How to Use Car Code Reader

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Although it may seem rather difficult, using a car code reader is actually pretty easy. If you've never used one before, you can learn simply by reading this article and trying it yourself.

Then, you’ll always know how to use an OBD code reader. And anytime an issue arises with your vehicle or with a friend or family member’s vehicle, you’ll be able to use a code reader to identify the issue.

Now, let’s take a closer look at how OBD code readers work and how to use them to diagnose car troubles.

What Exactly Is a Car Code Reader?

A vehicle code reader is a device that communicates with your vehicle’s OBD system. If you have a modern vehicle, from the 80s and onward, then your vehicle should come with an OBD system. Your vehicle will have sensors that periodically conduct tests or measure performance in real-time.

This OBD system will trigger the CEL (check engine light) should any hiccups in the system appear. The OBD reader device accesses the information on the OBD system and turns it into an error code if something is wrong that you can then look up.

You can search for the DTC (diagnostic trouble code), find out what it means, and potentially how to fix it if it needs fixing.

Some DTCs are actually false alarms and don’t require you to do anything but clear out the code and go on about your day. But others…well, you might need some assistance with!

How to Use a Car Code Reader on Your Vehicle

Using the car code reader for your vehicle is pretty easy. All you have to do is plug it into your car’s OBD port, which is normally located underneath the dash area somewhere on the inside of the car.

Then, turn the engine and start your car. The OBD code reader should automatically come on. Choose “start diagnostic” from the menu if it didn’t start already. Wait for the codes to appear, and then interpret their meaning by looking them up. That’s it!

What Are the Best Code Readers?

You might be wondering which OBDII code readers are the best. After all, if you don’t have your own device already, you really should get one.

So below, we’ll make things easier for you and list out two of the top options on the market in two different price ranges.

Ancel AD310 OBDII Scanner

For a very affordable universal scanner, this is an excellent choice. To be honest, you really don’t want to go any cheaper than this model. There are lower priced OBD scanners out there, but they’re not going to be any good.

For example, you can find some devices that are even below $20. That’s a tempting price point, but if it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. You’ll get an OBD scanner but it will be a hunk of junk that lacks needed features and won’t stand the test of time.

The AD310 however, provides all of the basic functionality you need in a good OBD scanner. It’s not as fancy as some of the higher end models, but it’s very durable, dependable, and gets the job done.
Its features include all of the following:

  • I/M monitor readiness test
  • Engine light test
  • Freeze framing
  • Can read hard memory
  • Read pending or intermittent memory
  • View past code info
  • Show definitions for DTCs

Ancel AD410 OBDII Code Reader

This OBD scanner offers all of the features from it’s sibling, the AD310, plus more. For a modest increase in price, you get a slew of other valuable features added onto the core functionalities that the AD310 gives you.

Like the AD310, this device is powered by an adapter to your vehicle. It doesn’t require batteries or an electrical outlet to work, making it perfect to keep on-hand in your vehicle.

In addition to all the features provided by the AD310, the AD410 provides:

  • Real time and sensor data with PCM data stream
  • Has an I/M hot key
  • Emissions readiness and drive cycle testing
  • A dictionary for codes in-built
  • On-board monitoring and evap system
If you choose either the AD410 or the AD310 you really can’t go wrong. Both of them are excellent devices with great build quality that should last you a long time.

Is it Worth it to Buy Your Own OBDII Code Reader?

Considering how useful OBD2 scanners are, it’s definitely worth it to buy one and keep it either in your car at all times or at least store it in your home garage so you have it if you ever need it.

There is, of course, the option to rent an OBD2 code reader from an auto parts shop, but this is not free. If you need to rent one, drive yourself all the way to the store back and forth, and pay for all of that yourself, it probably makes a lot more sense to simply order an OBD2 reader online instead and keep it at home to prevent all of that.

Then, you’ll have the peace of mind of always having one if you or a loved one has car troubles. So yes, it is very much worth it to buy your own OBD scanner!

How Long Do OBD2 Code Readers Last?

How long your OBD scanner will last depends on which model you buy. If you buy the cheapest possible option you can find, then the answer is not very long. However, if you are willing to pay a fair price for you OBD code reader, you should get what you pay for—as long as it’s from a trusted brand like Ancel.
Then, you can expect your OBD scanner to last for many years with moderate, responsible use.


In short, using a car code reader is not very complicated. It may seem daunting to people who haven’t tried using one before, but the truth is that it’s simple—especially if your device includes a built-in glossary to identify the actual meaning of any DTCs that come up.
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