Scan tools and code readers are electronic devices that are used to read information from a vehicle’s computer and display it for maintenance diagnostics. Most modern cars and trucks include an Electronic Control Module (ECM) that gauges the performance of that vehicle to ensure proper functioning. When something seems to be wrong, the ECM sends a signal to the Onboard Diagnostic (OBD) system, which then alerts the driver of a problem. This warning usually comes in the form of a check engine light or similar notification.
Illumination of the check engine light, however, only indicates that something is wrong with the vehicle, it does not relay any specific information about the issue. The OBD system is able to recognize the general location of the problem that has occurred and can relay information about general vehicle performance. All of this data can be retrieved and read through the use of devices such as scan tools and code readers, which allow a mechanical engineer or car technician to evaluate the problem with a car.
Different Types of Devices
While scan tools and code readers are similar in purpose and function, they can be used somewhat differently. Code readers are often a bit simpler and can be less expensive than scan tools. They are connected to the Onboard Diagnostic system on a vehicle and display a code on a screen for the operator of the device. It is then up to the technician or mechanic to recognize this code and understand what it means in terms of system performance. These codes are usually fairly general and indicate a particular component of the vehicle that has an issue, such as the drive train or issues with internal temperature readings.
Scan tools can be somewhat more elaborate and expensive, but also provide a technician with more thorough information. Rather than simply displaying a code, these devices often provide information to a mechanic about the location of the system problem. This means the technician does not have to read a code, and then consider where the problem has occurred, but instead simply sees the problem region indicated on the scan tool itself.
Numerous manufacturers make these different devices, and they can be acquired at a wide range of price points and store locations. In the past, using the first generation of OBD technology, such scan tools needed to be replaced fairly regularly and were typically owned only by professional mechanics. The introduction of second-generation OBD systems in 1996, however, established a standard to which all systems would adhere, allowing these devices to last longer and become more widely available. Home car enthusiasts and drivers in general can easily obtain a reader or scan tool to quickly run diagnostics on their vehicles and determine where problems may be occurring.
Learning to Use Scan Tools and Code Readers
Even the most advanced scanning devices only relay the information provided by the Electronic Control Module and OBD within a vehicle. Mechanics and technicians need to be able to look at this data and understand what it really means in terms of maintenance or repairs. Engineers often attend technical schools to learn how to read and act upon the information received through a scan tool. Knowing that there is an issue with high temperatures in the engine is only the first step in fixing car issues; understanding how to fix the problem is even more important.
Proper training and education is typically required to be able to use scan tools and run diagnostics in the most effective way possible. Those with the training to diagnose issues with vehicles often operate much like doctors, analyzing the problems that are visible and determining what is needed to fix them. While technology makes it easier for mechanical technicians to locate the source of an issue, these professionals still need to know how to isolate the specific problem and then make repairs.
Numerous schools offer online classes to help people with an interest in vehicle mechanics and maintenance. While many such technicians work in general auto repair shops and garages, there is also a need for skill mechanics working on designing new cars or building and repairing professional racing vehicles. An understanding of precision engineering and mechanical design is vital to this type of work. Formal classes online or at a technical school help students learn to quickly and effectively maintain and repair a wide assortment of vehicles.
The Benefits of these Tools
While the scan tools and code readers themselves can be used in running a diagnostic on a vehicle, they can also provide other advantages for a technician. Many of these devices can be connected to a computer and provide additional information or features for a mechanic. Information from a scan tool can be opened on a computer and then printed, allowing a mechanic to show problems to a customer or to look over the information while working on a car. This data can also be saved and transmitted between devices and computers, allowing a team to more easily share information about a car and work together on a project.
Some of these tools can even connect to mobile devices such as telephones or portable computers like laptops and tablets. This brings a great deal of technology together for a technician, allowing a mechanic to quickly access data about a vehicle, while looking up further information online or communicating with a client. These programs are additional tools that mechanics can learn to use through training and education, giving these professionals an advantage over many car enthusiasts working in their home garages.
Although the primary function of many of these scan tools is to run a diagnostic on a vehicle with a problem and view data from the OBD, they can also display information about general performance. Such devices are often used for routine tune-ups to see increased performance due to adjustments made or new parts installed onto a car. The use of scan tools extends beyond fixing problems and allows knowledgeable mechanics to more easily provide clients with information about improvements made through their work.