Until recently, an OBD-II code reader tool code reader was not typically found in the do-it-yourselfer’s tool box. For working on 1996 & newer vehicles, however, it can be really useful.
An OBD-II code reader is an electronic device that allows you to plug into your computer’s OBD diagnostic port and access technical information. Check out the other Frequently Asked Questions for more information on OBD. The reader allows you to view any stored diagnostic trouble codes (DTC’s), which aids in troubleshooting problems with cars and trucks.
Three popular players in the handheld scanner market are Actron, AutoXray, and Equus. Each manufacturer has a number of models ranging from simple and inexpensive devices to deluxe, complex units. Every device will read codes from OBD-II autos and reset the “check engine” light; advanced models feature more informative screens, battery power to store codes after the unit is unplugged, and broader compatibility with earlier OBD-I vehicles or new CAN vehicles. “Code Readers” pull codes from the car’s on-board computers, while “Scanners” also monitor vehicle data from a vehicle’s sensors in realtime.
OBD code readers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some work in conjuction with a laptop computer and software. In those cases, you basically get a cable and software. In other cases, the unit is handheld and does all the same functions, but in one neat, portable package.