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Check engine light code reader question

My boyfriend has a hobby garage with pretty much everything including a lift. He doesn’t have a thingy that reads the check engine light codes. Can anyone recommend a good reader I can get for Christmas that will do the job but not break the bank? This?
All check engine light issues are emissions issues, correct? Thanks!

p.s. if anyone can suggest a better Christmas gift for a car guy who has everything, I’m all ears! He fixes up old cars and hot rods.

This code reader is basic and will cover a lot of issues. It won’t help with ABS and some other more complex problems. The check engine light will indicate faults with emissions but also a lot of other stuff. It can show transmission problems, ABS brake problems - a lot more than emissions. For $40 this is a start for him. You might want to hint around and see if he wants one and what capabilities he wants.

This site will give you comparative information. You can click on each reader for its details.
Search the rest of the site and you can print coupons that’ll drop the prices even more.
I personally have the first one on the list.

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According to the linked product listing, it reads and clears both check engine and ABS lights.
I admit I’ve never used one of these, so I’m not that familiar, but from what I understand, the cheaper basic code readers will only pull the most recent code, while the better code readers will pull all the codes from ECU, which is pretty important. Therefore, I recommend one of the units that has a large display, and this one appears to fit the bill.

The better readers also allow collecting and storing data over time, graphing, linking with computers, reading of brake and body codes, and lots of other things that I like.

But I don’t know how much all of that would mean to the OP’s BF. He may just want something very basic.

Does he have a creeper? If not, or if he has a cheap one, a good one would make a nice gift, something like this:

or this:

depending on how much you want to spend. The casters (wheels) on the more expensive unit will probably last longer.

Does he have something like this?

or this?

BTW, I’m only posting Amazon links out of convenience. You can likely find these items at a local auto parts store or your local big box store at comparable prices and not have to pay for shipping.

I’m partial to the Innova scan tools. I’ve had one for a long time and it’s still relevant today. Regarding breaking the bank, that would depend on the size of your bank! :wink:

Here’s a decent version for not much money-

You can buy a more capable version for around $50 more and then just keep going up depending on the size of your bank!


What a thoughtful GF!
As a hobby guy, I bought one ($80) that will read both ABS and engine codes, including multiple, and pending, and will also clear codes, useful when tackling a problem one ‘guess’ at a time. He can use this on newer (96+) cars he’s working on, can take it when looking at used cars…
I’m sure one of those recommended will fix him up quite well.

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awesome suggestions, thanks!

Now that’s a great bf! And you are a great gf to support his hobby! Men and their hobbies. Good for you.

Since he’s seems a very gifted guy, car repair-wise anyway, suggest to focus on a code reader that offers what they call the “mode 6” feature. That allows real time measurements for things like fuel trim. Important if you are really into diagnosing problems with newer cars.

Both my cars are too old for all that, so I can’t offer anything product specific. But suggest if your bank account allows to think “mode 6” when making your choice. The type that don’t offer mode 6 are useful too, especially for a driverway diy’er . But I get the sense your bf is more than that. One idea, buy a basic one but from a store where he can take it back and get a better one himself if he likes. He doesn’t expect you to know exactly the one he wants. Best of luck.

Re: if anyone can suggest a better Christmas gift for a car guy who has everything, I’m all ears! He fixes up old cars and hot rods.

How about a subscription to Hot Rod magazine?

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George, you are a trip . . . !


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I bought the Innova at Mall-Wart for $100 and I like it for my purposes which give me an idea about whether to keep driving and for how many weeks or months. It is very handy for that.

I bought one of these and downloaded the ‘Torque’ app on my android phone. It not only gives me Diagnostic Trouble Codes, but real time sensor readings and data logging. All for less than $20.

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Everyone, thanks so very much for the awesome suggestions!!! I ended up getting a Craftsman reader at Sears, and a subscription to Hot Rod magazine (which I will confiscate and read when he’s done, lol). We are having fun learning about each other’s hobbies-I run a pig rescue and he loves cars and bikes. He bought a truck for the rescue that we’re fixing up to tow a horse trailer. Big loud manly man truck with a lift kit. I love it! He’s got a '67 Dodge that I want to work on with him and he wants me to race it on the track when we’re done.

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