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

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A code reader is a simplified version of the more advanced scanner. The main difference between these two tools is that the code reader can read and clear trouble codes. 

At the same time, the code scanner is also capable of providing readings from sensors, knowledge bases, diagnostic procedures, or built-in testing equipment.

Code Reader vs. Code Scanner

Specifications

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

Graphical presentation of specific parameter IDs (PIDs)

Reset readiness monitors

Incorporated diagnostic equipment

Bi-directional communication

Companion mobile app

Code Reader

Code Reader

PROS

  • Affordable for DIY home mechanics
  • Wide variety and option

CONS

  • Not as accurate as code scanners
The functionality and efficiency of a code reader are dependent on its model and price. More often, pricier code readers have more advanced features that are useful for simple diagnostics.

Code Reader

Code Scanner

PROS

  • Advanced diagnostics and troubleshooting
  • Customizable dashboard and features
  • More accurate reports

CONS

  • Expensive
  • Not recommended for newbie auto mechanics
Code scanners can be a lifesaver, but functionality is dependent on its price point as a code reader. Other high-end scanners even have additional diagnostic tools built into them.You can also download a companion mobile app for your code scanner. These apps are free to download on your iOS and Android mobile devices.

Code Reader vs. Code Scanner

Efficiency - Winner: Code Scanner

The code scanner is undoubtedly more efficient than a code reader because it can provide more diagnostic information about the vehicle. Code readers are best used for general maintenance and repair-related issues but not as a substitute for diagnostics. Aside from engine trouble codes, code scanners also read airbag codes, brake system codes, and resets check oil lights. 

Functionality - It’s a Tie!

In terms of functionality, we can’t decide as the user will only appreciate a tool's function if he understands it. Code readers and scanners are unique equipment that operates differently to provide the user with different sets of information.

Thus for this category, we give our vote to both tools.

Value - It’s a Tie!

Value comes to the user as to how valuable a particular tool is to him. Code readers are more straightforward and cheaper for the average mechanic who is still learning. On the other hand, code scanners can be expensive but have a higher capability of diagnosing more complicated problems like engine codes.

A code reader will only provide diagnostic data to help diagnose any issues with your car's computer, while a scanner can do that and let you do a deeper scan of your vehicle.

For this category, we let the user determine which scan tool is a winner for him.

Ease of Use - Winner: Code Reader

The code scanner has a steep learning curve and is not the best tool for a newbie mechanic.

OBD2 Scanner FAQ

What is an OBD scanner?

The On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) system was developed as an industry standard for automotive manufacturers by the Society of Automotive Engineers International LLC or SAE International. This onboard diagnostics communicates between your vehicle engine control unit and monitor computer systems onboard diagnostics. 

Essentially, the OBD connects all information about your automobile's powertrain, such as fuel trim data which offers insight into what may be occurring within the combustion chamber once cooled down. 

How accurate are OBD scanners?

The OBD2 is your best bet if you want accurate diagnostics without spending hundreds on it alone. However, some OBD scanners do not give a textual explanation of your DTCs, so you have to research it to use this information to fix your car. 

How do you tell if OBD codes have been cleared?

The yellow engine icon is a symbol that indicates if the MIL has been reset by an error code or disconnecting your car battery. If you have already cleared the OBD codes, the check engine light will turn off. If you notice it turns off abruptly after 20 seconds of ignition on time and then comes back on in less than two minutes, this means you are dealing with DTCs instead of just having to replace parts for fixes.

Can you use a code reader on a car that won’t start?

Trouble starting your car? On your own, you may not know the exact reason, so you should use an OBD2 scanner to find out any issues on your vehicle so you can fix it and go back to your long trips. 

Conclusion

Code reader vs. code scanner is not the correct term as they mean different things. Both scan tools are beneficial, depending on your specific needs. Code readers are more affordable for basic diagnostics, but code scanners will be helpful when you need to troubleshoot a little deeper.

Use code reader if:

  • You're a newbie DIY mechanic
  • You work on one or two cars in your garage
  • You're not ready to conduct a full scan on your own

Use code scanner if:

  • You're a professional mechanic
  • You own a fleet of cars
  • Experienced in diagnosing and troubleshooting your cars