Owning An Automotive Scanner Can Save You Money
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Even if it’s the brightest, sunniest day outside, you know something is going to cost you some money.
Your vehicle is trying to tell you something, but with almost 3,500 different diagnostic codes available we’d be impressed if you could guess what that message was.
The good news is, you don’t need to be a genius or savant, you just need an automotive scanner. Scan this article to find out how these devices can help you save money, time, and anxiety over potential costly car repairs.
Automotive Scanners 101
You know how we keep hearing about those self-piloting cars?
Well, we’re not there just yet (DARN!) but there’s a secret brain to your vehicle that you may not know about.
It’s called onboard diagnostics. It’s basically your car’s built-in ability to “monitor” its own electronics and mechanisms and report that information back, or send up a flag to the driver to say, “Something’s wrong and I can’t fix it myself.”
No, your car is not spying on you.
Yes, it’s very good that vehicles do this (onboard diagnostics have been standard since the 1980s but the diagnostic tools themselves came out around 1996).
But the issue is what to do with that information once the car notifies us of it.
Some people see a signal light and drive immediately without passing go to the dealer or repair shop, and then they empty their wallets trying to get those lights and codes diagnosed.
To save money, you can get a simple and cheap automotive scanner, and do at least the beginning ground work yourself.
Here is a rundown of some of the things that automotive scanners monitor for. If certain things appeal, try to find a device that combines the most desired features. The more sophisticated you get, the more you’ll pay:
- Sync to a computer to print data reports you can bring to a repair shop
- Customizable data (tell the scanner what you don’t care about and don’t want to see)
- Report on fuel economy and compare over the length of time driving the car
- Freeze data points during a certain set of time
- Test oxygen levels
- Record trips and save to an iPhone/iPad
- Make and see GPS data
- Check emissions levels
- Send data via email
- Read vehicle identification numbers, calibration identifications, and calibration verification numbers
- Check battery voltage and charging conditions
- Monitor horsepower and torque
When You’ve Seen the Light
We know you’ll see the light about the benefits of using an automotive scanner, but right now we mean THE LIGHT.
You know, the one every motorist dreads. Yes, it’s the Check Engine light. And like Donkey Kong, it is ON.
Well, automotive scanner enthusiasts know it’s NOT the time to run to the shop. It’s time to pull out their device and get scanning.
Consider the ROI. In many mechanic shops, a Check Engine diagnosis will cost you $100-$200 each time, plus any other associated costs as well as your time (because they never do seem to run on time, do they?)
A good automotive scanner varies in cost, but that’s a one-time cost you pay for the lifetime of using the device. Now add up how many times a light can come on in your car and we think you’ll start seeing the light, too.
Using a scanner can even enhance the goodwill you have already established with your mechanic. If you actually do need to pay some service, labor, or parts fees, you won’t be sour and grumpy from already forking over $200 just to diagnose the problem, because you did it yourself.
And if you know what’s wrong with your car, you can save time because you can make an appointment to exactly address what’s needed (including the service station having the required parts on hand to eliminate a return visit).
Buying Peace of Mind
Peace seems so nebulous and floaty, and it almost seems like an insult to put a price on it.
But everything from home alarm systems to life jackets to immunizations cost money, so why not pay for peace of mind for your car, too?
When you buy an automotive scanner for yourself, family, or friends, you’re helping them tamp down the worry and fear that comes from something going wrong with their vehicles.
So many people who are NOT familiar with the automotive industry are scared of what can happen with their cars as. Well, they are heavy and complicated pieces of machinery!
Scanners can put some confidence back in a person and help them be in charge.
Why not start with a buying guide? These are aggregations of some of the hottest automotive scanners, and there are new buying guides created all the time to keep up with the changes in the market.
You can even tailor your buying guide searches to “cheapest OBD scanners” or “best OBD scanners for my car” (with your vehicle’s make and model in the search term).
Oh, My Lord, There’s Still a Cord?
Remember when telephones had cords?
It’s amazing to think that there’s a generation of adults right now who actually grew up without ever twirling the spiral phone cord between their fingers as they talked, while still attached to the wall, into a telephone.
But cords do have their places, and some fans of corded OBD2 scanners will totally sing their praises!
How Corded Automotive Scanners Work
After hearing about the perks of the OxGord OBD2 Scanner, we think you’re going to get “attached.” (Yes, we see what we did there.)
A corded scanner opens a door into the on-board diagnostics for your vehicle. Sometimes, you need this for when you want to know WHY your Check Engine light is now blinking at you from your dashboard.
Other times, you need to know the diagnostic codes (or “trouble codes”) for why a light is on in the vehicle or dash.
After you run the scanner, you have the result: the (not-so-secret) code.
Just enter that code into a free online code website such as Trouble Codes and move on to the real work – fixing the problem!
Using the Cord
Once you’ve obtained your corded scanner, plug it into the OBD2 port, which is traditionally on the driver’s side of the vehicle about 18 inches from the pedals, though your car’s mileage – like most of our commutes! – will vary.
Plug in the cord and turn on the vehicle.
Suggested: Best Corded OBDII Scan Tools
Press the “Enter” button and you’ll see any faulty codes in the car. (Scanners vary, but most have just one or two buttons, making it easy to trigger the diagnosis process.)
More Ways to Save
Once you’ve got your scanner, you’re pretty much set.
But wait, there’s more!
There are no-cost ways to further your knowledge of on-board diagnostics.
Check online for internet forums about your vehicle (try typing a term such as “Toyota Matrix diagnostics forum” into a search engine).
Join the forums, post questions (such as if you get a code you just cannot find anywhere), and chances are, other drivers, will have the answers you need or can point you on your way.
Check out the make and model of your vehicle online and look for online manuals, as well as possible subscriptions (if bugs are found and fixes released, you’ll stay up to date even if your vehicle came from the line years ago).
An Exclaimer and a Disclaimer
We know it’s obvious how excited we are about automotive scanners, and we are glad you are too.
But we do want to put in a little note that not all codes are easy to detect and understand. Sometimes, you really should hit up a mechanic or trusted vehicle maintenance technician.
After all, these folks train in their work like we do with ours.
There’s no doubt that owning an automotive scanner can truly save you money. But it can’t prevent your car from ever breaking down or eventually needing some costly repairs.
So if it’s a question of safety or you’re just not sure what your car needs, bite the bullet and take it in. Chances are, you recouped the money (or will) by using your scanner regularly, so the occasional need to have a repair job is just the cost of driving.
Got Questions? We ARE Answers!
That’s right, we don’t just HAVE answers. We have so many answers to common automotive scanner questions that we actually named ourselves Scanner Answers, so please do step up to the question-asking plate.
Click here and send us your gnarliest questions. Just try to stump us with a weird code reading or equipment issue.
We’ve been in the business for a long time and we love this stuff, and we can’t wait to make a scanner fan out of you, too.
Vince G here with ScannerAnswers. Mike and Matt made me fill out this bio… I write on this site once-in-a-while when I’m not fishing or biking. I love fast cars and on weekends I sometimes work on them. I help with this site because I believe everyone should own and be able to use a wireless bluetooth OBD2 scan tool.