Check Engine Light

Using A Laptop As A Scan Tool For Your Car

Mike Cross
Updated October 19, 2020

There are all kinds of OBD II scanners on the market in a whole bunch of price ranges, but those may not be the best option for you.

If you have a laptop, then that might be the best option.

Believe it or not, but you can get an adapter to connect your laptop to the OBD II serial port on your computer and use a special program to scan your car.

Most of the time these programs are more powerful than a standard OBD II scanner and also they are easier to use. After reading this, you will know everything you need to know to use your laptop to scan your vehicle.

Using a Laptop as a Scan Tool for Your Car
Using a Laptop as a Scan Tool for Your Car

How does it Work?

How can you use your laptop to scan your car you might be asking? Well, first you buy a kit that has a USB to serial port cable. Most of the time this kit will also come with the program you need to scan your car. Sometimes this program is a good one that has a lot of features, but sometimes it is basic, or you have to buy an upgrade to use the more advanced futures.

After you have your adapter through a program you have to install it on the computer or laptop you will be using. To do this, you just put the disc in and run through the different screens doing what it tells you. My laptop doesn't have a disk drive though; you might be saying If that is the case you will have to go to the website of your device maker and download the install files. Once you have the program installed it is ready to scan your car.

How to scan your vehicle?

Before you scan your vehicle, you need to open up the program and plug the USB end of the adapter into your computer.

Then you plug the other end to the port where you would plug a normal OBD II scanner.

After it is plugged in turn the key, so the battery is running, but the car is not started. After you have done that you can click a button in your program to run a scan.

After it is finished, all the information will show up. The normal information, such as codes, will pop up and advanced things will pop up to if you have a more advanced software.

One of the perks of using a laptop is that most of the programs have the codes meaning built in. You can click on the code that it gives you and find out what it means if you don't know.

Other perks of scan your car with Laptop

Car Diagnostics With OBD2 Wifi Transferring
Car Diagnostics With OBD2 Wifi Transferring

Other perks of using a laptop as a scan tool are if yours doesn't have the meaning built into the program, then if you have an internet connection, you can just google it without having to go anywhere.
Also, it is a lot easier to update the software on the computer than having to connect a normal OBD II scanner or a bluetooth obd2 scanner to the internet or your computer to update it.

Another thing is the databases for a computer-based scanner can hold a lot more information than a handheld one, so you shouldn't have as many compatibility issues.

If you need to print the information, then it is easier as well because you just hook your laptop up to a printer.

The last big reason why using a laptop as a scan tool is nice is because the screen is much bigger and brighter.

It is easy to read everything on a laptop, and you don't have to scroll through a bunch of things with the little buttons of a normal scanner. Also, since you can adjust the brightness of the screen, you can make it readable even in bright lights.

Disadvantages of a Laptop

The downside of using a laptop is you are limited by the length of the cord.

This can be frustrating, especially since some ports are tucked away in tight spots under the steering wheel. This makes it hard to find a spot to sit the laptop.

Also, some people may not like the fact that your laptop might get greasy and dirty. This is especially true if you are scanning and then doing a repair and then re-scanning to make sure the code is gone.

If you are worried about getting your laptop dirty or it breaking, then just get a cheap old one and use it as your dedicated shop laptop.

Who is it for?

How long can I drive with a misfiring cylinder
How long can I drive with a misfiring cylinder

Most people probably think that using a laptop as a scan tool is just for bigger shops, but that doesn't have to be true.

The software is coming down in price, and the adapter is cheap. The more advanced software can be a bit costly compared to a normal OBD II scanner, but it shouldn't keep you from using a laptop, even if you are just a causal repairer.

The other thing that keeps people from using a laptop is that you might not have the laptop with you if you need to scan your car while you are out and about. This is a logical complaint because a laptop can't fit in your glove box like a normal OBD II scanner.

My solution to this is getting the best OBD II scanner to keep in your vehicles, and then use the laptop when you get home for more powerful scanning.

Conclusion

A laptop makes an excellent OBD II scanner. The software is coming down in price so that shouldn't deter you and even if you aren't a heavy user, the benefits still make it worth it. The large screen and easy user interface make scanning your car way more enjoyable. Also, the large database and easier updating mean that it will last you as long as the laptop will. The only down side is the cord length being a limiting factor, but you can find an adapter that is long enough. All the benefits with little drawback are why using a laptop as an OBD II  scanner is a perfect option for anyone.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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2 comments on “Using A Laptop As A Scan Tool For Your Car”

  1. Mike, Do you have any suggestions. I already have the laptop. Now I need the hardware to connect to the car. The tool itself. I will be using it on a 2010 Nissan Rogue. The ones I am finding on Amazon have some really concerning reviews about quality and so on. Thanks!

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