My sister called me up the other day – I’ve got a check engine light, what does it mean? When a car develops a certain type of issue, or potential problem, it will alert you with such an alert, or similar. Not only will it tell you there’s a problem, it’ll give you specifics, by way of an OBD2 code.
OBD stands for on-board diagnostics. OBD II, or OBD2, is a diagnostic standard that was made mandatory for all cars sold in the USA since 1996. Cars sold elsewhere have similar requirements.
So I told my sister to take her car to Advance Auto, as they’ll often do a free OBD scan. They’ll even print out the results and tell you what it means.
Some repair shops charge a check engine light diagnostic fee, even if all they do is hook up a OBD II code reader to your vehicle – the same that many parts shops will do for free.
You can also read the OBD code yourself – all you need is a scan tool, which isn’t as expensive as you might think. The new Craftsman scan tool shown here is just $70.
Craftsman just came out with a new OBD II car code reader, model 3030SC, that they say is new and improved. They actually came out with a number of new code readers, but I wanted to focus on the most inexpensive one, due to its low price point and greater simplicity.
It connects to your car’s OBD II port, which is usually somewhere in the driver’s side under the steering column, and will read out the trouble code and general definition.
You can then do some online research to learn more about the problem. Maybe it’s something you can tackle yourself, or it might it’s complex enough to warrant a repair shop visit.
You could read and then CLEAR the trouble code. But don’t clear a code thinking that your car will pass inspection, as it’ll come back until the problem is fixed.
Additional features include ABS (anti-lock brake) code diagnostics, and according to the product image there’s also a Freeze Frame feature that could offer additional insight to the problem.
More expensive and sophisticated models often add additional diagnostic features, or add the capability to read different codes in older vehicles.
Generally, the least you want is a code reader that can read, explain, and clear a code. This new Craftsman model is priced at $70, and seems to be reasonably well featured, especially compared to older and simpler models that only spit out a code number.
Over at Amazon, there are many different makes and models of scan readers that start at under $20. The lowest I’d go is with the Actron CP9125 PocketScan ($50 via Amazon), but it lacks on-screen definitions. There’s also the Actron CP9550 PocketScan Plus ($~66 via Amazon), but at that price I’d sooner get the Craftsman.
An OBD II scan tool will usually pay for itself with just one or two code reads.