Check Engine Light

Code Reader Vs Scan Tool. Which Do You Need?

Mike Cross
Updated May 20, 2023
Code Reader Vs Scan Tool. Which Do You Need

At some point in life while driving a car you are bound to have a check engine light come on. The check engine light comes on for all kinds of reasons, and it is important when it comes on to check it and find out what it means.

To check it you can either use a code reader or scan tool. To learn more about what each of these devices does and the difference between them continue to read this article. Once you are done with this article reading, you will know which tool is best for your needs for when you need to check your OBD2 system in your car.

What is OBD2 System?

The OBD2 system is the onboard diagnostic system in your car.

It monitors everything that is going on while your car is running to make sure it is functioning properly. It consists of the computer and a bunch of sensors. When something goes wrong it triggers a check engine light.

The issue could be something as simple as your oil starting to get old or something worse such as a major part starting to not function right.

The good thing is if you catch issues early and fix them when they first occur it will save you money in the long run. In order to fix the issue though you have to know what the issue is and by finding out yourself it will save you more money.

All you need is an obd2 code reader or an obd2 scan tool. Both do similar things, but some can do more then others that is why it is important to get a tool with all the functionality you need and will use, but there is no point in getting an expensive one if you aren't going to use it to its full function.

What is OBD2 Code Reader?

What is OBD2 Code Reader
What is OBD2 Code Reader?

A code reader is a simple device to check what is wrong with your car.

It is able to tell you the basic, such as which code is being put out by the obd2 system and also able to clear codes. It doesn't do much past this though. The good thing about code readers though is they are simple to use and very cost-effective way to find out what is wrong with your car.

Pretty much anyone can use a code reader. You just plug it into the obd2 port below the steering wheel and it will read the code. They typically will tell you how many codes there are and you can press the arrows to scroll through them.

You can write down the code and then look it up later. Once you have all the codes written down you can leave them on the computer or press a button to delete them. Most code readers only have three or four buttons, so they are really simple to use, but if you want more in-depth features, then a code reader may not be right for you.

What about OBD2 Scan Tool

A scan tool is similar to a code reader because it plugs in the same port and does the same basic thing. It tells you the codes that are on the computer and can clear them, but it can also do a lot more.

Code Reader Vs Scan Tool. Which Do You Need
Code Reader Vs Scan Tool. Which Do You Need

The OBD2 Scan tools can read and display live data, tell you what the code means, display freeze frame data, display readiness monitor status, and reset readiness monitors.

Scan tools can also graph data, send it to other devices such as a computer or phone, provide information that can be printed out, and even read pending codes.

Not all scan tools can do all these things, but the more expensive ones can do everything listed and some can do even more than the things listed above. A scan tool is like a full body cat scan is on a person where a code reader is more of just an x-ray.

The scan tool goes a lot more in-depth and provides you with a fuller picture of what is wrong with your vehicle, but they can be harder to use.

Most comes with good instruction manuals so you can learn how to use all the functions it has. Also, scan tools cost more than code readers but they do a lot more so if you are using the features that yours comes with it is worth it and there are still different levels of scan tool, so you don't necessarily have to get the most expensive one if you aren't going to use all the features it has.

Which to get between Scantool vs Code Reader?

Figuring out what to get between a code reader and a scan tool can be hard for some people, but here are a few basic things to keep in mind.

First is how much you are going to use it. If you are an everyday person that isn't going to do your own work on your car, then you will probably be fine with just a basic code reader. That way you can know the issue and decide if it is worth fixing before taking it to a mechanic.

If you work on your own car or even more so if you are a mechanic, then you probably want to get something that can do a little more and get a scan tool. The one you get depends on how much car work you do and also your budget.

The budget is the second thing to keep in mind when picking out a code reader or scan tool.

If you are on a smaller budget, then a scan tool just may not fit into your picture and you might have to get a code reader. If you find the code reader isn't doing everything you need, then you can save some money and upgrade to a scan tool later.

This method is also good if you don't really know how often you are going to use it or the features you might want. Get a code reader first and see what you are missing and find a scan tool with those things.


Code readers and scan tools both do the same thing with being able to tell you the code that the obd2 system is putting out, but the scan tool can tell you a lot more. If you work on your car, then you should look into a scan tool with the features you want at the budget you want. If you don't work on your car or other cars, then a basic code reader can probably do the trick for you. Just find something simple so you can figure out what is wrong with your car and decide if you want to take it to your mechanic or not.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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One comment on “Code Reader Vs Scan Tool. Which Do You Need?”

  1. Thanks very helpful info! Shot and to the point. No trying to be funny or anything. Much appreciated.

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