The OBD II Scanning Tool: Worth its Weight in Gold

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By Courtney Evans  1wrench 3money



Alright, I’m going to say it from the outset, get yourself an OBD II scan tool.  I’m going to say it again but this time a little louder,  GET YOURSELF AN OBD II SCAN TOOL.  What am I talking about and why am I shouting?  Follow along dear reader, I’ll explain and I was shouting to help get my point across.  This little tool is worth its weight in gold and it will probably save you just as much over the life of your vehicles. You need

one in your do-it-yourself garage.

What is an OBD II scan tool? An OBD II scan tool basically communicates with your vehicle’s onboard computer and tells you what code the computer is throwing and if there is a problem that needs to be resolved. We have all experienced the dreaded check engine light (CEL). This little amber light can make tough women squeal and tougher men cry. Well, I might be exaggerating a bit, but it does make you think about dollar signs and your local mechanic. Two things that should not be in the same sentence.  The OBD II scanner can not only read the codes from your vehicle, but it can also reset the check engine light.

Many states won’t even let your vehicle pass the state inspection because of a check engine light. This point alone puts more emphasis on the importance of diagnosing and resolving check engine lights.

Typically, you have to take your vehicle down to your local auto mechanic’s shop and have them read the codes for you.  This will require a minimum charge for inspection and diagnosis which can easily exceed $100. Do that twice, and essentially you’ve paid for the cost of an ODB II scanner.  An ODB II scanner will not only allow you to find answers to a lot of simple automotive problems, but it can also provide guidance for more complex issues.

What’s the deal with OBD II?
All modern vehicles are controlled and managed by computer systems. These computer systems or On Board Diagnostics,  monitor your vehicles functions as it operates.  They monitor and measure such things as the ignition timing and fuel injection calibrations to reading data from a variety of sensors such as your oxygen and mass airflow sensors.  OBD II was introduced in 1996 and was made mandatory for all cars being sold in the United States.  OBD II codes are alphanumeric and can be referenced in a vehicle service manual. You just have to read the code and look it up. The code will tell you where the problem is. “If only my car could tell me what was wrong”.  Guess what? It can.

Types of ODB II Scanners
There are lots of different types of scanners available. There are simple versions that are manufacturer specific. There are also more complex scanners that not only read OBD II codes, but also earlier versions of OBD.  Several are available in multiple languages.  Most have LCD screens that allow you to read the codes and view graphics such as charts and graphs. You can also purchase extender cables that are sure to come in handy. Most of the versions with LCD screens allow you to view live engine data, record and playback stored vehicle information, and even the ability print information through a personal computer.  Watching your live engine data is really cool!  Prices range from $30.00 on the low end and up to $800 and above on the higher end.

How to use the tool
Using an OBD-II scanning tool is relatively simple. Each type of scanner is going to have specific functionality, menus, and screens. Make sure that you refer to the owners manual of your device. In general terms, you need to connect the scanning tool to the OBD II port of your vehicle.  The port is also called the Data Link Connector. The port will be more than likely located under the steering wheel and below the dashboard. It should be near where your knees would be while in a driving position. It is supposed to be located within 2 feet of the steering wheel. What you’re looking for is a 16-pin connector that looks similar to an old parallel port printer connector, for those that remember them. The connector will probably have a cover on it that may have a “Diagnostics” label or symbol on it.

Simply plug your scanner into the port. Most scanners will require the ignition switch to be turned on. The vehicle may or may not need to be running. Please refer to your owner’s manual. Once the device is on, navigate to the diagnostics menus. You should see options for code reading and code erasing.  In the code reading section, note any active codes. You should also see a section for pending codes.  Pending codes are those that may have come up and the computer is waiting to see if they will reappear.  The code will appear as one letter followed some numbers and symbols. Take a look at your service manual to find the meaning of the code or just refer to the internet.

Fix the problem
Now that you have the code(s), you need to correct the problem(s). The code will identify what system is having a problem and what the problem is. It could point to an emissions issue, spark plugs, mass airflow, or even a transmission problem. Once you’ve identified the problem, you need to decide how you’re going to fix it. If it is within your skill level, by all means fix it. If the problems above your skill level, you may need to seek professional help. After you’ve rectified the problem, you can now use your scan tool to reset the check engine light (CEL).

An OBD II scan tool can save you a lot of worry and anguish when it comes to the check engine light(CEL) . You can perform much of the diagnostics from behind the driver seat.  You no longer have to be a victim of check engine light(CEL) anguish. You also don’t have to be a hostage and at the mercy of your local auto mechanic.  Though all check engine lights(CEL) are important and must be investigated, you can decide if the problem is urgent or whether you have a little bit of time before it needs to be addressed.

By using  a scan tool, you will save yourself money in diagnostic fees that would normally be paid to your mechanic.  You could let your mechanic know what the code is and he/she could go directly to the problem.  This will save you labor charges.  Purchase an OBD II scan tool as soon as you can and buy the best you can afford. It will take a load of worry off your shoulders and help ensure your peace of mind!






1 Comment:

  • By Saving Real Money by Doing-It-Yourself. Really? 11 Mar 2014

    [...] Check and Reset Check Engine Light ($75)-  Alright, this one is easy.  You can purchase an OBD II scan tool to use on all your vehicles or you can simply take your vehicle to your local auto parts retailer.  Most of them will scan your system for free.  Remember, scanning only identifies the source of the problem, it doesn’t fix it.  However, you can have the code reset after you’ve fixed the issue. See, The OBD II Scanning Tool:  Worth its Weight in Gold . [...]

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