Get A Car Diagnostic Test

How To Get A Car Diagnostic Test In USA [Cheap or Free]


Getting a Car Diagnostic Test: Costs, Tips and Reasons

Get A Car Diagnostic Test, Having your car routinely checked with a diagnostic test can help catch problems early, improve performance and safety, and prevent more extensive repairs down the road. But where can you get reliable, cost-effective testing? This guide covers the ins and outs of car diagnostic exams.

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What’s Included in a Typical Car Diagnostic Test

Get A Car Diagnostic Test
Get A Car Diagnostic Test

A car diagnostic test thoroughly checks your vehicle’s onboard computers and systems. Using special software, a mechanic can read trouble codes, assess performance data, and pinpoint issues developing under the hood.

Here are some of the key systems and components a standard test covers:

  • Engine control system – Checks for problems with the computer, sensors, and actuators managing the engine.
  • Emissions controls – Verifies exhaust emissions stay within acceptable limits.
  • Transmission – Assesses gear shifting performance of automatic or manual transmissions.
  • Brakes – Tests brake system components and anti-lock brake operation.
  • Suspension – Checks shocks, struts, and other suspension parts.
  • Electrical systems – Looks for shorts, bad grounds, and faults in starting/charging systems.
  • On-board computers – Accesses diagnostics trouble codes (DTCs) stored on the vehicle’s computers.
  • Sensors and actuators – Checks devices that monitor systems or execute commands.

While the scan won’t necessarily tell the mechanic exactly what needs fixing, it will point them to the source of the problem. From there, they can troubleshoot the issue and make repairs.

Average Cost of a Diagnostic Test

The cost for a car diagnostic test varies by location and shop, but here are some typical price ranges:

  • Basic test – $0 to $60
  • Computer diagnostic – $40 to $150
  • Comprehensive scan – $100 to $400

As you can see, the scope of the test impacts the cost. A free basic test at an auto parts shop might connect a code scanner to check what caused your Check Engine light. A dealer may charge over $100 to run diagnostics on the powertrain control module. And a full-vehicle scan at an independent shop could cost around $200.

Get A Car Diagnostic Test
Get A Car Diagnostic Test

Table 1. Average costs for types of car diagnostic tests

Diagnostic TestTypical Cost Range
Basic Test$0 – $60
Computer Diagnostic$40 – $150
Comprehensive Scan$100 – $400

When budgeting, also consider that diagnostic testing alone won’t fix the problem. You’ll still need to pay for any required parts and labor for repairs uncovered in the scan.

Where to Get Low-Cost or Free Car Diagnostic Testing

While a dealership may seem an easy option for manufacturer-grade scanning tools and techs trained on your make of vehicle, dealer test fees often exceed $100. What if your budget doesn’t permit that?

Here are some ways to get tests done cheaply – or even score free diagnostics:

  • Independent repair shops – Many shops offer very competitive pricing on diagnostic scans compared to dealers. And they let you supply your own parts for repairs.
  • Auto parts stores – Chains like AutoZone and O’Reilly Auto will scan your vehicle for free to expose why your Check Engine light came on. While they won’t do a full-vehicle diagnostic, it’s a handy starting point.
  • Community car care events – Organizations like the National Car Care Council sponsor free car check events across the country. This lets you get inspections and scans at no cost. But availability is limited.
  • Manufacturer certified pre-owned programs – When you buy a certified pre-owned vehicle from a dealer, it likely comes with a comprehensive vehicle inspection and diagnostic testing. So this exposes any lurking issues.
  • Tech schools – Many vocational colleges training the next generation of automotive techs will diagnose your car totally free of charge. This gives students hands-on practice while saving you money.

Checking all these avenues in your area can help you save substantially on diagnostic testing costs.

Get A Car Diagnostic Test
Get A Car Diagnostic Test

Tips for Finding a Reliable Diagnostic Mechanic

So where exactly should you take your car when you need thorough, unbiased testing?

Here are tips for choosing a reliable mechanic for diagnostics:

  • Get personal referrals – Check with friends, relatives and coworkers to get recommendations for mechanics they trust. This firsthand experience carries more weight than online reviews from strangers.
  • Verify technician certifications – Seek out mechanics certified by ASE (Automotive Service Excellence), a non-profit that confirms technicians’ knowledge through rigorous testing. ASE certification gives you assurance in their abilities.
  • Check shop inspection credentials – See if the repair facility has credentials like AAA Approved Auto Repair or Blue Seal of Excellence, which indicate capability to properly diagnose and fix modern, complex vehicle systems.
  • Look for positive online ratings – Search the shop’s name on Google to read ratings and reviews by other customers summarizing their quality of diagnostics, repairs and customer service. Repeat positive mentions indicate consistency.
  • Ask about diagnostic tools – An independent mechanic lacking expensive OEM diagnostic scan tools may not be able to access all the vehicle data. So it helps asking what tools they use before you commit.
  • Consider dealers – While dealer repair rates are often higher, their technicians receive focused training and access to advanced OEM diagnostic equipment. This can provide more precise testing for complex drivetrain, transmission and emissions problems.

Taking time to find a shop with strong qualifications, capabilities and customer satisfaction helps ensure you get accurate diagnostic findings.

Get A Car Diagnostic Test
Get A Car Diagnostic Test

Top 5 Reasons for a Car Diagnostic Test

Wondering whether to spend money on a diagnostic exam when your car seems fine? There are good reasons for getting routine testing, even without obvious symptoms:

Detect Problems Early

A diagnostic scan can detect failing parts before they leave you stranded. Catching small problems now prevents big headaches down the road.

Ensure Safety

Ensuring safety components like airbags, emissions controls and brake components work right is vital. Diagnostics verify these critical systems make the grade.

Improve Performance

Detecting dirty sensors, clogged fuel injectors, slipping transmission bands and the like allows restoring your car’s performance to like-new condition.

Facilitate Maintenance

Codes pointing to specific components needing attention assists your mechanic in targeting maintenance efforts where needed most.

Prepare for Trips

Testing electrical charging, cooling, drivetrain and suspension components before a road trip or summer vacation reduces the risks of getting stuck far from home.

So even if your car seems fine, there are compelling reasons for getting periodic diagnostic checks. The peace of mind alone makes the expenditure worthwhile.

The Bottom Line

Having your car thoroughly scanned by a professional mechanic is essential preventive maintenance. Diagnostic testing catches small problems before they become major repair headaches. And identifying issues early on helps maximize safety, reliability and performance.

While such testing comes at a cost, following the guidance here for securing low or no-cost scans can make the inspection affordable. Pairing testing with fixes for any loose bolts, leaks, tight belts and other basic maintenance is money well spent. Then you can confidently hit the open road knowing your car’s good condition is verified from front to back.

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