Piston Slap: In my day, we used a paper clip for that!


Barry writes:

I own a 1987 Corvette, and I can not find a proper diagnosis scan tool for my OBD-I system. Is there such a tool on the market? If so, where can I obtain one at a reasonable price.

Sajeev answers:

This is an easy question for me to answer; I wish all Piston Slap queries were this easy! So let me show you the tool I used on a regular basis, as odds are you already bought it …


My sad attempt at humor aside, the fact remains that using a paper clip (or a snippet of wire with both ends stripped off) to trigger the OBD-I computer’s trouble codes is a well-established hack. Grab one and seek the Corvette’s OBD test port, which is under the steering column (relatively close to where your knee rests by the dashboard). Here’s a video showing how to pull codes with your new favorite tool:

That said, this trick isn’t just for GM products, as many OBD-I powered vehicles operate on the same principle. Although that’s pretty awesome, I still haven’t answered your original question.

Yes, you can buy a legit OBD-I scan tool for GM vehicles, even if the cheap bits inside are akin to a glorified paper clip. These scanners work much like an OBD-II scanner on a 1996+ vehicle, and they are pretty cheap to boot. The asking price might be worth it, provided time is as valuable as money in your life: Actron and Innova make one for your application.

I have used both the cheap and expensive tool on my OBD-I Ford products with EEC-IV fuel injection, so which trick do I recommend? This depends on where you are in life. Bear with me, this will make sense soon enough.

I was once a broke college student with a paper clip and a 1988 Mercury Cougar with a Check Engine Light. Now I am a moderately-successful automotive journalist with a decent number of 1988 Cougar-friendly tools in his garage, including an OBD-I scanner of both aftermarket and Ford/Rotunda varieties. If you love cheap hacks, grab a paper clip. If you prefer convenience over a pulled muscle in your (now aged) backside, get the Actron or Innova. If you plan on turning into a C4 Corvette expert, get a GM Tech 1 scanner and impress all your friends with your technical brilliance.

I’ll leave it to the comment section to determine what tool Hagerty shall recommend for you. Don’t let me down, people!

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