How to Read Check Engine Light Codes
The check engine light is a feature in all vehicles manufactured today. But it wasn’t always there. It was introduced in the 90s when the United States government mandated an onboard vehicle diagnostics system for all cars manufactured post-1996.
The light is a warning every driver needs to pay close attention to whenever it pops up. But pinpointing the cause of the warning can be confusing as it could have been triggered by anything. From an overheating engine to a faulty spark plug or even something as little as a loose gas cap.
Diagnosing the cause of a check engine warning doesn’t have to be overwhelming, as there are inexpensive scan tools you can use to investigate the triggers. Instead, you should consider it as an opportunity to do a background check on your vehicle.
Keep reading as we examine an OBD II scanner, and give a step-by-step guide on how to read a check engine light using the scanner. We’ll also make some recommendations, so you won’t have to panic when next the check engine light pops up.
What is an OBD II Scanner
An OBD II scanner is an onboard diagnostic tool that allows anyone, a mechanic or auto-savvy individual, access essential vehicle information and, most especially, diagnostic trouble codes.
With an OBD scanner, you can diagnose warning lights on the dashboard, including the dreaded check engine light. All you need to do is plug the scanner into your OBD II port and scan the vehicle for error codes. Research the code and carry out the appropriate fix.
However, the available features on a scanner will determine the systems it can diagnose. Most entry-level scanners are only capable of reading check engine lights. You’ll need an advanced scanner to investigate issues like the abs system or airbag warning light.
But note that the abs or airbag issues may require the expertise of a professional mechanic. As they often relate to vehicle safety and need precision and accuracy when dealing with them, so you may be better off with a basic scan tool if you only intend to read your check engine light.
How to Read Check Engine Light Using an OBD II Scanner
Reading a check engine light with a scan tool is straightforward. Once you have your scan tool, connect it to your OBD II port. The port is usually located beneath the steering wheel, as vehicle manufacturers are required by law to situate the port within three feet of the driver and make it accessible without any tools.
Connect your scanner to the port — it is a 16-pin connector port. And depending on the device's means of connection, whether Bluetooth or wired connection, you’ll have to give it some time to link to your vehicle after plugging it into the port.
You must also turn the ignition to the ‘ON’ position. And once the device is done linking, it will take you to the ‘Diagnostic Menu’. From the ‘Diagnostic Menu’, you will see a ‘Read Code’ option which helps to read the check engine light.
Reading the engine code pulls up diagnostic codes that help narrow down what triggered the warning light. The diagnostic code is usually a five-digit alphanumeric code, with the first digit giving an insight into the faulty component.
Once you have your trouble code, you can search the internet for more information. Even better, some scan tools, like Ancel AD410, have a built-in diagnostic code library for retrieving code definitions.
ANCEL BD500 All System OBD II Scanner
The Ancel BD500 is a full OBD-level diagnostic bluetooth scanner designed to read and clear codes. All you need to do is download the Ancel mobile app, which is available on both Android and IOS-powered devices. Plug the bluetooth dongle into your diagnostic port and pair it with your Ancel mobile app. And you can begin reading and clearing error codes.
It uses AutoVIN technology for quick and adequate vehicle detection and has free lifetime updates. The scanner can read trouble codes from the engine, transmission, steering, brake system, SRS airbag, battery charging system, and all other control modules.
The downside is that most of these features are only compatible with Volkswagen and Audi vehicles. For non-Volkswagen vehicles, the device can only perform engine diagnostics — read and erase the engine trouble codes.
Features Ancel BD500 Scanner
- Offers full-OBD system diagnostic for Volkswagen and Audi vehicles
- Offers engine diagnostics for other vehicles
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Free lifetime updates
- AutoVIN technology
ANCEL VD500 Car Diagnostic Tool
The Ancel VD500 also offers comprehensive diagnostic coverage for Volkswagen and Audi vehicles like the BD500. The major difference between both scanners is that this scanner uses a wired connection.
This device is a multifunctional diagnostic scanner designed to diagnose and clear fault codes from any system. The device offers comprehensive checks for Volkswagen vehicles, from the engine to the transmission, brake system, battery charging system, airbag, and all other control modules. But can only perform engine diagnosis on non-Volkswagen vehicles.
Features of the ANCEL VD500 Scanner
- Offers comprehensive system check for Volkswagen and Audi vehicles
- Offers engine diagnosis for other vehicles.
- Wired connectivity
- Free lifetime update
Before Clearing the Check Engine Light
With any OBD II scan tool, you can erase the check engine light on your dashboard once you plug the device into your vehicle. But is it always advisable to do so? Our answer is no.
This is because the check engine light is your vehicle communicating with you that something is off. Clearing the warning indicator without first addressing what prompted the warning would only clear the warning but won’t fix the issue. And it won’t be long before your vehicle sets off the light again after clearing it.
So, instead of clearing the warning, investigate and research the error codes and make the appropriate fix before clearing the code. Because once you clear the warning light, it also erases the stored system codes, which makes diagnosing the issue more difficult when you decide to fix it.
Reading a check engine light is straightforward. With a basic scanner, you can read the check engine light in minutes. All you need is to plug the scanner into your OBD II port and run a quick scan.
Knowing how to read check engine lights saves you time and money, as you can easily pinpoint the cause of the problem. But since there are several scanners on the market, knowing which to pick can be a bit of work. ANCEL has a different range of scanners, from inexpensive entry-level scanners for regular drivers to professional-grade bidirectional scanners.