How to Use a Diagnostic Code Reader? Simple Steps

You are off to your much-awaited vacation with your family and confident that nothing can ruin the mood. Wait until you see the “Check Engine” light blinking on your dashboard. You start thinking about whether you should postpone your plans and drive your car to the nearest repair shop. A car diagnostic scanner or a car code reader app can help decide whether you should keep driving your car or take it to the mechanic. An engine code reader/scanner can even help pinpoint the problem and fix it.

You’re probably asking yourself these car diagnostic tools are hella expensive. Of course, they were ridiculously pricey in the past, costing thousands of dollars, and they still are especially the sophisticated ones that are compatible with all car manufacturers. These professional car diagnostic scanners still have astronomical price tags even with the introduction of onboard diagnostics II (OBD2).

If you’re asking how to use an OBD2 code reader—it’s pretty straightforward—just plug into the car’s computer system, run the car scanner, and it will display all the “trouble code.” Inexpensive car diagnostic scanners are simple that show only the alphanumeric trouble code or several codes but provide no information about what it means. This begs the question that a car code reader/scanner is worth the purchase if you have a basic understanding of how car engines work. Most car owners don’t want to go to all that and ask a reasonably competent mechanic when that code means. However, a car diagnostic code reader does not necessarily tell what’s exactly wrong. Instead, it just warns of what has and could go wrong. Said that you’ll still have to find out what went wrong or replace parts.

What Is a Check Engine Light?

When you see the check engine light of your vehicle turned on, it indicates that some sensor(s), somewhere in your engine, transmission, or exhaust, has provided unusual data to the computer.  It could also suggest that there are some problems with the system, a wiring issue, or the sensor is responsible for monitoring the car is problematic. In some cases, a check engine light may itself off and turn on again without any reason. That does not mean that your vehicle doesn’t have problems, or it could mean that there were no issues in the first place. You still can find the problem when you plug your car’s computer with a diagnostic code reader even after the check engine light is turned off.

How to Get a Diagnostic Car Tool

Back in the day, the only way to get your hands dirty with a car diagnostic scanner or reader is to buy one from specialty tool companies. This wasn’t an option for most car owners. But that has changed in recent years, and now inexpensive car code readers and scan tools are sold in all car retail are parts stores, online retailers, and many other places. You don’t want to purchase a car diagnostic tool, you can rent or borrow one. There are even many auto parts stores that lend car diagnostic tools for free, agreeing that if you figure out the problem with your car or truck, you’ll probably buy some parts from them.  Furthermore, some car parts and tools stores even lend high-end diagnostic tools. So if you want something better than a basic car code reader, but don’t have the dough, that may be an option.

Where To Plug A Car Diagnostic Tool

Once the check engine light is turned on, locate the diagnostic connector. Older vehicles with OBD-I systems have connectors in all sorts of places, including the engine compartment, underneath the dashboard, and on/or near the fuse block. OBD-I diagnostic connectors also come in several sizes and shapes. Check the plug on your scan tool, and you can tell whether the plug is compatible with the OBD-I diagnostic connectors.

Newer automobiles are equipped with the OBD2 connectors, and the connector is located under the dashboard to the left of the steering column. However, this varies from one model to others, and in some cases, the OBD2 connectors can be challenging to find places like in the center console or behind the ashtray. We recommend you check the car owner’s manual in case you can’t find it. The OBD-II connectors are either shaped like a rectangle or an isosceles trapezoid, and there are sixteen pins configured in two rows, with each having eight pins.

Using A Check Engine Light Code Reader

After locating your OBD-II connector, insert your code reader plug and secure it. If you do it in the first attempt, check whether the plug isn’t upside down. Make sure your car’s ignition key is off. With the diagnostic connector plugged in, insert your ignition key and go into the on position. This will power the code reader. Depending on your device, you may need to enter the VIN, the engine type, car manufacturer’s name, or other information. By then, your diagnostic reader is all set. The basic code reader only displays the codes, while other advanced scan tools will provide you the option to read the trouble codes or other data.

Decoding The Check Engine Light Codes

When using a barebones code reader, you’ve to note down the trouble codes and do some research to figure out what they mean. For example, if your OBD-II trouble code is P3421, do a Google search with that code, and it will reveal that there is an issue with one of the cylinder-3 exhaust valve control circuits. You probably ask what’s wrong, but it gives you an idea of what the problem may be.

Other Steps

In addition to displaying trouble codes, OBD2 code readers also perform other vital functions, such as clearing all stored trouble codes after repairs. This particular function is beneficial as if the same code comes back during your next check, you’ll know that the problem wasn’t fixed.  Some car code readers and scan tools are also capable of accessing real-time data from a variety of sensors when the engine is running. That way, you can verify whether a repair was actually done after seeing the information from a specific sensor in real-time.

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