Automobile computer code readers

Are they worth getting? I don’t work on my car, but would like to avoid finding out the check engine light is on for a bad gas cap…spending $100 to find I need a $7 part. Have you tested any? I see the AutoXray Code Scout 1500 recommended, but would rather pay $80 for a pocket sized one. Any experience to share?

An $80.00 pocket scanner is good enough. Unless you’re really into the repair of OBDII emission control systems and do this repair on different vehicles, you’re wasting your money on anything more expensive. I mean, if there’s a code for the heater circuit for O2 sensor 1, bank 1, are you going to troubleshoot it and maybe replace the sensor? No. But you must remember, even if you tell the people that you bring the vehicle to for the repair will still want to connect their scanner to check for enhanced codes. Which your $80.00 code reader can’t do. So, you still pay the diagnostc fee.


In most places, local auto parts stores will read the codes for free.

Frankly, if your mechanic is charging you $100 just to hook the car up to a scanner, I think what you really need is a new mechanic. That might be a reasonable fee to actually fully diagnose the car, but in the scenario you describe above with something simple like the gas cap, if you have a good honest independent mechanic they are not going to charge you their whole diagnostic fee.

Check Your Local Sears Store’s Tool Department.

Last time I was in a big city recently, I saw Actron Pocket Scan scanners for about $50. That’s a good deal. They come with a book to translate the codes. Then you can search the internet and learn a little about what the code may be telling you. What am I talking about? You can come back here with it. Be careful. Before you know it you’ll be buying tools and working on your car. Seriously, it would be good to have a heads-up before going to a mechanic.

Welcome aboard, Katty. We look forward to automotive repair questions you want to discuss.


I think that what he means to say is to get a scanner and I recommend one that is compatible with CAN OBDII. If you get a check engine light then plug in the scanner according to the instructions and get a code or codes. Then post the codes here with any driveability concerns and ask for guidance. Trouble codes are a beginning to chase down a solution to a car problem.

Experience, good. Wal-Mart is selling an Actron OBD2 CAN scanner for about $99. Two have been returned by mad code readers who found that reading codes is fun but keeping the tool is less fun than getting the 99 bucks back. When they erase the codes thay might also think the scanner is broken because all its lights are flashing. They don’t know that they are supposed to leave it plugged in and perform the drive cycle as prescribed in the manual. When the cycle is done for a system, its light will go out. Way fun. Wal-Mart will probably stop selling them or change the return policy.

Perfectly reasonable thing to have around. And a code reader is a lot easier way to clear a code that might be spurious than tracking down which fuse to pull. But why not wait until your Check Engine Light comes on to buy one? Some people never see a CEL and never need a reader.

I concur, a good relationship goes a long way usually.

Even my dealer(incredible Subaru techs but recommend way too much other stuff) only charges $40 for diagnostic. Last time I got a full pressure test on my coolant system for that amount and check for coolant leaks.

Personally I find the “gas cap” diagnosis overused by mechanics and owners.

Some parts stores do it for free. However if an often thing maybe worth it. To me no however I have only seen a CEL once in my two cars with 70k. In that case my local mechanic checked it and cleared for free while performing other work.

The gas cap situation fits the mold of the “straw man” idea. The fact that cas cap problem could end up costing you a good bit of diagnostic money is probably the worst part of OBD2. We look at the gas cap stituation and attack it (I am not saying you are attacking ODB2) and say OBD2 is cr**. The gas cap is the most glaring problem with OBD2 and it is a easy target to attack and it is hard to defend a system that would cause so much cost to be incured over a gas cap.

The overuse problem came when you had a anxious customer with a check engine light on. The list of expensive things that could be causing this problem is explained by a advisor and then it turns out to be nothing. The advisor looks like a idiot for not telling the customer that it could be a “nothing” situation. To avoid the appearence that you don’t know a check engine light could be a “nothing situation” the first thing out of many peoples mouth concerning a check engine light is “could be the gas cap”.