Scanners/code readers

just looking into getting a scanner/code reader and i am blown away by the number of choices out there. just curious what you all use and how much they cost? what is the difference between the $60 models and the $300 models? is it just a nicer interface with more bells and whistles, or does it actualy give you more detailed diagnostic information? also, i have heard that when you get one you want one that has mode 6 capabilty. anyone know what that means?

thanks for the help

There’s a book at my local Barnes and Noble in the Transportation section titled “Understanding and Performance Tuning Automobile Electronic Control and Diagnostic Systems” (or something like that) which explains all the modes and what they are used for. Probably a worthwhile look-see for you since you are in the market for purchasing something. According to that book, the most fancy of these OBD II scanners, the ones which allow the real time display of many operating parameters in parallel, fuel trim etc, seem to be notebook PC based.

The notebook PC based diagnostics likely offer the most for the money, Live data, snapshot function and step by step diagnosis appear to be available for less than $50 for anyone with a good laptop.

No offense to anybody, but here is a scenario that may become more common . . .

A car driver buys one of those $50 tools because their check engine light is on.

He hooks it up and retrieves a code

He isn’t a pro and interprets the data and performs the diagnosis to the best of his abilities

Unfortunately, the car driver doesn’t know what he doesn’t know . . .

So, the customer buys and installs an expensive part which doesn’t fix the problem . . . because it wasn’t the cause of the check engine light

He tries to clear the code, but it won’t clear. Or he clears it, and it comes back on the next day.

Now the customer shows up at a repair shop, in a very bad mood, because he just spent 5 hours installing a $400 part which didn’t fix the problem

It is quite possible that shop already has the deck stacked against them

@db4690…I agree with your statement. The only problem is that there are a lot of repair shops out there that do the exact same thing that your customer did. They may have better equipment but they still provide a faulty diagnosis and install the wrong part…time after time.

DIYers have always faced the possibility of misdiagnosis and the resultant cost of making unnecessary repairs. But currently a DIYer has the opportunity to get on line and HOPE they can find worthwhile advice on getting the correct diagnosis and properly making the repair, or in this case, getting the best “bang for the buck” when buying OBD II diagnostic equipment.

Now the customer shows up at a repair shop, in a very bad mood, because he just spent 5 hours installing a $400 part which didn’t fix the problem -

unfortunately ive found just the opposite to be true. You turn you car over to an expert, you end up paying out the nose for something you may have been able to tackle yourself with a little investigative work and effort. somtimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t, and you pay a little more to dig deeper. Sounds familar.

What i’ve been hearing lately is that trying to be a DIY’er without a scanner is near impossible these days, that’s what brought up the question. still wondering what type’s anyone recommends or uses and has had good or bad experience with?

Part of the problem in the big picture is that too many people are scared to open the hood, look underneath and try to fix things themselves, not only with cars but with alot of other things. I guess it keeps the economy running, but i’d rather just give it a go, make some mistakes, learn from them, and call for help when i need it.

I have heard good stuff about the torque app on your phone or tablet. The basic app is free, you need the connector from e-bay. Just google it and see if it works for what you want to achieve.

Also, on the repair shops; more often than not, I have had a diagnosis in mind and take it to the shop, they came up with some other diagnosis, usually more expensive, and then it didn’t work. So I am not sure if DIY is not the way to go for most.
Also, labor fees are so high around here that I can change 3 parts instead of one and still be ahead.

@galant…You can make that 4 or 5 parts for the dealerships.

Don’t take this the wrong way, guys . . .

If you think you will be so much more accurate than the pros, why don’t you just switch careers?

If you feel you are correct, prove it

If you feel “the system” isn’t working, change it

Here’s another question

Since some of you guys feel that you can diagnose and repair cars better than the pros, so be it

However, who is going to perform alignments, cut rotors, mount tires, balance rims, etc. ?

I’m sure that most DIYers wouldn’t want to invest in brake rotors, tire balancers, etc.

Perhaps the customer should diagnose and repair their own car

And the professional mechanics only do the work just mentioned


BTW . . . this wasn’t meant to be taken seriously

Take it for the sarcasm it is

All of the above replies have shied away from naming any particular brand or model. I can report that I am thoroughly pleased with my new UltraGauge.

I bought it primarily to read trouble codes. So far I’ve not had any, but the instrument has shown several ‘pending’ codes that never actually materialized. In the meantime the UltraGauge has served as a valuable driving computer, giving me more information than I could possibly use. It is constantly in use. I recommend you at least check it out and decide if it’s right for you.

@db4690…the problem with the term “pros” is that everyone who runs a repair shop thinks they are to some degree or another. Same with dealerships. Real professionals will have an edge when it comes to proper diagnosis of a problem…that’s a given. The CEL system or “RSPG” (Repair Shop Profit Generator) as I like to call it…just feeds into the unknown factor when it comes to repairing your vehicle.

