Yes, The Check Engine Light Still Needs To DieS

Aside from the one commenter who called me a "whiny retard" who hates human joy and another describing a scenario that basically had me killing my mother, my call to ban the check engine light inspired thoughtful and insightful comments. But there were several commonly-occurring threads throughout your comments that I feel are worthy of addressing.

For starters, I'd like to restate my main goal: Give the consumer as much information about the condition of their car as possible. It's why we created this petition to begin with (and why you need to sign it now!).

That said let's walk through some of your arguments — and I'll explain why you're wrong and I'm still so very right.

• The AutoZone Fallacy: Yes, AutoZone deserves copious piles of props of the mad variety for their policy of free OBD-II code reading. It's a genuinely great service, and for many people, does the job just fine. But, from what I can tell, most of the population does not live in a colossal AutoZone. As delightful as that may be, the truth is you're not always going to be near an AutoZone. I'm having trouble understanding why taking your car anywhere is preferable to simply reading that information on your own dashboard.

Let's say I somehow convince you, despite the fact that you think I'm a drooling simpleton, to come with me on a trip from LA to Vegas. It's about four hours of delightful desert, largely AutoZone-free driving. As we're bombing along the 15 in our hypothetical convertible, our hands brushing as I shift into 6th, leading to coy glances, our companionable reveries are broken by the ugly appearance of the check engine light on the dash. It could be nothing, a loose gas cap or whatever, or it could mean sitting in the blaring heat on the side of the road 12 miles south of Baker.

Yes, The Check Engine Light Still Needs To DieS

If I had a panel on my dash that told me what the issue actually was, I could make an informed decision about whether or not I should continue, or if I should continue at a reduced speed, or if I should stop and attempt a repair, or call a tow truck, whatever. The point is I could actually make some sort of a decision that is better than an uninformed guess. And, I could make the decision when it actually mattered, at any location I happen to be.

You'll note in that bit of Jalopnik-commenter fan fiction that there's no mobile AutoZone bombing along at 80 mph alongside me. Yes, an AutoZone could do this, but I'm hoping for a genuine improvement in the status quo; it's absolutely better to just have my car tell me the issue directly, right there, in the car, when it happens. If I want to ignore it and just treat it like the current check engine light, that process is very, very easy.

You don't need to use your odometer every day, but who would want to go to a store to check how many miles their car had, even for free? The OBD codes are even more important, as they can directly affect your or your car's safety, so why should you have to go anywhere to find out what the issue is?

To summarize: Looking at your dash to find information about your car beats a trip to a special location to find that same info, any day.

Yes, The Check Engine Light Still Needs To DieS

• OBD-II Scanner Snobbery: This one kind of bothered me. Yes, having a code reading scanner is great. They are incredibly handy to use. And many are not that expensive, true, and many are actually easy to use. But, not owning one in no way suggests that you somehow haven't earned the right to be knowledgeable about the car you own. DIY car culture is very important to me, and I want to see as many people engaged and interested in their cars as possible. The nature of modern cars does make this harder than in the past, but it can still happen, and exclusionary thinking that suggests there needs to be barriers to entry before people can learn about their own cars strikes me as needlessly elitist. Anybody who decides to be interested in cars and wants to learn more about their own car should be able to do just that, even if they haven't yet gotten around to buying a piece of equipment. Look, I've got 87 octane running in my veins, I do plenty of my own work on my cars, and I can't think of any reason why it wouldn't be great to look at my dash and see what the engine management computer thinks is up. What's the problem with that?

Also, from an ease of use standpoint, glancing at a screen beats plugging something into a relatively inaccessible port any day. And don't get me started on the wire jumper/Nintendo cheat code methods of getting a car to give the OBD codes. It's great there's a way, but blinking codes in morse after jumpering pins is by no means easier than, say, reading off a screen. Easy is what I'm going for here: easy access to information that may be useful.

• People don't care: There's a lot of truth to this one. Lots of people genuinely don't care to know how their cars work, and the check engine light is more than enough for them to ignore. But, trust me, a skillful check engine light ignorist will have no trouble ignoring an engine diagnostic message. Why, I bet they can even use the same ignoring skills for both! This idea will not help these people, but that's ok, because they don't care. I understand my clumsy writing may have led people to think I'm advocating a spring-loaded knife that shoots out of the dash and holds the blade to the driver's neck until he or she gives a shit, but that's not so. If you want the information, great. If not, it's no different.

• People don't want to know this stuff: This one is similar to the above, and the same rules apply. They can ignore whatever they want. But I think more people want to know some technical details than we think. Car advertisers must think so, as many car ads are full of technical details. Hell, even catchphrases like "Does that thing have a Hemi?" are actually referring to arcane details like the shape of the engine's combustion chambers; clearly, people are not repulsed by technical automotive details, at least to some degree.

Yes, The Check Engine Light Still Needs To DieS

• I'm a tool of the Nanny State: Yes, I get that not everyone's crazy about more federal meddling; I can be sympathetic there, as I grew up under the grim tyranny of the Only Two Headlight Shapes Allowed era. But what I'm asking for is not a Nanny State-ish, loss of freedom in the dubious name of safety kind of thing. I'm asking that car owners get all the information that is due to them, so they can make their own, better decisions. This is an expansion of personal freedom, not a limitation; I want more information, more resources, and more options. And I think we need it legislated because there's no other incentive to get all the automakers to do it. We're already legislating bumper standards, tire pressure warning systems, emissions— this one doesn't impair the process of driving in any way at all, and aside from knee-jerk, possibly political reactions to the idea of legislated behavior, what's the problem here? The end result is the general public gets access to more information about their own property.

And, I did see some commenters suggesting that such a regulation would cause makers to leave the market, especially small makers like Morgan. If I ever did anything to drive Morgan out of the US market I'd feel absolutely awful. But that's not going to happen. Even the most traditional Morgan, the 4/4, uses a Ford Duratec engine, and it's already got a full OBD-II system. This won't keep anyone out of the US market.

• People won't know what to do with the codes: Here I think we're seeing both an underestimation of both people and companies. First of all, no one said the display had to be only arcane codes. The code, the code's name and a real-English description of the issue could be displayed. There could be assessments of the likely severity of the code, or any number of other descriptors.

Right at the moment, it's true that many of the codes are related in some way to the emissions system, but as manufacturers strive to get more and more efficiency out of the internal combustion engine, more and more parts of an engine will be overseen by the engine computer, and more and more data will be available. The car's owner should have access to as much of this data as they desire, in an easy-to-access way. Manufacturers may seek to gain competitive edges by providing more information, or information in a better, sleeker format.

Even if you only got a code number, many, many people have mad Google skills today, and I can't see any reason why people wouldn't use them. Yes, some people will misdiagnose, and yes, some will go further down a foolhardy road and attempt and fail at repairs they're not qualified to do. But people can do that now with a Chilton's guide and a six of High-Life. That's their own decision and own risk. I don't think seeing a problem description on a dash is going to convince anyone they have long-dormant mechanic skills they never knew about. The same way I don't think they're going to panic any more than they would at a check engine light.

Also, think about buying a used car, and how handy it would be to be able to see, right in the dash, what codes and issues the engine computer is sending. It's no substitute for a thorough mechanical inspection but, as always, more information is better, and the ECU keeps track of many factors (coolant temp, intake air mass, fuel injection timing) that could prove very useful in assessing an engine's overall health.

So, I'm not giving up. This idea could make lives genuinely better, introduce more people into auto enthusiasm, keep dealers and mechanics honest, and save people money.

Sign the petition, please. It'll be worth it.