An Essential Tool for Every Toolbox

Are you missing one of the most essential tools for the modern toolbox?

The Gaydon era Aston Martins (DB9, Vantage, DBS, Rapide, Vanquish, etc.) are mechanical wonders, but what really runs the cars are the computers.   My 2005 DB9 coupe has about 13 computer modules that control everything from the Engine and Transmission to the Doors and Stereo system.  Many of us recoil at the idea of working on our own cars now because of these mysterious black boxes and our lack of knowledge about them.

Typical Post for Help in Facebook Group

One of my personal pet peeves out on the Internet forums is a near daily occurrence of Aston owners posting that their car has turned on the check engine light and some warning message has appeared like “Service Emission System”.  They post a photo of the message and ask all the other forum members for advice.  What usually follows is a wild array of random guesses and home brew advice that ranges from “Ignore it and see if it goes away” to “Tighten the gas cap” to my least favorite “Give it an Italian Tune Up” [offensive].   Most advice given isn’t based on any actual facts.  My advice is to ‘talk’ to your car and ask it what is wrong rather than a bunch of well-intentioned strangers.

I am here to tell you it is not that scary – you just need the right tool to ‘talk’ to it.  By talking to it you will know a lot more about what is going on with your car and be empowered to better deal with it.

OBDII to the Rescue

The Aston Martin DB9 has two ODBII Connections

All cars built since 1996 have an On Board Diagnostics port, more commonly known as an OBDII port [Oh-Bee-Dee-Two].   This port is our gateway to plug into the car and see what it is thinking.   Aston Martin’s are a bit unique in this respect, they have TWO OBDII ports.   One is for the computers that run the engine, and the other is for all the other modules like the transmission, braking systems, airbag systems, doors, center console, etc.   The V12 engine cars actually have TWO engine control computers, one each bank of six cylinders.   You can find the OBDII ports just under the lower edge of the Dash in the drivers side footwell.   The “OBDII” port is for the Engine, Transmission and Antilock Brakes, the “Body” port is for all the other control modules (doors, stereo, dash, etc.).

To talk to the car you need an OBDII diagnostic tool.   Steady now – stay with me here – if you can manage to use your Smart Phone you’ll be able to manage using an OBDII tool.  What makes OBDII nice is that all manufacturers have agreed to use a common language to communicate through the OBDII ports, and most cars share a common set of Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) that reflect issue that can arise.  For example, if the engine module diagnoses that it has a misfiring issue it will set the P0300 error code. Same code for a Toyota Camry or a V12 Aston Martin Vanquish.   Manufacturers are allowed to develop their own unique DTCs and special functions.

Aston Martin AMDS laptop connected to a DB9

Aston Martin Dealers have the holy grail of OBDII devices, essentially a laptop that connects to the car through both OBDII ports at the same time.  They call this the AMDS system (Aston Martin Dealer System).   The AMDS can talk to the control modules, program them, and do all sorts of neat tricks that they can charge you for (like program new keys).   I’d cut the dealers some slack – the tools are expensive and the technicians have to be trained to use them, so they are due some reward for their investment.  But, we can use aftermarket tools to do many (but not all) of the same things.

Inexpensive OBDII Code Scanner

Many, many generic OBDII tools exist that you can purchase for as little as $40 USD at the local auto parts stores.   These cheap, basic tools are known as Code Scanners, and can essentially plug into the OBDII port and read any DTCs that are present.  They will allow you to clear or reset most (but not all) of them.   This is why many users buy one, they just want to stick their head in the sand and reset the ‘Check Engine Light’ by clearing any DTCs present (Tada – problem solved).   The problem with a generic OBDII code scanner is that they can only provide the most basic common information, and only about the engine control module.  On the V12’s they can’t even talk to the 2nd engine control module, so you only get half the picture.  While a generic OBDII code scanner is OK for a Toyota Camry, you need something a little smarter to get the full story from your Aston.

Foxwell NT510 OBDII Diagnostic Scanner that can talk to an Aston Martin

Several OBDII Tool makers have more intelligent OBDII Diagnostic scanners that are able to talk to all the Aston Martin modules.  They know the special DTCs, and that the V12’s have two control modules.   While they aren’t a full blown AMDS system, they can tell you a LOT about what’s going on in your Aston.   While I don’t know all of the companies that make OBDII tools that can do this trick, I know several models from Autel and Foxwell Technologies can. [Note: I have no financial gain listing these brands, I am just sharing my experience]  Both companies specifically list certain models of their tools are fully Aston Martin compatible (verify this before purchasing).   I personally use a Foxwell NT510.   I purchased this amazing little tool for just $179 USD from FoxwellTool.com (also available on Amazon).  While not as cheap as a low end generic tool, it can do so much more.   Having one of these intelligent ODBII tools is essential for the modern toolbox.

Now What?

You can Reset the Time for Service Message using a Foxwell NT510

With the Tool in hand, what can you do with it?    You can talk to the modules, ask them what DTCs they might be suffering from, even look at the live data from the hundreds of sensors (Engine temperature, transmission gear, wheel speed, interior temperature, all that stuff).   The Foxwell system I own can even reset the “Time for Service” reminder after my annual oil change (it’s a special function of the Drivers Information Module).

