Should I Buy My Own Code Reader or Scanner?

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All cars made from 1996 onward have an onboard computer that detects faults in the engine, transmission and emissions systems, and communicates problems through lights in the dash (your Check Engine Light, for instance). There’s also a connector located under the dash where a code reader can be connected. This allows a mechanic to connect a reader or scanner to the car and see what code is causing the light to come on.

Should you buy your own?

You can buy code readers and scanners on the market for relatively cheap. They will connect to the OBD II connector under your dash, and will be able to at least pull the code. However, that’s not necessarily going to do you much good. Trouble codes are just that – they’re a series of letters and numbers that tell a mechanic what’s going on, or what trouble code to look up.

What that means is, if you don’t have access to resources detailing what each trouble code means, you’re out of luck. You’ll know the code, but not be one step closer to actually diagnosing the car. In addition, many trouble codes aren’t decisive – they’re general. You might learn that the trouble is with your evap system in the gas tank, but that’s as much as you’ll know.

Another complication is that all cars have what are called manufacturer proprietary trouble codes. What this means is that no code reader/scanner other than one programmed by the automaker will be able to tell you what the code is. So, in this instance, you wouldn’t even be able to tell what the problem is.

So, should you buy your own code reader? If you’re a mechanic or ex-mechanic, it might make sense. It might also be a good option if all you’re interested in doing is turning off the Check Engine Light to see if it comes on again. However, if you want to really fix the problem and don’t have resources beyond the code reader, that money might be better spent with a professional mechanic.


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Bernie

50 years of experience
41 reviews
Bernie
50 years of experience
Honda Accord - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
I specifically asked for Bernie to come back, since I was so pleased with the work he did on our other car. This time I got to meet Bernie personally. He is a kind family-man who exhibited the quiet confidence of someone you would expect with the 50 years of automotive experience that he has. I felt very comfortable giving him the key to my car. Two of my kids (ages two and four) came out to greet him, since they remembered him from his first visit. Bernie is great around kids and was very kind to my two-year old son who was trying to "help" Bernie do his job. Thanks again, Bernie!
Honda Odyssey - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
I was very pleased with Bernie's work, professionalism, and courteousness. Best brake job I have ever had, and I have had many done (and several done myself, but not on this vehicle). This was a maintenance appointment -- not a repair of something broken -- so I was surprised when the brakes felt so much better after Bernie did the work. You can really see the care he took with our vehicle when I examined everything after he was finished. Thanks, Bernie!

Daniel

9 years of experience
17 reviews
Daniel
9 years of experience
Hyundai Sonata - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Sacramento, California
Awesome customer service. On time and answered my questions with patience. Listened to my concerns and made helpful suggestions. Seemed very knowledgeable and experienced. I will be glad to request him again. Thank you!!

Breck

18 years of experience
532 reviews
Breck
18 years of experience
Toyota RAV4 - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Conroe, Texas
Breck was awesome! He called ahead of time and asked if he could arrive early. He was friendly and easy to talk to. He made me feel comfortable with the service he was going to provide and explained things clearly to me. He smiled and made this experience a good one. I will absolutely be booking future appointments with Breck and I will recommend him and Your Mechanic services to others I know. Thank you!

Brian

19 years of experience
101 reviews
Brian
19 years of experience
BMW Z4 - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Phoenix, Arizona
Brian knows what he is doing and I am so happy yourmechanic.com suggested him for my Z4 car inspection prior to purchasing and even happier he was available to perform my 1st service on the vehicle I purchased. His knowledge on the brand gave him ability to to an in depth inspection and he communicated very well informing me what to prepare for in ownership of my BMW. When he came to perform maintenance on my vehicle he shared so many tips with me. I will absolutely be having Brian come back out when I need future servicing on my car.

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