Review: ScanGauge II

Review: ScanGauge II

I am a self-admitted technology geek (among other kinds of geek). As a technology geek, I am a firm believer in the value and necessity of data. Johnny 5 said it best with his oft-quoted phrase, “Need input!” Well, I need input. I want statistical and diagnostic data and information about EVERYTHING. I want to know how my computer is performing, I want to know how my net connection is performing, I want to know how my mobile devices are performing, and as somewhat of a car enthusiast and ex-modder, I want to know how my vehicle is performing. The standard gauges just don’t cut it, I want, nay, NEED more! I want to read my own CEL (Check Engine Light) codes, and I want the ability to clear them! I want to have statistical information that helps me maximize my gas mileage and fuel usage! I want to track the cost per mile of my driving so that I can minimize my expenses! I want to make sure my ignition timing is…on time! I want all this and more! Well, ThinkGeek, a wonderful site for a person like me, was so kind as to send out a review unit for a most excellent, and coincidentally quite relevant, device: the ScanGauge II Automotive Computer.

If you’ve ever watched a mechanic run the CEL codes on your car, you may have seen them use a large hand-held automotive computer. This hand-held computer does a lot for them, but it’s quite inconveniently sized for a truly mobile device, and its capabilities are limited to diagnostic purposes. The ScanGauge II provides you with the basic engine code diagnostic functionality, then flips the bird to the big hand-held and goes on to provide so much more in a package that seems to be slightly larger than a Snickers bar (but infinitely less tasty, I’m sure). Measuring in at 4.8″W x 1.5″H x 1″D (compared to a Snickers bar at approximately 4.3″L x 1″H x 1″D), the ScanGauge II is very unobtrusive. Also, aside from the screen and five buttons, the device is black, and black is slimming, right? There are a couple of design flaws, though. In my car, the OBDII port is to the left of my steering wheel. the ScanGauge II only has plug-in ports on the right and rear of the device. If I felt the need to have the rear of the device up against something, my only plug-in option would be to wrap the cord around the top or front of the device to use the right plug-in. The second flaw is conditional. If you’re placing your ScanGauge II far enough away that you need to use all SIX FEET of cable, then you’re fine. If, however, your OBDII port is not six feet away from your desired placement location, you’re going to end up with a lot of extra cable that needs to be secured and managed. I see their dilemma here, though, and am less concerned about the cable length as I am about the lack of a left-side plug-in.

That’s where the list of design flaws ends. The package itself has good heft, and is very well designed. The production quality of the device seems high; there are no burs in the plastic, and the button operation is very smooth. The software is very intuitive and simple. There are two buttons on each side of the screen that correspond to whatever option is displayed next to each one, with a fifth button located to the lower right that acts as a Home button. There’s no ambiguity when it comes to navigation and operation. You are greeted with a screen that lets you choose to enter one of the three system modes or a screen that lets you modify your system options and settings. Navigation through these screens is handled well, as is setting options. “Let me guess, batteries not included?” More like batteries not required! The OBDII provides a +12V feed that is more than sufficient to fully power the device. When plugged in, the device automatically activates when the car is turned on, and automatically deactivates shortly after the car is turned off. “What about when I’m driving at night, huh? What good is your fancy little automotive computer going to do me when it’s too dark to read the screen?” Well, perhaps the backlit screen that offers you pre-set colors (white, blue, green, turquoise, red, violet, and amber) as well as a customizable color creator that gives you up to 63 color choices (using a modifiable RGB scale) can solve that problem. The backlight can also be disabled if you want to save a bit of power (though the power drain is negligible).