Using the Foxwell NT510 to talk to a DB9

If your Aston turns on the Check Engine light, you can plug in your trusty ODBII tool and ask it to ‘Auto Scan’ all the modules.   It will then talk to each module in turn and collect all the DTC codes, including the special Aston Martin ones.   It will present the codes to you in a slightly more user friendly manner.   For example, if you have a P0300, it will also include the text that this is a “Random Misfire Detected”.    It won’t tell you why you have a misfire (neither will the almighty AMDS – the Technician needs to work it out), but you know have a much better starting point for your troubleshooting.   You might get a combination of DTCs, like a P0300 about a random misfire and a second code P0192 Fuel Rail Pressure Sensor Low Input.   You might then surmise that the misfire could be a symptom of the low fuel pressure, and focus your efforts on solving that problem first and then see of the misfire issue clears afterwards.    It’s still up to you or the mechanic to work out the problem based on the DTC and the live sensor data you can now access.

Sample of Aston Martin DTC Guide

To help with understanding the cause of the DTC codes, Aston Martin created a technical service guide that goes into detail about the potential causes, and remedies, for each DTC code.   The idea being you look up the P0300 code in the guide and see what Aston suggests.  This is the guide for their trained service technicians, and is a great place to look for more understanding.  I’ve posted all I’ve research and found about the DTCs all in one place here.

Your new tool and the information it provides you will demystify much of the electronics side of your Modern Aston.   You can now post an informed question in the forums and groups such as “My 2005 DB9 Coupe is generating a P0309 code about a misfire on cylinder 9.   Has anyone seen that before and how do you resolve”.  You’re likely to get a much better answer from the Interwebs, or know at least that the issue is serious and you need to not ignore it and take your car to a knowledgeable specialist or Aston Dealer that can dig in even deeper to help.


[Updated March 2021] – The beauty of the Blog over the Published article is that I can keep updating it as things evolve.   While the Foxwell is a great tool, you might also want to check out my review of the ThinkCar ThinkDiag Bluetooth OBDII tool.  It also speaks native Aston Martin, but outshines many of the others with a number of Special Functions previously only available in the Factory AMDS.   Check out my video on it here.


Aston Martin Quarterly Magazine

I originally wrote this article for the Winter 2020/2021 edition Volume 54 Number 229 (pages 41 to 43) of the Aston Martin Quarterly magazine.  (you can find the original magazine format of the article here).

I think all Aston owners should be active members of the Aston Martin Owners Club (AMOC) and with that you’ll receive (amongst other benefits) the quarterly high quality coffee table editions of the AMQ magazine.  If you aren’t yet an AMOC member, please consider signing up here.

Aston Martin V12 Vantage Production Numbers – A Geek’s Guide

Can you remember when you last took notice of Jeremy Clarkson?

Shall I tell you? I bet it was the final feature of the final episode of series 13 of Top Gear, August 2009. Are you with me now? If not, take a 5 minute break and watch it here.

How on earth did JC record a full 4 minute mini feature film and yet managed only to utter 82 words. Has any other car before or indeed since, managed to virtually silence Jezza?

After highlighting the DBS V12 in AMQ Summer 2018 (read that article here), it is now time to look more closely at the V12 Vantage (VH280 to VH287B, six-speed manual 2010MY to 2013MY).  Same engine, same gearbox, same brakes, same interior. It is as near as makes no odds, the same car but in a more compact package. Continue reading “Aston Martin V12 Vantage Production Numbers – A Geek’s Guide”

DBS V12 Volante Production Numbers – A Geek’s Guide

The DBS V12 coupe had been in production for over a year when the Volante version was first shown at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show. Whilst the coupe was a direct replacement for the Vanquish S, the DBS Volante represented a combination that AML had not offered for 10 years by putting their most powerful engine in their flagship open car. This isn’t something that AML always offer, but when they do the results are always spectacular and instantly desirable. Who can resist the pull of a DB4 convertible with the GT engine, the late 1980s overly bespoilered V8 Vantage Volante or the super-rare 1999 supercharged Vantage Volante Special Edition. So, the DBS V12 Volante is another shining example of this rare combination.

E11213 is a very famous DBS Volante. This particular car was used during the press launch and was famously driven by Jeremy Clarkson in Romania on a feature on BBC’s Top Gear. It is one of only eight UK cars with a manual gearbox – Photo by Tim Cottingham

Continue reading “DBS V12 Volante Production Numbers – A Geek’s Guide”

DBS Production Numbers – Which is rarest of them all?

DBS V12 Coupe

“So, just how many DBS V12 coupes were built with the manual transmission?”

It’s not unusual for people to ask the Registrars questions that we don’t know the answers to.  It’s also not unusual that we make a bit of an effort to find the answer.  On this occasion we actually had to go to an awful lot of effort and put in many hours of research, but in compiling the register of every DBS built, we have managed to answer so many more questions than just the total number of manuals built, and to uncover the truth about the most talked about car of the Gaydon Vertical Horizontal (VH) era. Continue reading “DBS Production Numbers – Which is rarest of them all?”

