Third time at the auto inspection station has gotta be the charm
May 9, 2007 7:02 AM   Subscribe

So the DC DMV is having a real go with me. I'll spare you the saga so far, but let's just say that after two trips to the inspection station and two separate mechanics, now I'm told that my "On Board Diagnostics" monitor needs to be reset.

Uh, okay? But then they printed out a list of directions for what I will have to do to get it reset, and it's seriously like a secret special magical driving code. I will paraphrase (but mostly copy verbatim!):

Idle in N for 4 minutes, then idle in drive for 40 seconds, then accelerate to 45 mph at 1/4 throttle for 10 seconds, then drive at 45 mph for 30 seconds, idle for 40 seconds, drive between 25-45 mph for 15 minutes, stopping and idling five times for 10 seconds, while ensuring three 1.5minute steady state drives at 3 different speeds, then accelerate to 45-60 mph over the course of 8 minutes, drive at a steady speed for 5 minutes, then vary speeds for 5 minuntes, then idle for 40 seconds.

You know, DC has a little bit of a traffic problem and I hardly know my way around... even if I wanted to follow this ridiculous set of absurd instructions, I don't know how I could possibly get all these things in order. Can someone just tell me if I can take this stupid car back to a freakin mechanic and get them to press a button or something? Any suggestions welcome.
posted by greggish to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total)
What car is it?
posted by notsnot at 7:06 AM on May 9, 2007

find a big, empty parking lot. Go early in the morning or later at night.
posted by jourman2 at 7:17 AM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: It's a 96 Ford explorer.

I don't understand - if I do this late at night and then the next morning go to the inspection station, whatever setting they want is going to be suddenly "on"?

And jourman, if I'm driving in circles through a DC parking lot, stopping and starting for half an hour, what are the chances i'll be arrested as a terrorist or something?
posted by greggish at 7:22 AM on May 9, 2007

I'd go straight to a mechanic (sadly, my favorite one on 16th street is out of business) and give them the elaborate directions. Then go to DMV with a receipt and a copy of the mechanic's report saying "done." Otherwise, how do you know you've reset the thing?
posted by nkknkk at 7:26 AM on May 9, 2007

They probably have trouble reading the OBDII data from you engine management computer. The instructions sound like gathering data from an "average" trip. Suggest that you find an Pep Boys store that will reset the computer for free, then drive around for while, then go back to Pep Boys and ask if they can read the emission data. Or go to your mechanic and ask for the same thing but he will probably charge you.

On new cars they don't do emission testing, they just hook up to your on board computer and read the data that the system has gathered.
posted by Ferrari328 at 7:33 AM on May 9, 2007

i will also say that if you go to a reinspection station, especially one in a rougher part of town, they will sometimes pass you a lot easier. I had an issue (comestic) that a reinspection station in Trinidad didn't bat an eye at. Don't know if that helps, but is worth knowing at least.
posted by jare2003 at 7:33 AM on May 9, 2007

From what I understand about onboard OBD II diagnostics tests that are part of all cars, there's a "readiness" state indicates that certain emission control components of your car have been self-tested. Something like unplugging the battery could have erased this readiness code, and over time, the car has to perform all these different tests again.

If you drive long enough, over time, all the component tests will be performed. I think the DMV gave you a procedure that accelerates the testing of the individual components in order to get the ready code to go on as soon as possible

The procedure sounds similar to this driving cycle procedure.

Without having an OBD II scanner to read the readiness code, I'm not sure how you'll ever know you got the readiness code to set correctly, even if you did follow the test procedure carefully. Good luck.
posted by jaimev at 7:36 AM on May 9, 2007

jare2003 - FWIW, there's only one inspection station in DC. Tragic, I know.
posted by nkknkk at 7:44 AM on May 9, 2007

i will also say that if you go to a reinspection station
As it turns out there is only one inspection station for DC, period. The poster could easily find a station nearby in MD or VA, but I'm not sure how useful that would be except that they are typically service stations as well (at least in VA), and so might be more helpful.
posted by exogenous at 7:46 AM on May 9, 2007

exogenous: When I lived in DC, they allowed you to get your car "reinspected" at a number of other locations rather than going back to the official inspection facility in Southwest. Typically, the "reinspection" was done at a garage or mechanic who was licensed for this purpose. There used to be one near me when I lived in Adams-Morgan.

