One of the most useful skills to learn if you like to work around the car is how to use an OBD2 scanner.
Not only will this knowledge come in handy, but it is, more or less a necessity.
Cars have become computers on wheels making some car problems unsolvable or much easier to solve with an OBD2 scanner.
Hopefully, this article will help you learn how to use it, show that it’s pretty simple to handle, and help in solving your car’s problem.
If you’re not in the mood for reading, you have a YouTube video tutorial at the end of the article.
TYPES OF OBD2 SCANNERS
Before we start showing how to use an OBD2 scanner it wouldn’t hurt to mention what types you might encounter.
The basic types are:
- OBD2 code readers
This is the basic type and serves only for getting trouble codes. So, you can just connect it, get the code and that’s it. Also, it is the least expensive to buy.
- OBD2 scanners
Unlike readers, scanners have more functions and features. The main difference is that you can, besides, reading the code, erase it, interpret it or even change some settings. To clarify, a much more serious tool and with more options.
Both of these come in a couple of variants: as one single tool, as a program installed on a laptop with an OBD2 cable and in recent times, an OBD2 module that you can connect with your smartphone.
The most advanced and with most options is the laptop with an installed diagnosis program. Professionals use this option the most. The only downside is that it’s a bit clunky to work with around the car.
HOW TO USE AN OBD2 SCANNER?
1. FIND THE OBD PORT ON YOUR CAR
The most common place where the OBD port is located is around the steering wheel or near the driverside footwell.
Often times it may be hidden behind plastic trimming, compartments, or else.
This makes it sometimes hard to find. If this is the case, best look at the user’s manual or simply Google it for your car type.
2. CONNECT THE OBD2 SCANNER
Connect the OBD scanner connector to the port. It should fit in smoothly but sometimes you may have to wiggle it a bit. Make sure it sits in properly and that there is a good connection.
Most scanner tools will start up the moment you connect them to the port. Classic OBD scanners and smartphone modules use the car’s electricity for functioning.
On others, you may have to press a separate power button. Laptops, of course, have their own battery.
3. TURN THE IGNITION ON
To start the scan, you’ll have to turn on the ignition. Don’t start the engine, just the ignition.
This allows the scan tool to access the car’s computer.
4. LET THE OBD SCANNER MAKE THE SCAN
Some scanners will start to scan automatically while some demand that you have go into the menu to engage it.
For instance, on the CG Sulit SC301 scanner tool, you have a separate button for a quick scan. If you want to see how it works or read a full review of this exact scanner tool, click here.
Besides this, you can watch our video review of it on our YouTube channel.
The scan may take some time, even up to a couple of minutes, so have some patience.
On this part, it would be good to mention that most of the OBD scanners have a system of menus that are accessed through the digits on the tool.
In most cases, it’s an escape and confirmation principle. For orientation through the menus, you have left, right, up, and down buttons.
Much like the computers from the dawn of the digital era.
If you lack experience, best take a brief glance through the menus before you start doing anything else. It would also be good to read the manual and see what are the available options and features.
The operating system is pretty much the same on all OBD scanners.
With the laptop and smartphone option, the user interface is much better, more modern, and perhaps with more information. Thanks to the familiarity with everyday technology, this option will be much easier to get used to.
5. READ AND INTERPRET THE CODES
Once the scan is finished, the scanner will provide you with a list of codes. These come in form of letters and numbers (for instance P0135, P0141, P0200, and else).
If you have a basic OBD reader, you’ll probably have to look the code up to see what’s wrong. The best place to go is, of course, the internet.
But if you have a scanner, there might be a built-in database where you can automatically get a brief explanation of the code.
This is the most important part of learning how to use an OBD2 scanner: correct interpretation of the trouble code. The future quality of the repair depends on it.
While the OBD scanner is connected, you can try to erase the trouble code(s). In short, it’s a simple procedure that involves going through the menus and choosing the erase option.
Erasing is mostly done with the check engine light problem.
Once you’re finished with the OBD scanner:
- Turn off the ignition
- Disconnect the scanner tool from the port. Be careful when pulling out the connector so you don’t damage the port.
If you’ve erased a trouble code, after disconnecting the tool, start the car and see if the warning light is gone.
Also, if you’ve made a repair, a good thing to do is make another scan and see if any error codes appear again.
As you’ve hopefully concluded, learning how to use an OBD2 scanner tool is very simple. In fact, using a smartphone is much more complicated.
Besides the simplicity, one more major reason for learning this is saving money. Seldom will any shop make a free diagnosis and tell you what the trouble codes are (which is understandable).
Not to mention saved time, not having to make an appointment, avoiding travel, and so on.
Even if you have to visit a mechanic, having some prior knowledge about the car problem might save you from unneeded expenses and tell you what lays ahead in terms of repairs.
When choosing an OBD2 tool, you should perhaps consider buying a scan tool rather than just a reader. For some additional money (not that much) you get more features, possibilities, and usually more quality.
If you’re going to use it for DIY work, avoid the more expensive ones as these are mostly for professional use. Yes, they are much better, but you’ll never pay off the initial investment which is easily a three or even four-figure number.
The best option for DIY work is to go for the middle range.
So, in the end, buy yourself a nice OBD2 scanner and learn how to use it. In the long run, you might save yourself some serious money, time, and lots of nerves.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
HOW TO USE AN OBD2 SCANNER-YOUTUBE VIDEO