Do You Need an OBD2 Scanner?

Modern vehicles are filled with chips and computers that control everything. A code reader makes self-maintenance a lot easier. When something goes wrong, there are many options for what it could be. Whether it’s a light on the dash or another issue, plugging a scanner into the OBD2 port can reveal valuable information. If you’re not a mechanic or just want to find things faster, you might need an OBD2 scanner.

Are OBD2 scanners worth it?

Mechanic repairing a head gasket on a three-cylinder engine
Head gasket repair | Tim Leedy/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Firstly, discovering a code or light on your dashboard is never good. However, it could mean anything from a minor, cheap fix to a catastrophic car-scrapping problem. However, taking your car to a mechanic or dealer to run a diagnostic is very expensive. Moreover, it’s likely going to cost you more for one diagnosis than it would to buy your own OBD2 scanner. Many cheaper scanners, like you’d want for your home, start at around $20. Alternatively, there are expensive ones with more capability that cost a few hundred, but you probably don’t need that for the most part.

The most agonizing thing is to take your car to a mechanic for something you could’ve repaired yourself in five minutes. U.S. News used a loose gas cap or low tire pressure as an example, which could put a light on your dashboard. You’ll pay a dealer or mechanic a fee to diagnose and repair the issue when it could’ve been free. Most importantly, OBD2 scanners are simple and easy to use, so anyone can do it.

What is an OBD2 scanner?

Do you need an OBD2 scanner for your car?
OBD2 port | Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance via Getty Images

An on-board diagnostics (OBD) scanner plugs into your car’s OBD2 port and provides error codes to see what’s wrong. The small investment could save you a lot of money long-term for a low price. Additionally, a scanner can help show problems in the vehicle before they go wrong. Choosing an OBD2 scanner requires knowing your budget, plus the features, size, warranty, and ease of use you need.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that vehicles older than the 1996 model year will be incompatible. However, OBD1 scanners may be compatible but do some research online before buying. Everything depends on the particular model you’re driving at that point. A code reader for your car could be beneficial to any model year, and even older vehicles can use them.

How to use a code reader for your car

OBD2 scanners are very easy to use, no matter your level of mechanical or technological knowledge. Simply locate the OBD2 port and connect the code reader. If you don’t know, the OBD2 port is located somewhere underneath your steering wheel, often on the left side. It’s the same spot a state emissions inspector uses for your inspection. If you’re unable to locate it, check your vehicle’s manual, or search for “year/make/model OBD port location” on the internet.

Once connected, the OBD2 scanner will read the diagnostic trouble code (DTC) from the computer. Moreover, the systems are represented by a letter, then four digits, which specify the issue. The letters represent powertrain, body, chassis, or network.

  • P: Powertrain
  • B: Body
  • C: Chassis
  • U: Network

It depends on which code reader for your car you’re using. Some of the OBD2 scanners will translate the code and tell you what’s wrong on the spot. However, for others, you’ll need to translate the code with an internet search or a manual that comes with the scanner. U.S. News used a RepairPal code for the right-side airbag deployment fault, B0028, as an example.

When do you need an OBD2 scanner?

An auto mechanic works on a vehicle after a likely diagnosis using a code reader for your car.
An auto mechanic working under a raised vehicle | Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images

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Anyone who owns a car could benefit from owning an OBD2 scanner. Using a code reader to diagnose an issue before visiting a mechanic will save you plenty of money. In addition, it’ll save you even more if you know the problem isn’t what a dishonest mechanic tells you. Passing on the valuable information from the code reader to the mechanic will also help them speed up the process, skipping the diagnostic stage in most cases.

Furthermore, owners who perform maintenance at home will find it much easier to scan and solve than to try out different parts to see what’s broken. Additionally, owners can discover a problem before it occurs, preventing a breakdown or dangerous difficulties while driving.

Why do you need a code reader for your car?

In conclusion, owning a simple OBD2 scanner can save car owners a lot of money. Whether it’s from self-diagnosis, problem prevention, or avoiding a dishonest mechanic, OBD2 scanners are helpful. Best of all, they’re affordable and easy to use. Whether you’re a seasoned mechanic or a completely clueless car owner, an OBD2 scanner is an excellent investment.

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