Top Product: Ancel AD310 OBD-11 Scanner | $35 | Amazon
Your check engine light is on, what do you do next? While you might head over to your nearest AutoZone and ask them to have a look, code readers are an affordable option to supplement your trip to the repair shop, so you might want to invest in one of these nifty devices for yourself, too.
“Most car owners don’t realize that they don’t have to bring their car straight to the mechanic when the check engine light comes on, says Chris Burdick, founder, and managing director of Automoblog.net. “Almost every car owner can buy an inexpensive device called an OBD-II scanner to figure out what’s wrong with their car themselves. If your car is a model year [sic] 1996 or newer, it definitely has one.”
However, be aware, a code reader does just that, reads codes. “People assume reading codes means “diagnostic.” Sure, you have access to live data, but does the average driver know what to do with that info? I’ve seen so many people assume the mechanic is out to screw you and will spend big bucks throwing parts at codes and not fixing the symptoms of code,” Jennifer Balido, a mechanic with over 20 years of experience cautions.
Sometimes, taking a car into a mechanic instead of hoping the part you change is correct will actually save you money in the long run. “For example, a Po420 code is commonly known as a “cat code,” Balido explains. “I have seen people replace the catalytic converter(s), all o2 sensors, even MAF sensors trying to address the code.” By replacing those, they missed the underlying issue that caused the problem, “accessive fuel dumping down the manifold, through the emissions system from injectors corroded open.” If the car were diagnosed, an experienced mechanic would have caught the problem.
Best Overall: Ancel AD310 OBD-II Scanner
“If you’d like more of a budget option, the Ancel AD310 Classic OBD-II Scanner simply reads and gives you the error code so you can then Google the result and determine what you should do next.” - Chris Burdick, Founder, Managing Director, Automoblog.net
Best Bluetooth Reader: BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBD-II Scan Tool
“A Bluetooth scanner is one of the most user-friendly options. Because it uses your phone’s screen, it’s more cost-efficient than similar quality readers with their own screens. It’s very user friendly so even novices will be able to figure it out without trouble. It’s good for people with smartphones who want an intuitive tool.” - Melanie Musson, Automotive and Insurance Expert for AutoInsurance.org
“For the average driver, a simple OBD-II scan tool will do. If the check engine light comes on, you can pull the codes and Google your year/make/model and pulled code and see if there’s a common problem/fix per that code and decide if it’s financially reasonable to replace themselves if they’re a little mechanic savvy.”- Jennifer Blaido, Mechanic
Let a code reader help you start the process of understanding what is going on with your car, and perhaps, use it to begin to repair your car if that’s the route you want to go. Whatever you do, just remember that this isn’t the magic bullet, and diagnosis and confirming the problem is required.