Warning signs of trouble with your car tend to pop up at inconvenient times. Whether it’s a warning light or a blown gasket, you can almost guarantee these problems will occur when you least expect them.
The occasional car issue is just part of the tradeoff for having a vehicle to get you to and from where you need to go. When annoying codes pop up on your dashboard, though, the issues aren’t always easy to diagnose. Not unless you’re an expert mechanic, anyway. Does your car have a recall? 5 ways to find out.
Fortunately, you really don’t have to be a trained mechanic to diagnose car problems. Code scanners can help identify car troubles and even clear the warning code if nothing is actually wrong. Here’s how they work.
How code scanners can help you out
We’ve all had the occasional warning code pop up on our car’s dashboard while driving. They can give you information on everything from low oil to a vague warning to check your engine. Before code scanners, having one of these codes on your dash meant you were making a costly trip to the mechanic.
That isn’t the case anymore, though. Diagnostic code scanners are available to anyone who wants them, and these devices are well worth the money. If you invest in an engine code reader or scanner, all you have to do is plug it up to the car’s computer system when it’s displaying a trouble code.
The scanner can help you make a decision on whether your car is safe to drive, while giving you insight into the trouble code and suggestions on potential diagnostic or repair procedures.
In some cases, it can even help fix the issue or clear the trouble code from your dash when nothing’s actually wrong with your car. A faulty sensor can cause a trouble code to kick on at random, even when your car is in perfect condition. Without one of these devices, you’ll be stuck taking your car to someone else who can diagnose the non-issue.
Top options for car code scanners
Ready to take the plunge and invest in one of these devices? Here are some of the better options on the market.
1. BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scan Tool for iPhone & Android
With a price tag of under $100, the BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scan Tool for iPhone & Android is an affordable, easy to use code reader. It offers all of the capabilities of an expensive handheld scan tool and adds extra benefits via your smartphone or tablet.
You can use it to read and clear your check engine light and all other vehicle system warnings, too. You’ll also get unlimited free vehicle-specific repair reports, which are generated from a database of millions of fixes — all of which are verified by professional automotive technicians. That means you can both diagnose and find potential fixes for your car’s issues, all with one device.
You’ll also get free app updates, the portability that comes with this type of compact device and other useful features too. You can even save your data from your scans and watch interactive graphing of your live data.
2. NCEL AD310 Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Scanner
If you’re looking for a budget code scanner that’s perfect for beginners, this NCEL AD310 Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Scanner is it. For less than $35, you’ll get a device that’s easy to read and easy to use.
You connect this device to your car to determine why your check engine light is on. The test results appear on the screen, making it easy to determine whether the problem warrants a trip to the shop. You may even be able to fix it on your own, depending on the issue at hand.
It offers the I/M monitor readiness test, a way to turn off the MIL (check engine light) and even gives you access to historical and freeze frame data. The definitions appear on the screen, too, so you don’t have to go digging for what the issue is. You’ll know by looking at the device.
3. FOXWELL NT301 OBD2 Scanner
If you want a scanner that can diagnose a wide range of issues, this FOXWELL NT301 OBD2 Scanner is a good bet. It can help you read engine fault codes, locate bad O2 sensors, get access to emissions readiness information and a ton of other stuff.
Need to turn off the check engine light or the malfunction indicator lamp? This device can help. You can also reset the monitor, read enhanced data and retrieve your VIN when you need to.
There are a ton of other features of note, too. The screen is easy to navigate for any skill level. Plus, the scanner shows live vehicle sensor data in text and graph format while allowing you to focus on any suspicious or symptom-specific data parameters. With a price tag of less than $70, this scanner is a steal for what it offers.
4. Bafx Products Wireless Bluetooth Obd2 Scanner (Android only)
If you’re an Android user, this Bafx Products Wireless Bluetooth Obd2 Scanner is a great option. It won’t work with iPhone, but it offers a ton of features to Android users looking to diagnose their car troubles.
This scanner can monitor the diagnostic sensors in your vehicle in real-time for things like O2 data, fuel pressure, EVAP system and other issues. You can use it to check your O2 readings to see which sensor is faulty and get it fixed, too. And, it doesn’t require annoying wires to work. This one is Bluetooth capable for wireless use.
The OBD2 diagnostic scanner tool will work on all cars purchased in the U.S. model year 1996 or newer, so make sure you have both an Android phone and a car model that works before purchasing it. But for about $20, this device is well worth the price.
Related: 5.9M trucks and SUVs added to the biggest auto recall in history
5. INNOVA CarScan Pro 5210 Code Scanner
Looking for a scanner to help diagnose and fix problems with your car? This INNOVA CarScan Pro 5210 Code Scanner is it.
This car diagnostic tool reads and clears OBD trouble codes and gives you all of the vehicle information when a trouble code is triggered. That makes it easy to decide how to deal with the problem at hand.
Not only is the information useful, but the app it comes with is, too. The 5210 code reader comes with the RepairSolutions2, a unique app that gets you the information you need to keep your vehicle on the road.
This app gives you information on verified fixes that pertain to the codes and helps you find and purchase the exact part required for repair. You can even use it to schedule maintenance, receive technical bulletins, find information about recalls and a ton of other things, too.
This scanner works on any foreign or domestic vehicle 1996 or newer and offers information in three languages: Spanish, English and French. With a price tag of about $100, this isn’t the cheapest scanner on the market, but it is one of the most useful.