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How to Use Car Scanner And Find The Best Ones

care-my-cars-how-to-use-an-OBD-II Scan Tool

care-my-cars-how-to-use-an-OBD-II Scan Tool

A car scanner or On-board Diagnostics (OBD) scan tool is a piece of modern equipment that will give you the easiest leeway to find and fix car problems. This electronic device on-board the car can give you or your mechanic access to the state of the different vehicle’s sub-systems [such as the BCM] and other computerized systems.

But this tool is not an instant fix for all your car’s trouble. This scanning system doesn’t replace automatic transmission fluid or remove water spots on a car, and other similar problems which are easily seen during an inspection or periodic maintenance.

What a car scanner do is much deeper than you thought. Before 1996, the system was called OBD-I, but after that year, the car scanning system was standardized that gave birth to ‘OBD-II’. Today, OBD-II is a widely used diagnostics system for cars and light trucks. 

In this article, we will tell you more about how to use a car scanner, how to find the best ones and other facts about this modern scanning system.

What is a car scanner?


OBD-II (Onboard Diagnostics 2) or OBD2, is the systematize protocol that aids drivers and mechanics to know the state of your vehicle using a diagnostic scanner. The built-in software in your car monitors and regulates the vehicle’s various functions. The standardized system of OBD-II did not happen overnight. So allow us to give a brief trivia on how the system was developed as it is today.

  • The evolution of the car scanner (OBD-II)

This modern tool of technology was first introduced by Volkswagen in 1969 in its first on-board computer system with a scanning capability. Volkswagen used this system in its fuel-injected Type 3 models. 

Six years later, in 1975, Datsun 280Z begun installing their first onboard computers first appearing in the auto manufacturer’s consumer vehicles. Datsun’s scanning system was widely influenced by the vehicle’s need for real-time diagnosis or tuning of fuel-injection systems. However, it was a simple OBD system, there was no standardization in what is being monitored or how the problem is reported.

In 1991, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) required that all cars and other automobiles sold in the state and other newer vehicles must have some basic OBD capability. These regulations were generally referred to as the ‘OBD-I’ (though the term is not used until the introduction of OBD-II, which we will discuss later).

The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) in 1988 recommends a standardized diagnostic connector and sets of guidelines for diagnostic test signals.

By 1994, the CARB issued the OBD-II specifications, in line with the state-wide campaign program for a better emission. In the same year, California mandated that all cars and other vehicles sold in the state should have the OBD-II stipulations. The DTC (Diagnostics Trouble Codes) introduced by the SAE in 1988 was integrated with this specification.

During this time, the DTC can be translated via the “Check Engine” (MIL) light.

By 1996, all cars sold in the United States were mandated to have an OBD-II system. In 2001, the European Union adopted the OBD-II specification and called it EOBD (European On-Board Diagnostics) and mandated that all diesel engines sold in the region should have an EOBD system.

  • The modern OBD-II automotive scanner

The modern diagnostic OBD-II scanner is used throughout the world’s automotive vehicles and produced by different manufacturers. Vehicles with built-in computer systems are usually equipped with this device to help car owners and mechanics to diagnose problems arising in trucks or cars’ electronic systems.

The OBD-II is a standardized system that onboard computers on these vehicles for self-diagnosing and reporting. And like the OEM-specific OBD-I systems used before 1996, the OBD-II specifications use the same connectors, communication procedures, and code designations but with more sophisticated features.

By this, no matter what your vehicle’s make and model manufactured since 1996, you can still access the data that these systems are providing using only a single OBD-II scanner.

However, there are two types of OBD-II scanners that are available in the market today. Continue reading so you may know.

Two categories of OBD-II car scanners 

How to use

There are 2 different types of OBD-II scanners available in the market today. Drivers and car owners now have the chance to take advantage of this wonder of technology to make decisions more convincing if not downright precise.

On this part of our discussion, we will enumerate and explain the two basic types of car scanners and how to use each one of them, here goes!

  • OBD-II Code Reader

Most code readers are inexpensive but with limited use. It is a no-nonsense device that can read and clear codes from your vehicle. But since it is dirt cheap, the limitations are quite inherent as it lacks some info on manufacturer-specific data and codes. 

However, it is the simplest car diagnostic tool you can find and is ideal to use by non-computer-savvy car owners. This type of scanner is designed to interface with a vehicle’s computer system and report trouble codes in a very basic manner.

So, how do you use the code reader?

To start with, the car code reader must be first plugged into an OBD system built inside your car. The OBD-I system each has its connector, which can be found in a strategic place inside your car. The connectors are most often found under the hood near the fuse box. But for other car models, the connectors may be located under the dashboard or somewhere near it.

