Diagnostic Scan Buying Guide
What is a Diagnostic Scan?
Diagnostic scanners are very useful to have around when your car breaks down or starts acting funny and you don’t know what’s wrong. Every vehicle from 1996 and newer has information ports, usually under the dashboard, that are a part of the vehicle. Plug the diagnostic scan tool into one of these information ports and you can determine where the problem might be originating from.
The messages that the diagnostic scan accesses are decoded through the on board system in the vehicle. The scanner pulls these codes and narrows down the potential origination spot of the trouble. All vehicles since 1996 have computer chips that have been installed. These computer chips monitor the system and this is where the diagnostic scan pulls the information from.
Why You Should Buy a Diagnostic Scan Tool
Car owners will reap a lot of benefits from having a good quality diagnostic scan tool handy, Aside from determining if the car can be safely driven when a problem arises, they help car owners same money and time at the garage by determining what the problem is. Thanks to the information that the scan tool provides, you will know before you even speak to the technician, what the problem probably is and where the problem is.
One place having a diagnostic scan can be really valuable is when you are looking to purchase a used car. If the car is newer than 1995 (1996 and newer) you can plug the diagnostic scan into the port and find out exactly what is wrong with that used car you are considering. It definitely helps with weeding out the lemons or the surprise you would have from buying a vehicle you think is okay.
Garages oftentimes charge for diagnostics to be run, so having this step taken care of and having the information to give the technician saves you a lot of both money and time.
How do Diagnostic Scanners Work?
It may seem just like magic, but diagnostic scanners work very simply: plug the scan tool into one of the data output ports. You will find this is close to the steering wheel and under the dashboard than anywhere else. Once plugging it in, the scanner will tell you that the car is safe to still drive or whether you have to have it towed to avoid more serious damage.
Once the scan has been done, the scan tool can be hooked up to a computer and more specific information can be obtained. Some car diagnostic software even has cost information for your local area.
After 1996, car manufacturers added built in computers that contained a diagnostic system that car owners or technicians could access through the data ports. There are several different computer chips that take care of monitoring different vehicle systems such as transmission, brakes, engine and more.
When the check engine light comes on it gives you the opportunity to plug in the scan tool and access the on-board system which will in turn provide a DTC. or diagnostic trouble code. The scanner can read the codes and then will translate them into understandable terms that will tell you what the problem most likely is.
What the Diagnostic Scan Can Find Out
Diagnostic scan tools are designed to uncover many different problems that can occur in a vehicle. Each problem has its own Diagnostic Trouble Code. There are several different code ranges that deal with different parts of the vehicle.
Code P0100 to P0199 – These codes will be dealing with your vehicles engine intake exhaust and carburetor sensors. If anything is wrong with the oxygen sensor, oil temp sensor, fuel pressure sensor or mass airflow sensor, it will have these codes attached to the problem.
Code P0200 to P0299 – Next the codes will alert the car owner or technician that there is something wrong with the engine’s combustion cylinders. That could include something like the injection pump, fuel injectors, combustion cylinders, or turbocharger if it has one. It can also include problems with the throttle position sensors.
Code P0300 to P0399 – Now we’ve moved into the vehicle engine’s output and ignitions systems. Timing chains, ignition coils, crankshaft and camshaft all fall under this set of codes.
Code P0400 to P0499 – Exhaust and emissions control falls under the 4th set of codes. This will cover problems like gases soiling from the engine, overheating, excess pressure in the exhaust system, evaporative emissions control system failure and problems with the catalytic converter.
Code P0500 to P0599 – Electrical system problems will be labeled with the 5th set of codes. It could be the power steering or cruise control as well as the idle control system or the electrical wiring.
The Different Types of Diagnostic Scan Tools
There are a few different types of diagnostic scan tools and the main difference is in the types of codes it reads. This will determine which system the scan tool can access to alert users to the problem. Many users or technicians will only access the problems using the basic OBD.
Other scan tools will be more complicated but also provide more diagnostic capabilities. The more in depth ones can often diagnose problems with the anti-lock brakes and tire pressure monitoring. The more expensive scanners tend to diagnose the potential problems in many different systems.
The best diagnostic scan tool that you choose will depend on the amount of money you want to spend on it and also how much of a detailed report you need. For just detecting trouble codes, you don’t need to worry about spending a ton of money and can handle a more basic tool.
For those who want to get all of the diagnostic information including analysis and I/M information, you will want to invest in a higher grade and quality diagnostic scan. The model car and age will determine how much information you can get.
Most people will want the midrange priced model. These middle of the road diagnostic scan tools are reasonable in price, so they make great diagnostic scans for the budget minded who still want to ensure the safety of their family and friends as well as have some knowledge of what is going on with their vehicles.
If you have a car newer than 1996, you will find that the majority of them, if not all of them, have these on-board computers. If you know how to read the codes and decipher what is going on it can prevent the chance of you being taken for a financial ride with the technician or garage.
Now that you have the information you need, you can start your search for the perfect diagnostic scan tool for your vehicle and your needs. With education comes confidence and you will definitely have what it takes to make the decision, fear free.
Whether it is one of the three top rated Diagnostic Scan Tools reviewed here, or something you find on your own, having a tool that you can use to troubleshoot problems going on with your vehicle and not be at the mercy of a technician in a garage that you may not know. You will love having the answers to issues that arise with your vehicle right there at your fingertips instead of being in the dark about it and hoping the garage only fixes what is actually wrong.
- INNOVA 3100 Diagnostic Scan Tool/Code Reader – 3INNOVA 3100 Diagnostic Scan Tool/Code Reader
- Actron CP9550 PocketScan Plus – Actron CP9550 PocketScan Plus
- Autel AL519 Color Screen OBDII/CAN Scan Tool – Autel AL519 Color Screen OBDII/CAN Scan Tool