car code reader

Picture this: you’re driving down your favorite stretch of road on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in your beautifully maintained vehicle when disaster strikes, a strange light turns on in your dashboard. Your car is still running normally, so there isn’t much reason to begin panicking, but it’s obvious your car isn’t running at optimal efficiency, and a clear risk emerges that something might be moments away from critical failure.

So, you bring your car back home and try to figure out what the issue could be. You could do it the old-fashioned way and methodically work through everything underneath the hood, or you could make use of the vehicle’s on board computer to help you diagnose the issue. But the information given by the small light on the dashboard isn’t nearly enough, a check engine light can mean hundreds of different things from a valve not fitting exactly how it should to your car being just a few miles away from breaking down entirely.

To actually get to the bottom of the issue, you’ll need a code reader and a good one at that. Websites such as obd2pros have a very comprehensive list of onboard diagnostic code readers that I used to find a code reader that got the job done without going too overboard with features.
But how does this entire system work?

What Is A Code Reader?

Modern vehicles are now equipped with On-Board Diagnostic (ODB) systems that monitor inputs and outputs from all parts of the car: mechanical, electrical, airbags, the works. When any of the data sent to the ODB system isn’t quite what it should be, an alarm code is sent to the vehicle’s computer which then prompts one of the many lights on the dash to then turn on, most often the check engine light. This light on its own is just meant to signal to the driver that something needs to be done about what’s going on inside the vehicle.

Each alarm code is different because each problem is different, simple enough. Thus, a code reader is necessary to obtain the specific code from the vehicle’s ODB system. The code reader is hooked up to a purpose-built part of the vehicle that then relays that code to the reader. Some readers are very rudimentary and will simply give you a code to plug into Google to figure out the next steps whereas others are sophisticated enough to provide you not only the code but exactly the relevant information to get the car back to the glory it once enjoyed.

This makes car repairs significantly easier than in the past where the closest thing to a “code” was poorly describing the bad sound your car is now making to your mechanic. Not all codes are significant enough to trigger an engine light, either, so periodically checking your vehicle with a code reader is important for preventative maintenance as well as proactive maintenance.

Get One of Your Own

Having your own code reader means that you can check what’s going on with your car whenever you want and without having to pay a mechanic shop to use theirs. Typically, mechanic shops charge a large premium just to have your codes read, much less your car actually worked on. You knowing exactly what needs to be fixed and what doesn’t also removes the chance of surprise repairs artificially jacking up your repair bill since you can walk in confidently and let the shop owners know you’re savvy and won’t be taken advantage of.

All in all, code readers can be the difference between a hobbyist mechanic and someone serious about the longevity of their vehicle.