There are few things in this world that are more annoying than when the “check engine” light appears on your car’s dashboard. Not only do you have engine problems, but you don’t even know what problems you’re running into.
For those who are less inclined to the mechanics of a car, this can be a real puzzle. In most cases, the result is that you have to take your car to a mechanic just to find out what’s wrong. Obviously, this can be a waste of time and money.
However, there is a device that will allow you to find the source of your “check engine” problems. This device is an OBD2 car scanner. There are quite a few OBD2 scanners currently on the market, and you want to make sure you pick one that is high quality.
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Guide to buy the best OBD2 scanner
OBD2 scanners are made to work with multiple vehicle makes and models, giving them amazing versatility. If you would like to diagnose vehicle problems on your own and are interested in obtaining an OBD2 scanner, read on for valuable information to help you make the right purchase.
For the fastest performance of an OBD2 scanner, look for one that is CAN compliant. CAN is used in most cars with 2004 and later models.
Types of OBD2 scanners and how they work
OBD is short for “on-board diagnosis”. OBD2 is the second version of this hardware. The first version appeared in the early 1980s, but was limited to certain makes and models. OBD2 appeared in the mid-1990s with a universal port that allows one device to scan multiple car models. Vehicles from 1996 must be compatible with OBD2 scanners. When you buy an OBD2 scanner for home use, you are probably buying a handheld scanner. Professionals in repair shops, however, will want to make use of a computer-sized OBD2 scanner.
These larger scanners have powerful processors and work quickly, so you can perform many scans in one day. The scanners deliver the data through a couple of means. Some OBD2 scanners are wired: A cable runs from the OBD2 port in the vehicle to the scanner, where it delivers the data. Other scanners communicate data through a USB, Bluetooth, or WiFi connection. Connect this type of scanner with another device, such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop, to obtain the data.
Decrypt scanner information
All OBD2 scanners can generate error codes. However, understanding what to do with those error codes can be difficult with some scanners. High-end scanners will display troubleshooting information on the screen along with the error code. This simplifies the process of solving problems, while saving time. If the troubleshooting information is not displayed on the screen, the device may allow you to connect to the Internet to find the data you need.
I KNEW IT? A professional-grade OBD2 scan tool can receive data from the car’s systems and send it to the systems. This allows for more extensive troubleshooting.
OBD2 scanner features
All handheld OBD2 scanners can read basic errors, generating the appropriate error codes. Scanners can also clear error lights. But if you want some additional features, here are some things to keep in mind.
Applications: Some OBD2 manufacturers create companion applications that accompany the hardware. With an app, error codes and data can be stored on a smartphone or tablet. The app can also tap for additional information on troubleshooting error code that is stored in the cloud.
Connector: The OBD2 scanner connector has a 16-pin plug. These pins are thin and delicate. If they are damaged, the scanner will no longer work. Some scanner cables have plastic protectors around the pins, keeping them secure, which is a nice feature. Always store the OBD2 scanner carefully to avoid unintentional damage.
Display screen: A handheld scanner with a large, sharp screen can display quite a bit of information. Some OBD2 scanners have a screen large enough to display both the error code and troubleshooting information.
I / M Preparation: If you live in a state where your vehicle must undergo regular inspections, you will want an OBD2 scanner with I / M function. I / M, short for inspection and maintenance, can measure vehicle systems to see if they’re ready for inspection testing.
Live data: If you want to measure a system while driving, you will need a scanner capable of measuring live data. Other scanners only work when the vehicle’s engine is not running.
Storage: If you want to remember the results of previous scans, look for an OBD2 scanner with a memory storage area. This can be useful for tracking errors as they evolve over time.
VIN Recovery: Some OBD2 scanners display the vehicle’s VIN number after scanning. Reading the scanned frame number allows you to compare it to the frame number in your vehicle’s documentation. This ensures that no one has tampered with the vehicle’s systems or changed the chassis number.
OBD2 scanner prices
Basic handheld OBD2 scanners can be purchased for a low price, typically € 20-50. These scanners, often called code readers, check for the most basic problems. If you just want a little information on hand when you visit the repair shop, this entry-level OBD2 scanner is a good choice. (They can also erase the error lights.)
However, an entry-level OBD2 scanner will not provide immediate troubleshooting information.
Mid-range OBD2 scanners work well for people who like to do some home repair. These vehicle scanners have the ability to retrieve data from previous scans, which can be useful for comparison purposes. Called scan tools, they can diagnose both basic and extensive problems, providing data for troubleshooting. Mid-range OBD2 scan tools cost between € 50 and € 150. The most expensive OBD2 scanners for amateur use cost between € 150 and € 1,000. Some professional level models cost up to € 10,000. Models at the upper end of this range will not be handheld devices.
Expensive OBD2 scanning devices have the ability to add additional data to readings. For example, you can see the exact time the error code occurred, as well as any other errors that were occurring at the same time. Those who commonly do auto repairs will want a top-notch OBD2 scanner for the best results.
Connecting an OBD2 scanner to a vehicle is an easy process. Reading the codes does not require much technical knowledge either. Still, there are a few things you need to know ahead of time. We have compiled some tips to help you be more successful with your OBD2 scanner.
- Know where to find the OBD2 port. Commonly, the port is located under the dash to the left of the steering column. The port can have a cover or a latch. If you can’t find the port, check the internet – there are multiple online sites that have the correct information for your make and model of vehicle.
- Gently plug in the scanner. Don’t force it. If the scanner and port are properly aligned, they should be inserted with minimal force. Using too much force could damage the pins.
- Know how far to turn the key. Some OBD2 scanners require you to start and run the car’s engine while scanning. Others require that you turn the key halfway to activate the vehicle’s power systems.
- Have your data ready. Depending on the scanner, you may have to enter the make and model of your car before the unit starts scanning.
- Plan how you will log error codes. Once the scan is complete, the codes will appear on the screen. You can write them, send them to a smartphone via wireless connection, or send them to a printer or laptop via USB.
Q. Why would I want an OBD2 scanner? After all, I can’t fix my car by myself.
A. Having an OBD2 scanner at home is useful even for those with no mechanical background. When running the scanner, you may encounter error codes that give you an idea of what is wrong with the vehicle. Then you can make an informed decision about whether the car should be taken to a mechanic immediately or if the problem can wait. Also, you will know if the repair shop is treating you fairly with respect to the proposed repairs.
Q. What vehicle problems can an OBD2 scanner detect?
A. An OBD2 scanner can detect any error code that could trigger a MIL (Malfunction Indicator Lamp) in the vehicle. These lights may include an engine check light, an oil error light, or a battery error light. The purpose of the MIL is to alert you to a problem. Using an OBD2 scanner, you can then identify the exact problem that caused the MIL.
Q. What do the OBD2 codes mean?
A. The error code displayed on the OBD2 screen follows a certain pattern. The first character is a letter meaning the area of the vehicle with the error. “B” means a body problem, while “C” means a chassis problem. The numbers that make up the rest of the code more accurately point to the problem. Rather than trying to memorize codes, OBD2 scanners typically show the code’s meaning or connect it to an application that can define the code for you.