A $60 Gadget to Do Your Own Car Diagnostics

Posted 1/28/19

Our electrical specialists love tech. These days, cars are pretty much computers with engines and wheels, yet your average driver has no idea how to access the data. Here’s a $60 gadget that could change all that and connect your car’s interface to your computer, giving you the capacity of car diagnostics, fuel efficiency data, and other ways to tweak its performance.

Developed by 24-year-old Eric Evenchick, CANtact connects a computer’s USB port and a car or truck’s OBD2 port, a network port under its dashboard. It essentially provides a cheap interface between any PC and a vehicle’s controller area network or CAN bus, the collection of connected computers inside of every modern automobile that control everything from its windows to its brakes.

Hacking for the People

The device is designed to make car hacking a far cheaper and more automated process for amateurs.

“I realized that there were no good tools for me to play around with this stuff outside of what the auto industry uses, and those are incredibly expensive,” Evenchick told Wired. “I wanted to build a tool I can get out there, along with software to show that this stuff isn’t terribly complicated.”

The benefits can be highly functional.

“Like the earlier work by Valasek and Miller, the CANtact is designed to send commands in Unified Diagnostics Services, the CAN protocol that auto mechanics use to communicate with electronic control units (or ECUs) throughout a vehicle,” Andy Greenberg explains for Wired. “That allows anyone to write python scripts that can automatically trigger commands in a car’s digital network that range from turning off its ‘check engine’ light to automatically pumping its brakes.”

Security Hack

And while hacking is naturally a big security concern, CANtact’s technology is actually designed to highlight security flaws to give car makers greater control and protective insight.

“Most people have no idea there’s all this diagnostic stuff that someone who’s connected to the CAN bus can use to do all these interesting things,” Evenchick told Wired. “What are the extent of those features? And what implementation problems exist that could be big security holes?”

Beyond car diagnostics, the potential from the harnessed data can be fascinating. It’s something our car mechanics definitely look forward to playing around with.

Cincinnati Saab Mechanic: Most Common Repair Problems of a Saab 9-5

The Saab 9-5 has a few key repair issues our mechanics see at our Cincinnati shop pretty often. The engine is known to produce a lot of torque that can crack the transmission mounts with enough acceleration. A sure sign your transmission mount has issues is if the car jerks from side to side. The fuel pump is also known to go out. The crankshaft position sensor also tends to overheat. This usually prevents the car from starting. You might be able to get it started again if you’re lucky by allowing the engine to cool. Throttle body failures can also be common. You may need to replace the throttle body with new wiring.