Monetizing Vehicle Diagnostic Data at Appraisal Time

By Tony Bradley, Founder of VINLogx.

With today’s vehicle systems being controlled by complex computer systems and sensors, figuring out problems in vehicles today takes much more than experience and expertise. No longer can a test drive and a walk around be considered adequate when appraising a vehicle accurately.  For example, if the Check Engine Light or any dash light is on, there are a countless number of diagnostic trouble codes that these lights could refer to. Pulling diagnostics on a car is much like when you have gone to your primary physician with a complaint of pain. The doctor asks questions about where the pain lies and when it occurs. He will palpate the area of pain to feel for swelling or to find a mass. He then tries to reproduce the pain with specific movement patterns, and orders imaging tests or blood work that will provide more information for the cause of the pain.  Once he has gone through much fact finding, it is then up to the physician to pull all the information from the tests together and interpret the origination or cause of the problem.

In a sense, that is very similar to auto diagnostic testing. But fortunately, in the modern vehicle there exists a very complex computerized system and many sensors that collects and stores important information. This process is referred to as the On-Board Diagnostic system or OBD. This complex system constantly collects detailed information on your vehicle’s operation and performance. When a vehicle’s sensor detects a problem somewhere in the vehicle, a message, known as “trouble code”, is triggered and stored in this vehicle’s internal computer. Often these trouble codes prompt the check engine light or other lights on the dashboard to illuminate to notify that there is something wrong and needs attention. So when the vehicle experiences a problem it collects much of the vehicles’ information just like the physician collects pertinent information when there is human pain. This vehicles’ data is all collected in a uniform system that allows the vehicles’ main computer, called the ECM / PCM, to communicate this important information, in the form of codes, via the OBD port through the process of diagnostics.  This diagnostic information is essential in measuring the true “health” of the vehicle by monitoring most of the mechanical components of the vehicle. These include the major engine and transmission functions, most of the electrical systems, as well as it measures important vehicle emissions all while it monitors many other areas, depending how the vehicle is equipped. This massive amount of information is continuously stored in the vehicles’ OBD system. That data is extremely vital to determine the true mechanical and electrical “health” of a vehicle when doing an appraisal of that vehicles’ true value. That data indicates if there has been a costly problem detected or not. So, without obtaining this important diagnostics information, there is no way an accurate value can be determined for a vehicle because the true mechanical condition has not been determined – most the time the problem cannot be detected unless a diagnostics report is obtained.

Today we live in times where vehicles are computerized enough to indicate when something is wrong, it may even turn on a dash light providing an indication that a problem exists.  BUT, over 90 % of issues that can go wrong in a vehicle DO NOT TURN ON A DASH LIGHT. To make things worse, often times the dash light can easily be temporarily turned off to mislead anyone appraising the vehicle on its true mechanical condition. With just a 5 minute stop at an AutoZone to turn off the dash lights, before trading in a vehicle can often mean a much higher trade in value for the customer, with the dealer ending up with the hidden problems. These costly problems are usually not found until the reconditioning is in process – after the trade is made, when it is too late. A turned off dash light can often times equate to problems that will require spending $1000s to correct to prepare the unit for resale. So simply by including diagnostics in your appraisal process, you will quickly monetize the short time (1-2 minutes ) the simple, automated process takes…

Only with diagnostics will you know what you can’t  see, hear, smell or feel  so you can have a much more accurate appraisal and eliminate these costly surprises.