This is a short article on how to pick out the right automotive scan tool for you and why you might want a scanner instead of a car code reader. See why you should have one of these cost effective tools and how to use it properly to diagnose some of the most common generic codes often set in memory.
At the bottom of this short page is a link to pictures and reviews of scanners I own. I picked the Equus 3040 on the right as a good compromise between cost and features. Also on this page is a discussion about common oxygen sensor codes, diagnosis tips and a video showing how to replace an o2 if it's needed.
Connecting the auto scan tool
to your vehicle and pulling out the codes and then resetting the light
is one of your auto repair shops favorite jobs. This is because they do
not have to get dirty or bust their knuckles, plus it pays well. Some charge a flat rate diagnostic fee of 1 hour for this operation. Many shops will apply this to any repairs.
For as little as $20 you can have your own automotive scan tool. Many offer 1 or 2 button operation and are not that hard to figure out for home use. This means you can perform the initial diagnosis when the service engine soon light or check engine light comes on.
I would like to mention that most of the scan tools and car code readers today come with an in-depth operation manual and a money back guarantee. This leaves little to worry about in terms of learning curves or waste of working capital. The manuals will explain how to pull and erase codes plus offer information on what the set code stands for.
As I mentioned in a few previous articles, sometimes codes are intermittent and clearing or erasing the code is all that needs to be done to keep the light off for good. If you erase the code and it immediately comes back or returns in 24 hours of operation this is a hard failure. Here's an example of a hard code.
For this example of automotive scan tool operation and reading the comprehensive data I'll give you a very common code that you just might find set in the automobile computer memory some day.
I come across the oxygen sensor voltage low or high code all the time. Many mechanics when they find this code just want to go ahead and replace the oxygen sensors. This may not be the right move.
When you pull this code up on your automotive scan tool, the first thing you want to do is reset it and see if it returns. If the check engine light comes back on and the code has reset the second thing you do is read the data stream for the oxygen sensors.
Reading scan tool data for this code using the collected information from the cars main computer is easier then many would think. If you have an Actron scanner that can view the data stream you can record the information in snap shot mode or run the specialized O2 monitor test mode.
The oxygen sensor voltage should vary quickly from about 200 to 800 mV. The rule of thumb is that the voltage should go below 500, and above 500 mV in an even pattern.
This is known as o2 cross counts. This is how many times the voltage crosses the middle specification of 500mv. If you see an oxygen sensor that has a fixed voltage or a voltage that is always below 500. You want to check the wiring to the sensor. The oxygen sensor wiring is underneath the vehicle and is easily damaged by road debris.
Another reason that you may have a low or fixed voltage is that the oxygen sensor is reading correctly, but the exhaust gases are not in the proper range.
This could relate to a problem in the fuel management program. Meaning the exhaust gases are actually lean or rich due to a failure of a fuel system component. A prime example example would be a leaky fuel injector, vacuum leak, or misfire condition. To clarify my point, if you set an o2 code this does not always indicate that the sensors need to be replaced. What these codes do indicate is that diagnosis is necessary.
The exception to this rule is if your vehicle has extremely high mileage. Oxygen sensors can start to lose their accuracy at around 100,000 miles of vehicle usage.
Again, this does not mean that the sensor needs to be replaced, but it is an indication that the sensor operation should be checked carefully.
Using the automotive scan tool can be interesting and fun. Reading scan tool data can be a great learning experience. Another bonus is that plugging in the tool and reading the data is a clean operation.
It will not cover you with grease, you will not bust your knuckles and it is almost impossible to injure yourself performing this operation. Bookmark or tell friends about this at home diagnostic page after watching the video.
I own a wide variety of automotive scanners for home and professional usage. See the ones I own plus a comparison of the features and benefits of each. The next link takes you to reviews of automotive scan tools.
My first page about this subject provides a
few more common reasons the check engine light might pop on. Go to the
page about auto scan tools.
This article is a little more advanced and requires an advanced scan tool that can read the data stream. Learn more about reading scan tool data.
Up next is the about us page. Find out more about the car mechanic that built this website and find more ways to get car questions answered.
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