The first thing I noticed when I hopped into my 2000 Honda Odyssey after it completed its 3,000+ mile cross-country trek on the back of a big-rig was that the check engine light was on. Nervous about the thought of potentially having to spend hundreds of dollar at mechanic after just moving to town, I decided to call around to a few shops to see how much it would cost to simply hook up my van to a computer and see what was wrong. I was shocked to find that the industry standard is about $100 for a diagnostic. ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS to stick a wire into a plug, hit enter, and read some codes! I was quite unhappy.

Not wanting to pay $100 just to find out what I’m really going to have to pay for, I began to explore my options. I remembered a student I had when we were college ministers in GA who had a program on his computer that allowed him to run diagnostics on his car. I wondered how much something like that cost, so I googled it. Turns out that there are a plethora of hand-held diagnostic tools out there. What is even better is there are many under $100.

So, whether pride, stubbornness, or frugality, I decided that if I was going to spend $100, I was going to actually spend it so that I got a cool toy to keep in the end. So, I ended up buying something very similar to this diagnostic tool. As soon as I got it, I plugged it into the car and fired her up. In just a few minutes I had what I needed, the mysterious OBDII code “P1607 EGM/PGM Internal Circuit Failure A.” I immediatly hopped on the computer and looked up this line of text, knowing that I was moments away from finding out what was wrong with my van. After about 15 minutes of reading forums and websites with information about the code, I decided that I most likely had a bad ECM. Just a small, very important, part that should set me back about $750 if I were to get it fixed at a shop.

Feeling quite accomplished in my do-it-yourself-edness thus far, I decided to try and see if I could fix it myself (note: I have NO car fixing experience at all). I searched for online instructions on how to replace an ECM on a 2000 Honda Odyssey and more or less had the idea. Then I stumbled across a GREAT website called “Just Answers.” The site has an entire section devoted to Hondas! All you have to do is enter your question and say how much you’d be willing to pay if someone gave you an answer you were happy with. I figured it was worth $9 to see if a certified mechanic could halp me fix my van, so I posted and this is what I got (Scroll down on that page to see my question and the answer). The most gratifing moment however came when the mechanic mentioned that it might just be a glitch and that I should try resetting the computer memory first. If it is really an ECM problem, the light will come back on. If it is a glitch, then a reset will make the warning go away.

A few minutes later I was under the hood disconnecting the battery and poof, the light was gone and didn’t return. Problem solved for $109. The real sense of accomplishment came for me when I thought about how I could have easily take the van to a lazy mechanic who might have seen the “P1607 EGM/PGM Internal Circuit Failure A” code and thought, “Sweet, here comes $800.” How easily a mechanic could have told me that the computer says I need a new ECM and here’s the bill. Not today Mr. Mechanic!

How to Save Money When Your Check Engine Light Comes On

  1. Buy a OBDII diagnositc tool. (NOTE: These only work on cars built after 1996)
  2. Google the code you get with car’s your make and model.
  3. If you need more help, try or post in a web forum for you make and model of car.

Even if you can’t fix the problem yourself, at least you can now go tot the mechanic and have a better feel for what the problem is and how much he or she should charge for the service. Also, you might be able to find the part you need at a discount store online, then all you need to do is have the mechanic install it for you. This could easily save you money as all you need to do is pay for labor and not diagnostic or the part.