I see your point very well but you have to understand that they are a lot of people who like to repair their own vehicles, myself included. We find ourselves being hamstrung by a poorly designed CEL system and the added expense of buying tools we will probably never use very much. My first generation scan tool was obsolete before I ever used it. I never bought the second generation scan tool or the third.

For the proof…if a nationwide law was passed tomorrow requiring all repair shops and dealerships to charge only for the exact part and labor that fixed the problem…most repair shops would go bankrupt. The changing of the system would require the deletion of the CEL system from every new and used vehicle on the road today. To do that would require the cooperation of the EPA which we know will never happen. OK, time to get off the soapbox. Still friends?

It doesn’t matter how much you spend on a scanner. What you absolutely need in addition to the scanner is either a factory service manual (FSM) for your vehicle (not Chiltons or Haynes) or a subscription to AllData for your vehicle.

What ever you have budgeted for the scanner, first get the AllData subscription or the FSM, then spend the remainder for the best scanner or PC program you can get.

If you upgrade from a basic reader, you might as well go for something that will monitor fuel trim, and not many do. That Ultra Gauge that steve likes does not seem to do fuel trim from what I see on their web site, BTW, that web site appears to have some malware on it.

db4690, I do my own alignments in my drive way using bubble levels and 2x4’s. If I have to align all 4 wheels, I use a laser bubble level too.

@db4690; 28 years ago I got what is the equivalent of an ASE certificate in my country and worked in a shop for 3 months. Cars have changed a lot since then, but I still think that I want to be involved in the repair of my cars.

By the same token, even being a physician. when my kids get sick they see their own pediatrician. I still look it over and make sure everything is in proper order, but don’t claim that I know everything.

I never said experts are not needed, but the bar in the auto-mechanic world is not set very high. So consumer beware, no harm in going in a bit more educated and this forum is a great place for that.

A code reader might merely serve that “educated guess” role. At least if the code reader and the mechanic give similar suggestions, then it makes sense to approve the repairs.

One of the big problems I see with repair shops, and the industry in general, is that the working mechanics don’t really have to pass any kind of competency exam in order to work in their field

In the country I was born in, I had to complete a 3 year apprenticeship. There was a written final exam and a hands-on final exam. Only after successfully passing both exams did I receive my certificate. Only then was I legally an automotive mechanic. Without it, you can at best be some kind of helper.

Now in this country . . . it’s very different. I have ASE certifications up the wazoo, and they’re all current, but they’re optional. By that, I mean that I could legally work as a mechanic without having one single certificate. I know plenty of guys that never had any ASE credentials, or have let them all expire. I have a lot of respect for the guys that take the trouble to study, stay current, and maintain their ASE credentials.

It’s actually pretty scary to think that the guy working on your brakes wasn’t legally required to prove that he was competent.

Interestingly enough, I believe that the system is far more closely monitored in Canada. In fact, I believe that mechanics have to pass some kind of state exams. ASE is also recognized there.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong

And feel free to fill in the blanks . . . concerning Canadian mechanics

Car owners range from totally ignorant and dependent on others for even topping off various liquids to retired ASE certified master mechanics with 30+ years experience. At the center of that range are the vast majority of the public who wish to avoid breakdowns, avoid costly repairs, avoid unnecessary repairs and just enjoy life without unnecessary hassles. That group ranges from the not too mechanically inclined but well motivated/desperate to the quite handy but not well versed in things automotive who wish to stay ahead of costly problems. And from day to day such people drop by here with their questions, comments and complaints for myself and the rest of you regulars here to initiate into the world of Car Talk. And ain’t it fun.

As for the scanners, I would highly recommend NOT buying a basic code reader similar to the ones the McParts (autozone, etc) use to give free diagnostics. Live data and an understanding of the basic logic and operation of the system is needed to make sense of it all and error codes alone are confusing. The McParts stores have sold thousands of O2 sensors to customers unnecessarily using those toys.

But it’s just my opinion, FWIW.

The code reader/scanner purchase should be based on how many vehicles you diagnose and how quickly you want the diagnostic information.

For the DIY’er who has only a couple of vehicles, a simple code reader should suffice.If you get the code, then go on the internet and in your search engine enter the year/model of the vehicle and the DTC. You’ll get hits that will describe what can cause the DTC. But it’s up to the DIY’er to test the components that can cause the DTC.

But if you are diagnosing many types of vehicles and need a quick turn-around of the vehicle because it’s for a customer, you can’t waste time searching on the internet. You need the information now. That’s where a real scanner comes in because you can look at real-time data. As they say. “Time Is Money!”

So, base your purchase on how many vehicles you’re going to work on and how quickly you want the diagnostic information.

And by the way. I stopped using NoDATA years ago because of my renaming. Get the Mitchell On Demand DIY version. Much better.