About Car Monkey
Advertised as the personal diagnostic computer for your car, Car Monkey is a high-tech data interface that communicates with your vehicle, retrieves diagnostic information, and promises to deliver a simple, easy-to-understand analysis regarding any trouble you’re experiencing.
According to the website, all you have to do is plug it into the ODB-II port underneath the dash of any car, turn on the app, and you'll be notified:
- How severe the problem is
- What will happen if you keep driving
- How much it will cost to fix
- How long the repair should take
This way, customers can save money and protect themselves from being ripped off by shady mechanics, whether they own a car, truck, SUV, or RV. And the manufacturer advertises that Car Monkey will identify any type of problem, whether with brakes, tires, transmission, oil pressure, coolant, airbags, fuel, safety, or electrical systems.
Is all of this true? In other words, can you expect Car Monkey to help you identify every problem? Even then, will this necessarily help you save money?
Here, we’ll take an in-depth look at the device and its competition so that you can make an empowered choice.
What Is an OBD-II Port & How Does It Work?
According to Stephen Edelstein of Digital Trends, the On-Board Diagnostic (OBD-II) port located underneath the dashboard allows external electronics to interface with a car’s computer system—at least in models manufactured since 1996. Here’s how he explains it:
“When a car’s sensors decide that something is amiss, they trigger a message known as a “trouble code,” which may manifest as a “check engine” light or other warning on the dashboard. OBD scanners can check these trouble codes to determine exactly what’s wrong, and clear them from the computer’s memory once the problem is fixed.
The trouble codes are just that, though: codes. Instead of a diagnosis like “loose gas cap,” you will see a string of letters and numbers that is incomprehensible without a reference. Trouble codes start with a letter and include four or five numbers, which together point to the specific subsystem and what problem it is experiencing.”
In layman’s terms, OBD-II devices like Car Monkey don’t actually diagnose what’s wrong with your car—they simply decode the message provided by your vehicle in easy-to-understand language.
And since many different systems are computerized in modern cars, this means that as long as you have the right tool, you have the potential to identify a wide range of problems. As mentioned on the Car Monkey website, this could include everything from brakes and transmission to oil pressure and electrical systems.
But are there a lot of devices competing for the same customers as Car Monkey? We’ll discuss this in a moment, but let’s first take a closer look at the price and the company’s reputation.
How Much Does Car Monkey Cost?
One Car Monkey device will cost you $19.99, plus $7.99 S&H. You’ll be able to purchase a second during checkout for an additional $9.99 fee. The smartphone app is free – how do you get the app?
All Car Monkeys come with a 30-day refund policy, less any S&H fees or charges associated with the BOGO offer. In order to request one, you’ll need to reach out to Telebrands customer support at 855-668-1655.
What Do We Know About the Company Behind Car Monkey?
Telebrands is the largest As Seen on TV company in the marketplace and has been in business for more than 34 years. During that time, they’ve manufactured hundred of popular products, including recent hits like Red Copper Pan, Atomic Beam USA, Smart Swab, and Ped Egg Power.
They held a B+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, based on 28 customer reviews and nearly 400 closed complaints, as of 11/20/17. When details were available, most seemed to revolve around lower quality than expected, less-than-stellar customer service experiences, and difficulty obtaining refunds. A company representative responded in each instance with a resolution.
Car Monkey vs. Other OBD-II Dongles: How to Choose
As you might imagine based on what we discussed earlier, there are perhaps thousands of different OBD-II scanners available on the marketplace, many of which can feature vastly different operation than others.
For example, bare-bones models simply report the four or five-digit code and clear it from the system, leaving it up to the user to look up the code and decide what to do. Pro tip: There were several different standalone apps (many free) at the time of our research that could decipher these codes, with some even offering repair advice, like Car Monkey.
A quick search of online marketplaces like Amazon, Google Shopping, and Walmart.com revealed prices for most of these models ranged between about $20 and $50 at the time of our research, with some priced as low as $12.
At the other end of the spectrum are devices and systems like Hum by Verizon, Automatic, and Vinli that combine OBD-II dongles with speakers, apps, and even Wi-Fi access to deliver features like turn-by-turn navigation, emergency roadside assistance, location services (such as if your vehicle is stolen), miles driven, gas usage, and so forth.
The bottom line is that Car Monkey is up against some stiff competition. How to decide where to spend your money?
Balancing Money & Must-Haves: Pros & Cons
The two biggest factors here are your budget and your must-haves, which largely go hand-in-hand. For example, bare-bones OBD-II scanners can come with a very attractive price, although they'll only deliver minimum performance. And if you're not car savvy, you'll almost certainly want to avoid models that leave all the legwork up to you (such as deciphering codes and deciding what action to take).
Furthermore, many online customers report that these low-end models often suffer from incompatibility issues, which seems to directly relate to how old your vehicle is.
On the other hand, options that are more user-friendly and come with a greater number of features—such as ABS or airbag capability, on-screen definitions, live data, and data logging and storage—also generally come with some of the highest prices.
In fact, if you’re looking for a Wi-Fi or roadside assistance, in addition to the cost of the device itself, you might also be responsible for monthly fees and/or a contract.
Finally, regardless of the device you choose, the Digital Trends article above emphasizes that security should always be at the forefront of your mind, since “it’s important to remember that the physical separation between your car’s computer and a network that might contain malware is the first line of defense against hacking. Plugging anything into your car’s OBD II port compromises that barrier by giving an external device access to your car’s systems.”
As such, it might be best to only do business with reputable manufacturers with a track record of customer satisfaction.
Our Final Thoughts About Car Monkey
At $28 including S&H, Car Monkey seems to be a competitively priced OBD-II scanner, especially considering this cost includes access to a free smartphone app that promises to interpret your car’s trouble codes, tell you how severe the problem is, how long the repair should take, and how much it will cost to fix.
On top of this, Telebrands stands behind it with a 30-day refund policy, although you’ll lose your initial $7.99 in shipping, plus whatever it will cost to send back to the manufacturer. And if you took advantage of the BOGO offer, you’ll also lose the associated fee.
In addition, there seems to be several important details missing from the Car Monkey website, such as which operating system(s) the app is compatible with (iOS, Android, Windows Phones, etc.), how to download it, where the repair costs and other data are pulled from, and how accurate this is.
We called support and spoke with several customer support representatives, none of whom were available to provide additional insight.
For these reasons, it might be worthwhile to drive to your nearest hardware store or home and garden retailer and take a look at local OBD-II dongles before placing your order. If successful, this could save you a boatload in S&H fees if you’re dissatisfied, and make processing a refund relatively quick and easy.