Code Reader Vs. Code Scanner: Which is Right for You?

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When you compare code readers against code scanners, you’ll find that users’ opinions vary. Some say code readers are easier to use, while others think code scanners have the better accuracy.

So which one should you choose? In this blog post, we will discuss when each device would be most helpful to assist you make an informed decision about which one fits your needs best.

Code Reader vs. Code Scanner


Code Reader

Code Scanner

Reads, Displays, And Clears Trouble Codes

Resets check engine light

Reads ABS and SRS codes

Reads pending, generic, and manufacturer-specific codes

Gives troubleshooting information, tips, and textual trouble code definitions

Records and plays live data

Has Incorporated diagnostic equipment

Features Bi-directional communication

Code Reader


  • Reads and clears generic code
  • Intuitive interface
  • Works with most OBDII compliant
  • Compact design


  • Limited advanced features
  • Not as accurate as scanners

The functionality of code readers depends on a specific model. While feature sets depend mainly on the price tag, code readers can perform the basic reading, displaying, clearing codes, and resetting the check engine light.

More advanced code readers can display trouble code names, read and display live data, and display freeze frame data. Some can also display and reset readiness monitor status. So, it is important to keep in mind that not all code readers are the same, and some might be more suited for your needs.

For the featured code reader, we chose the Autel MS300.

Code Scanner


  • Resets oil light
  • Reads /erase brake codes
  • Intuitive dashboard
  • Live data reading


  • Expensive
  • A bit tricky to operate

Code scanners are more reliable when it comes to troubleshooting. Scan tools can also graph data, send it to other devices such as a computer or phone, and even read pending codes. However, not all scan tools can do all these things. Depending on the price, often the more expensive ones would understandably have more advanced features.

A scan tool is like a full-body cat scan on a person, whereas a code reader is more of just an x-ray. But, just like we mentioned earlier, some expensive code readers can read/ display data, reset readiness monitors, or access parameter IDs (PIDs) provided by the onboard computer. 

Some code scanners are costly and might be an overkill for your basic use. So, when choosing, it is important to keep in mind the different features or code scanners and the purpose you’re using it for to make sure you’re getting the best value for your money. 

For the featured code scanner, we chose the INNOVA 5210 to help you differentiate the two OBD2 tools.

Code reader vs. Code Scanner

Efficiency - Winner: Code Scanner

The code scanner is the winner when it comes to efficiency. It is undoubtedly more reliable than code readers because of its advanced features and functionalities, which are not available with other code readers.

Code scanners can be the ideal partner of every mechanic and DIYer as they can provide more accurate results. It can also read brake system codes and reset check oil lights. 

Accuracy - Winner: Code Scanner

Code scanners are more accurate because of their advanced features and functionalities. Codes can be deciphered on a computer using code scanner software so you will have an accurate reading about your car's performance. 

Code readers, however, are a simplified version of a code scanner. It can only display the error code on the screen, which may not be enough to identify the exact problem. Some expensive ones can do more but not as much as code scanners can do. 

Functionality - Winner: OBD Code Scanner

Although code readers are cheaper and easier to use, they don't offer the same level of functionality as code scanners. Code scanners can do more than just read codes.

They also allow you to clear codes, reset MILs, and even diagnose problems. 

OBD code scanners are also better if you want to change your oil or repair a broken O-ring.

But we believe only users can tell which one works better for them as they each will have different needs. 

Code scanners are more expensive, but they come with a wealth of features that can be very helpful in diagnosing car problems. But as we have mentioned above, some costly scanners may be a little bit much, so just make sure to check for features and what you intend to use them for. 

Ease of Use - Winner: OBD Code Reader

We have to give this round to code readers. They are straightforward to use since they don't come with all the bells and whistles of code scanners. Code readers just require you to plug it in, turn on your car's ignition, and wait for the beep. They are also not difficult to learn, unlike code scanners that need a level of knowledge before you can use it effectively. 

Value - Draw!

Code readers are more affordable than code scanners. However, code scanners offer more advanced features. In this round, we have to go for both! Although code scanners have more features and functionalities, it doesn't mean they will be more helpful.

Same with code readers, it's cheaper than code scanners but doesn't mean cheaper performance. Choose one that suits your needs so you won't be paying for features that you won't need. Remember, anything you can use enough for your needs is a great value for money!

OBD Code Readers and Scanners FAQ

1. Who can use a code reader?

A code reader can be used by anyone who needs to read the trouble code of their car. And since it's straightforward to use, DIY'ers will benefit it the most.

2. Who can use a code scanner?

Professional mechanics will benefit from code scanners while beginners and DIYers might find it difficult to operate. However, it’s still a case to case basis. 

3. What is the main difference between the code scanner and the code reader?

The main difference between an OBD code reader and an OBD code scanner is that a code scanner can also clear codes, while a code reader cannot.

4. Can these two work with all vehicle models?

It depends on the type of OBD connection that your car has. Some ODB readers will work only with a specific model, while others can be used for several different vehicles.

5. What are the benefits of using an OBD code scanner?

The benefits of using an OBD code scanner include reading DTCs, resetting MILs, and clearing codes.


In this showdown, it is clear that code scanners are better when it comes to accuracy; however, there are factors in which code readers outperform code scanners. This means the functionality of both depends on what you need them to do. So which one suits your needs?

Choose code reader if:

  • You want a simplified version tool
  • You are a beginner and DIY mechanic
  • You don't need advanced features
  • Your budget is tight

Choose code scanner if:

  • You need more than just reading codes
  • You have a budget
  • You are a professional mechanic
  • You are experienced with troubleshooting and diagnosing