This was some years back, rules may have changed.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:27 AM on May 9, 2007

Reinspection Program

Maybe one of these locations could reset your button, then also finish the inspection for you.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:29 AM on May 9, 2007

Excuse me, but to reset your car's OBDII system, all you need to do is leave the negative battery cable disconnected overnight. Snap-On scanners (at least) also have this ability. The procedure you've described is to have the onboard system run a full self test and then set a code that says it has completed this, resetting the PCM isn't usually necessary to accomplish this. If doing the procedure mentioned (at least twice) doesn't work, your car may have a defective controller.

Disclaimer: I hate fords.
posted by IronLizard at 8:54 AM on May 9, 2007

By the way: Normal driving over time usually does this on it's own, have you changed your battery or disconnected it recently?
posted by IronLizard at 8:56 AM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: Yes, I had it worked on to pass the inspection, so the battery was disconnected and that's what caused all this i guess. But I only get one more shot at reinspection before having to pay some $75 fee - so if i just drive it around a while and then fail a third time, it's the final sucky ending to a long stupid story
posted by greggish at 9:00 AM on May 9, 2007

it's the final sucky ending to a long stupid story

Don't worry about it, I have more than enough of my own long, stupid stories. Try out that procedure in parts a few times. Not necessarily all at once if it's too much. If you do break it up, be sure to do each step several times. Alternatively, this could be a great excuse to get out and see the countryside some. Talk to the guy at the inspection place who told you you needed to do this and see if he'll just check to see if the code is set before doing a full inspection or what have you. If he's not amenable, find someone who is. Any shop worth a damn will have the correct code reader to check this and here, for example, I can get my codes read for 15$ (or harbor freight had a diagnostic tool for like 40$).
posted by IronLizard at 9:18 AM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: So what you're saying is, i don't necessarily have to do all these things in the proper order, just make sure that my car goes through all the motions enough times.
posted by greggish at 9:22 AM on May 9, 2007

Best answer: Distad's at 823 Pennsylvania, SE, is the best shop I've ever been to, and pretty much everyone who's been there agrees. They aren't a reinspection station, but I'll bet they can help you figure out what needs to be done.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:31 AM on May 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

Sorry, my mistake on the reinspection issue.
posted by exogenous at 10:51 AM on May 9, 2007

Sorry Robert Angelo, that info is a bit out of date. There is now one place and one place only, 1001 Half Street, SW. Get there early. Bring snacks and a book.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:54 AM on May 9, 2007

Best answer: So what you're saying is, i don't necessarily have to do all these things in the proper order,

Pretty much. The way this works is that this procedure is just the quickest way for the PCM to get data from each sensor at different cruising modes. The data populate eventually regardless and this is the basis of how your car's computer 'learns'. This data is what's used to adjust fuel/advance and other curves specifically to your vehicle. Just remember, to be safe have someone check to make sure the code is set before going through the entire inspection again and possibly failing. Maybe go to the shop MrMoonpie mentioned and just ask about checking for the code. Seriously, a lot of places will just do this for you (it's great PR).

Damn, if it's this hard to get a car inspected in DC I might just move there and open up a shop ;)
posted by IronLizard at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2007

Oops, sorry for the wrong information. Robert Angelo and I were wrong - you used to be able to take your car to a reinspection station if you failed the first one, but i see it's only at the Half Street SW location now
posted by jare2003 at 12:22 PM on May 9, 2007

Sorry about the misinformation. Trust the DC government to keep outdated/misleading stuff on its web site! :-)
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:23 PM on May 9, 2007

Forgot to mention one more thing, if there is an Autozone near you they read codes for free all day long. Not sure if the (actron) scanner they use will pick up this particular code but it's certainly worth a shot if all else fails.
posted by IronLizard at 9:36 PM on May 9, 2007

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