed the hood and then started staring at his little tub. My grandfather approached Tinker to see what was going on. Apparently, Tinker was staring at one leftover screw in the tub, realizing he missed a part somewhere. Needless to say, my grandfather had some choice words for Tinker that weren’t quite suitable for my juvenile ears.

SHAPE UP: Choosing a Wearable Device for Fitness

These days, the advent of advanced electronics in vehicles makes it harder to be a weekend mechanic like Tinker. At the same time, however, it also provides easier ways to figure out what could be wrong with a car thanks to the use of onboard diagnostics or OBD. Originally created to help cars better comply with California’s strict emission laws, OBD has since expanded to do more sophisticated readings of a car’s condition. Due to high equipment costs, OBD devices initially were the domain of professional mechanics, though more affordable scanners have hit the market since then. These include OBD gadgets that can sync with smartphones such as the Lemur BlueDriver scan tool.

A small gadget that fits in the palm of your hands, the BlueDriver can be plugged into the OBD port of compatible vehicles. The Lemur BlueDriver has a tool on its website to help you determine if your car is compatible but it’s usually a safe bet that it’ll work if your car was built in 1996 and thereafter. Prior to using the device, you’ll want to make sure to download the free BlueDriver app on your smartphone or tablet. Once the BlueDriver is plugged in, you can sync with the device via your iPhone, iPad or Android device. Launch the app after that and you should be good to go.

MISSING LINK: Connecting USB Devices to iPhone, iPad

Unlike some of the budget scanners out there, the BlueDriver provides a wealth of options and information about your car. Common practical uses include doing your own emissions test prior to a smog check to ensure that the vehicle can actually pass it.

Got that pesky “check engine” light on in your car? Just plug the BlueDriver and it’ll display the error codes associated with your car’s issues. Based on the code, it will tell you the problem with the car, what the possible causes are, and how to potentially fix it — ranking the solutions between the top and frequently reported fixes as well as other alternatives. 

This is great information to have, whether you like to work on cars yourself, have a mechanic friend or want to arm yourself with information before going to a shop to make sure you don’t get snookered into work that your car does not need. For curious types, you can even pull up a vehicle report that pulls up not just your VIN number but who manufactured your car, where it was assembled, its horsepower and how many miles per gallon it gets.

Admittedly, the interface for the app looks a little too pro mechanic-ish and can be hard to navigate for some folks. It would’ve been nice if it was more consumer friendly though mechanically-inclined folks will likely prefer the way it is now. The price tag is also much higher than the BlueDriver’s previous incarnation but that’s balanced by the fact that the app is now free and no longer requires you to pay extra anymore to unlock all of its features.

Overall, this scan tool does a great job as a diagnostics tool for the average Joe and Jane or weekend mechanics. If you’ve got a car that’s getting up there in miles and is starting to experience occasional issues and you want to have a better idea of what’s going on than our old buddy Tinker, the BlueDriver could prove to be a useful tool.

Rating: 4 out of 5

For more articles about portable accessories or nontraditional gadgets, check out the Other Devices and Accessories hub. For more articles on apps, check the Smartphones and Tablets section