Hey Steve – Where are the articles?!

I haven’t posted as many “How To” fix it articles in the last few months (my apologies) but it was actually due to a deliberate strategy I had to try and spread the word about Aston1936.com and reach more readers/viewers.  Aston Martin DB9 owners are a global community, and there are only about 6,000 of us, so reaching everyone is a bit of a challenge.

When I learned that my first article was being published in Aston Martin Quarterly (AMQ) magazine that mentioned this Blog, I wanted to have something relevant for most ANY Aston owner to read wen they arrived, not a super specific article on how to change a DB9 marker lamp.   Broad appeal.   I also didn’t know exactly when the magazine would start to ship, and even then it’s a global publication and I would need to allow several weeks for it to make it to all corners of the world.

As you’ve probably seen (and are bored of by now), I put the “The True Costs of Owning an Aston Martin DB9” up as the primary article for almost two months.   I put a substantial amount of effort into that article, and in particular the Video on YouTube.   I actually included myself as a presenter (Jeremy Clarkson I am not), wrote a script, planned out the scenes, and drafted my neighbor Rob as a cameraman again.  About 20 hours of effort to produce the resulting 15 minute video.

Aston1936.com readership increasing

The results have been a pleasant surprise.   Readership of this blog definitely started to increase as the AMQ article hit the streets in late May.   In months prior about 50 people a day were visiting, and now its closer to 125.   In May over 9,000 articles were read.  I appreciate ALL of the readers taking the time to read my ramblings and hopefully getting some information to help them with their DB9 project.

YouTube Statistics

The YouTube video on the True Costs has been the real surprise.  Most of my videos get viewed maybe 200-300 times (which I think is great), probably by actual DB9 owners tackling the maintenance task I am describing.  But, as of today, the True Costs video has been viewed nearly half a million times!  The video has been watched for over 2.6 million minutes (that’s over five years of minutes)!   Great for the ego to be sure.  [Maybe it was discovered as a cure for insomnia]  What was also interesting was the 100’s of comments left by viewers (and some foul mouth trolls), 99% of which were constructive and positive.   Nearly 3,000 people are subscribed to the Aston1936 YouTube Channel now.  Won’t they be surprised when my upcoming PCV Valve videos get posted next.  I suspect my Subscriber count is doomed to dwindle.

But, the AMQ edition has fully circulated around the world now, and my brush with YouTube fame is waning, so its time to get back to the business of this Blog, helping others learn how to look after their own DB9’s.  I am going to try and get back into the habit of publishing an article per week.

I have a slate of articles I am getting ready in the weeks ahead (where the repair work is already completed along with filming), and they will include:

  • Sad man with Cracked Windshield

    Changing your PCV Valves (the final bits of the series)

  • What is costs to fix a cracked Windshield (including a time lapse video of the repair)
  • Removing/installing all the Leather Dash Panels
  • Removing/installing the Rear View Mirror
  • Removing/Installing the Headliner
  • Repairing a sagging headliner
  • Leveling the GPS cover on the Ski Slope of the Dash
  • Repairing the leather end cap on the drivers door
  • Snow Foaming your DB9

Also in the works for the future I have a few articles I am gearing up to under take:

  • A Brake Job – new Pads, Rotors, Caliper Bolts and Wear Sensors
  • Getting new tires – what the options are, differences, etc.  Bridgestone (OEM) vs. Michelin vs. Pirelli.
  • How to change every light on the car, and while I am at it change over to LED bulbs (including links to buy the bulbs online).
  • Changing the door/wing mirrors to the newer, improved design that was included on later models (that experience less wind noise).   The black plastic base on mine are starting to look like crap.
  • How to touch up small chips in the paint (the paint on these cars is weak and prone to chipping).

If anyone out there is interested in sponsoring the parts for some of these projects, please reach out and leave a comment.

If you are interested in these upcoming articles please leave me a comment below, it might help me prioritize the order I get them released in.

Thanks for reading!

Aston Martin Quarterly Magazine

If you are a registered member of the Aston Martin Owners Club (the AMOC) you receive a few magazines each year.

  • The small “Aston Martin News” guide with the latest from the various AMOC chapters around the world and other articles about news and events
  • The “Vantage Point” magazine that includes feature sized articles
  • and finally “Aston Martin Quarterly” (AMQ) the glossy coffee table style magazine.  Published four times per year, it contains technical articles, historical items, factory news and reports of Club activity from around the world. The Quarterly is a full color publication of, on average, 80 pages.

Astons on the Web

Back in December 2016 I suggested to AMQ the idea of putting in a series of articles about information on the Internet about Aston Martins.  My experience so far with this blog (and others like it on the Internet) is that once the owners ‘discover it’ they are very grateful that the resources exist.  Maybe AMQ would be willing to help get the word out pointing at some of these sites. Continue reading “Aston Martin Quarterly Magazine”