There are three main modes of operation for the ScanGauge II; the first of these modes is, unsurprisingly, Scan mode. Scan mode is a potentially great way to save some money when that pesky CEL comes on. The first thing an automotive repair shop will do if your CEL is on is scan the code, translate it into an error message, and start forming ideas regarding the source of the problem. To be clear, a CEL will tell you what is occurring in your engine that should not be occurring; it will not necessarily tell you why it is occurring. There are industry-standard codes that every OBDII vehicle is equipped to use, but several manufacturers will tack on additional codes that are specific only to that manufacturer. Using a web resource like OBD-Codes, you can easily look up any CEL trouble code and be on your way to solving your problem. As I said, the code itself may or may not be enough to figure out what your problem is, which is why the ScanGauge II also includes something called “freeze data.” Freeze data is captured information about the state of various engine statistics at the exact moment that the CEL first gets thrown up by the car’s computer. Freeze data can help you finger certain engine components as potential culprits. If you’re uncomfortable attempting vehicle work yourself, having this data in your hands when going to an automotive repair shop can significantly cut down the amount of time they spend diagnosing, which can save you a great deal of money; suffice it to say, hourly diagnostic rates at most shops are quite exorbitant.

The second mode is the Gauge mode. I have been using this product for close to two weeks, and Gauge mode has taken up the majority of that two weeks. This mode provides an incredible amount of real-time data while you’re driving that can help you keep an eye on the state of your vehicle and on how your driving style affects your gas mileage and cost of driving. Gauge mode provides four viewable gauges at a time that can be cycled through at the push of a button. There are some gauges that most people won’t use, but they’re there for the power-users just in case. The available gauges are: fuel system loop status, fuel cost per mile, intake air temperature, water temperature, fuel pressure, gallons/liters per hour, ignition timing, engine load, MPG (km/gallon, miles/liter, liters/100km), , average MPG, MPH/KPH, manifold absolute pressure, RPM, throttle position setting,, trip fuel cost, battery voltage, and more. Some of these gauges require time before they report accurately. In order for fuel cost per mile, MPG, trip fuel cost, and average MPG to work properly, you need to fill up your tank once (entering both the number of gallons and the cost per gallon into the ScanGauge II system), drive it down until you have a quarter-tank left, then fill up again (again entering the number of gallons and the cost per gallon). Once you’ve done this, your MPG/CPM will begin reflecting more accurately than they will without these steps being completed.

The third mode is Trip mode. Trip mode allows you to look back at the gauge data for the current day and for a previous day for tracking and comparison. Trip mode allows you to see: maximum speed, maximum coolant temperature, maximum RPM, average speed, average fuel economy, trip miles, trip time, trip fuel used, trip fuel cost, fuel used since last fill-up, fuel remaining, distance driven since last fill-up, distance remaining before tank is empty, time driven since last fill-up, time remaining before tank is empty. The Trip mode is the statistical power-house of the ScanGauge II, allowing you to see in detail how your driving habits truly affect how long a full tank lasts, how much it costs to drive, and so much more. With fuel prices constantly fluctuating, especially now, knowing how you can change your driving habits to save money with each fill-up is indispensable.

Overall, the ScanGauge II is a fantastic product for any tech geek with a car, and even more so for a car geek. Yes, the product costs $159.99. That is, for many people, quite a lot of money. The benefits that you gain from using this product, especially if you’re using this product right, will quickly make up for the cost you put into it. Between saving money on gas by optimizing your driving habits to increase your MPG and saving money on diagnostics by being able to look up your own CEL codes and conditions when the codes were triggered, you’re looking at a massive savings, well worth the $159.99 investment placed in this product. Now, before you get too excited and just jump and purchase this product, there is one thing that you need to know: this device will not work on all vehicles. In order for this device to interface with your car, your car needs to have an OBDII port. Most cars built in the last 15 years are equipped with an OBDII port, but there are some exceptions. Make sure to check this list and ensure that your car is OBDII compatible before even considering buying this type of product. When you’ve confirmed compatibility, and you’re ready to start knowing more about your car and your driving habits, head on over to ThinkGeek and order the ScanGauge II Automotive Computer. While you’re there, be a dear and send me one of these.

Review

ProsCons
Compact, 6-foot long cord allows multiple placement options, Multiple relevant guage selections, Excellent potential for saving money by self-checking CEL codes.Only plug-in locations are on the right and back of the device, 6-foot long cord leaves a lot of cord to manage depending on product placement.
Rating
95 out of 100
I'm the Ambassador of Kickyourassador. I am the Walrus. I'm on a highway to the Danger Zone. I am the Kwisatz Haderach.I do things with words that have a generally geeky gist.

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