You’re looking for an OBD code reader to read your cars diagnostic codes and maybe clear them, but have you considered a scan tool? In case you’re wondering, an OBD code reader is designed for basic code reading and clearing functionality. A scan tool on the other hand can do that, but may include advanced data reading and playback features, knowledge bases and diagnostic procedures, and even have integrated testing features.
An OBD code reader can help you diagnose simple problems your vehicle is experiencing without the need to schedule a service appointment with your dealership or shop. If you’re not a car repair expert, you will mostly use it to help you verify what your shop is telling you when you take it in for service or if the code is not serious help you clear it to remove annoying lights or alert sounds.
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Basic code readers that read OBD2 are typically one-way tools, not compatible with Controller Area Network (CAN) enabled cars and trucks. CAN is a communication standard that allows microprocessors spread throughout your vehicle to talk to diagnostic tools and even to each other. A CAN-compatible scan tool can talk to your car and retrieve information about the ABS system, climate control, electronic steering and suspension.
The delineation between code readers and scan tools is not well-defined and some fancy models that easily quality as scan tools in my mind, may be called code readers by their manufacturer. So rather than get hung up on nomenclature, focus on the features you would like to have.
What are the best features to look for in an OBD code reader or OB2 scanner?
It’s true that no basic car code reader is going to have Live Data features, but it’s really nice to have. Live Data allows you to view the vehicle sensor, switch and relay inputs in real time, while the engine is running. It can help pinpoint problem components faster for a faster diagnosis.
Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs)
Most code readers will be able to display manufacturer DTCs. Better models will be able to also display Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS) codes and definitions, all modes of OBD II data, and permanent DTCs.
Model Year Consideration
If you have a newer car or truck, you need an updated OBD code reader or a car scanner that can be updated as new data is available. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know if the scan tool is compatible with your vehicle without trying, but one thing is for sure…if you buy a code reader that was manufactured before your car, particularly if it’s a whole new model, there is a good chance your car will not be in the database.
Record and Playback
Many simple code readers only display codes and do not allow you to store or replay the data. That is one of the most frustrating features of a basic OBD II reader. If you want to do research online and you unplug the code reader, there is a chance that the screen will no longer display the data and you will have to go back and write down the codes.
Record and playback functionality, allows you to keep the data for as long as you need it to do your research.
Automatic Vehicle ID
A good OBD2 scan tool will have automatic vehicle ID where as soon as you plug in it will display the vehicle identification number (VIN), make, model, and year.
CAN is a communication standard created in 1984 in anticipation of an increase in advanced electronics that might be incorporated into vehicles. It’s more advanced than OBD II in that the right CAN-compatible scan tool is able to talk to the vehicle and request a variety of system self-tests.
We searched automotive forums, manufacturer sites, consumer sites, social media, retail sites, and customer review sites to find the most popular and highly rated OBD code reader.
Take a look at our choice and see if this scan tool is the best code reader for your needs!
If you’re looking for an affordable, feature-rich shop diagnostic tool, the Actron CP9670 AUTOSCANNER Trilingual OBD II and CAN Scan Tool with Color Screen is an excellent choice. It features Live Data diagnostics with the vehicle running, the ability to display generic and manufacturer-specific DTCs and definitions, ABS code and definition display, all modes of OBD II data, State OBD check (emissions) drive cycle mode, and much more. This Actron scan tool’s trilingual capability allows you to display DTCs in three languages. Live Data allows you to view the vehicle sensor, switch, and relay inputs in real time while the engine is running helping to pinpoint problem components faster for a faster diagnosis and is graphable. Autoscanner displays generic and manufacturer-specific DTCs and definitions, ABS codes and definitions, all modes of OBD II data, permanent DTCs, freeze frame, State OBD check (emissions) drive cycle mode and more. This is the perfect tool for a variety of troubleshooting tasks.
OBD Code Reader: Features
- Live Data allows you to view the vehicle sensor, switch, and relay inputs in real time while the engine is running helping to pinpoint problem components faster for a faster diagnosis
- Graph Live Data
- Autoscanner displays generic and manufacturer-specific DTCs and definitions, ABS codes and definitions, all modes of OBD II data, permanent DTCs, freeze frame, State OBD check (emissions) drive cycle mode and more
- CAN and patented TrueLink Technology guarantees the tool will link to and communicate with every OBD II-compliant vehicle assuring the user fast and accurate diagnostic output
- Large, backlit color LCD screen and ergonomic design make it easy to read and handle in your shop or garage
- Updated vehicle coverage through 2013
- System setup menu includes language setup, unit of measure, display test, keypad test, memory test, tool information, and program mode
- ABS record and playback of live data
- Read and erase ABS codes and definitions for most 1996-2013 GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai vehicles
- Powertrain code information display
- Battery, alternator, and charging system monitor
- Reset MIL and turn off Check Engine Light
- AutoID upon plugging into the vehicle which displays vehicle VIN#, make, model, and year for most 2000 and newer vehicles
- Component Locator display text-based description of where to find a component on the vehicle
- Trilingual menu in English, Spanish, or French
- Built-in acronym library
- Updateable via USB port
- CE Certification
- Dimensions are 10.2 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches and it weighs 0.8 lbs.
- Easy to use and understand
- Budget price
- Easy-to-read display
- Works on a variety of vehicles
- No protective carrying case
- Some complaints of unresponsive buttons
OBD Code Reader
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The right OBD code reader or scan tool can give you critical information vital to the proper troubleshooting of problems with your vehicle. We sincerely hope that this article has provided you with valuable information that helps you choose the right OBD code reader for your needs!