Fr cars built after 1996, the OBD-II connector is usually found under the dashboard within the steering column. But in other cases, the connector maybe found behind an ashtray or in another location. If you are in doubt, you can always check the car’s owner’s manual for the exact location of the OBD connector.

5 basic steps in using the car code reader

Step 1. First, locate the OBD port inside your car.

Step 2. Once you found where the OBD is located, insert the code reader’s connector into the device’s port.

care-my-cars-code reader’s connector

Step 3. Then, turn the OBD on if it doesn’t start automatically.

Step 4. When the unit is turned on, turn your car’s ignition switch on to the accessory position.

Step 5. By this time, you can follow the on-screen prompts on the code reader.

The procedure varies from different car code reader to another, but the basic ways to do it are similar. Despite the mere difference, you should be able to read and clear codes. But it is a common practice to avoid clearing the codes unless they are written down for reference, which, on this point, you can search the message (code) on a trouble code chart.

What does the car code reader do?

So, you have successfully linked the car code reader to your OBD-II system inside your car. Once the unit is hooked to the system and turned on, the car code reader will interface with your car’s computer. Now what?

At this point, the diagnostic scanner can do these things with your assistance:

  1. Read, report, and clear codes.

  2. You can now view some basic OBD-II PIDs (Parameter IDs).

  3. You can check and reset readiness monitors if needed.

How to Use Car Scanner  ANCEL AD310 Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Scanner
  • OBD-II Scan Tool

The OBD-II scan tools offer more advanced features than the simple car code reader we just discussed above. Furthermore, this device costs more than ordinary car code readers. But this device may provide more extensive info about manufacturer-specific codes.

This scan tool also gives more personalized access to live and recorded data that offers over-the-top troubleshooting info. The device typically includes a code reader, some type of knowledge base, and the capability to sort out live data. Some scan tools even have a built-in multimeter, scopes, and other worthy accessories.

Note:The OBD-II ports are commonly found on the driver’s side under the dashboard. Sometimes, the connectors are in the center console hidden compactly. For the OBD-I ports, they are usually inside the engine compartment or under the dashboard (driver’s side).

10 easy ways how to use a scan tool

Step 1. Some scan tools have multiple connectors. You must identify the correct connector and mount it to the device.

Step 2. After finding the right connector, plug it into the OBD-I or OBD-II port of your car.

Step 3. Then, turn the ignition on and put it to the accessory position.

Step 4. If the tool doesn’t switch on automatically, try to consult the user’s manual and switch it on.

Step 5. If needed, use the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into the scanner.

Step 6. Then, take a look at the scanner and search for a scan option; like a physical button. Another alternative might be to scroll down and up via the on-screen menu options.

Step 7. Wait for a few moments before the scan is completed, then, take notes of the trouble codes.

Step 8. To gather more info about the trouble codes, you can use the scan tool’s built-in knowledge base or you can search the internet.

Step 9. For more valuable diagnostic information, you can also view some stored data and other pending codes. But that depends on the type of scan tool you are using.

Step 10. If you think all the problems have been diagnosed and fixed, you can use the tool to clear the trouble codes. However, you need to test drive the car until the diagnostic scanner shows that all of the readiness monitors are running smoothly.

What the scan tool can do?

Just like a ‘car code reader’, the scan tool diagnostic reader is designed to interface with a car’s OBD system. This tool could be plugged in both OBD-I or OBD-II ports. When at work, the scan tool read and clear codes and view data readings from sensors inside the car.

Which OBD2 scanner is best for you?

Nowadays, you can use your smartphone to customize your scanning system. There are now available Apps for this purpose. You only need to plug a cable into your car’s computer into your mobile phone, tablet, or laptop; then you can launch the App. Some wireless applications are Bluetooth-enabled so it is more convenient to use.

Once your smartphone and other devices are hooked up in the system, you can check what is wrong with your car with just a flick of the fingers. 

But the best diagnostic scanner for you depends on your needs, budget, and the ease of use. Experts recommend using the tool that you can easily handle depending on your skills and computer know-how. But most diagnostic car scanners nowadays are user-friendly.

How to find the best car scanner 

If you are still wondering what the best car scanner to use, you can consult your owner’s manual for the specific type. However, if the manufacturer doesn’t have a recommendation, you can ask your mechanic for some tips.

Moreover, some of the best deals in car scanners can be found in online stores. With a wide array of models and brands (complete with specifications and reviews), there is certainly one that will fit your needs.

Watch this video on how to use an OBD-II Scan Tool:


Did you find this tutorial interesting?

We have been informed that there are just a few cars on the streets made before 1996. This makes the OBD-II car scanner a necessary tool for those vehicles manufactured after 1996.

Now you have an idea on how to use a car scanner, the decision is now on your hands to find the best on-board diagnostic scan tool for your car. 


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