Working on today’s modern vehicles requires some specialized equipment. While you can often get around the need for special tools, one tool every do it yourself needs is a code scanner to read diagnostic trouble codes. Although prices have come down, many OBD-II scanners are still pretty expensive. If you only plan to use a scanner for personal use from time to time, you may not need or want to pay a small fortune. Fortunately there are a variety of effective and very affordable OBD-II code readers for your car, truck or vehicle.
It doesn’t get any cheaper than free! Unfortunately 99% of the time “Free” means you need to beg, borrow or steal a reader. We’re certainly not going to recommend theft so we’ve got a couple legal options for you to consider.
If you know someone who owns a code scanner, you might be able to borrow their scanner or have them scan your vehicle for you. Not everyone has a handy friend or relative. Luckily there’s still an option for getting your car’s check engine light or trouble codes scanned for free. Just check with your friendly local auto parts store!
Many well known auto parts stores will scan your car’s trouble codes as a free courtesy service. Many will also provide you with a printout of the DTC codes found and provide common solutions. I’ve even seen some provide printouts with parts quotes and estimates on labor costs. If you live near an auto parts store such as Autozone, Advance Auto Parts, O’riely etc. this may be the only option you ever need. The parts store is hoping you’ll purchase the parts required for the fix via their store but don’t be shy about leaving to do more research and shopping around. This may not be the ideal solution but it is free. It is certainly a suitable no cost solution if you only have a need to scan codes once in a while and don’t mind the mind the minor inconvenience.
Many parts stores loan tools. Borrowing a diagnostic scanner from an auto parts store used to be an option but it appears most stores and states have discontinued the practice. Most prefer to scan your codes for you as a courtesy.
Low Cost Affordable OBD-II Code Readers:
If you ‘re like me you might not like being inconvenienced by not owning a code reader. The free code scanning option at a local parts store is a great option, but it has its share of drawbacks. You have to be able to drive the vehicle to the store and then you may need to wait until someone has time to help you. If you own multiple vehicles, work on other people’s cars frequently or just don’t like to be inconvenienced by running to your local auto parts store, owning an affordable code scanner is the perfect option. Fortunately there are some great code reader options between the free and super expensive ranges.
Mid-Range OBD-II Readers:
There are many reasonably affordable OBD-II car code readers available in the $30 to $100 range. However, even this is too rich for the budget of many shadetree mechanics.
We’d consider this the mid range and there are countless options here. Tread carefully because this can be a muddy grey area. Honestly the line between cheap and mid range and midrange and full featured OBD-II Diagnostic tools can be a bit blurry. Our recommendation is to carefully review the features offered by a tool in this middle price range. You may find it doesn’t offer much more than a tool sold at half its cost. Then again, there’s always that rare diamond in the rough that exceeds expectations.
The devices in this price range are typically medium sized hand held scanners that plug in with an included cable and allow you to view and clear codes via the device.
Fortunately there are many affordable code reader options available on amazon.com. You’ll find dedicated basic code readers there for under $20.00 and even cheaper! These dedicated code readers are ideal because the don’t require any other device to work. You simply plug them in and go. Browse some of the current selections below:
Let’s get down to business. We’re assuming you’re here because you want to own a basic OBD-II Code Reader without over paying. If you’re looking for something even cheaper yet we’ve got your back! One of our favorite affordable options are the cheap, yet effective,wireless ELM 327 Bluetooth/Wifi OBD-II code scanners available on Amazon. These are frequently priced in the $7.00 to $12.00 range making them highly affordable and suitable for everyone’s budget. These code scanners are cheaper because they usually require a mobile device such as an iphone, android smart phone or a laptop and free apps or software. Since most of us already own a smart phone, laptop or tablet this isn’t much of an issue.
Simply plug the scanner into your vehicle’s OBD-II port and the scanner communicates with your mobile device or laptop wirelessly. They can be coupled with a variety of useful free or low cost apps to do much more than reading trouble codes. In the right situation, with the right app, these dirt cheap mini code scanners offer a plethora of uses. Many of these scanners can work with an app to store logs of useful sensor information while you’re driving around. This can be a very useful diagnostic tool. They can also be coupled with a tablet to serve as a set of virtual gauges and more! Not bad for less than $10!
We’ve actually grown to prefer these cheap mini adapters used with a smartphone or table for a variety of reasons. They’re small enough they can be left plugged in or simply stored in a glove compartment or center console when not in use. These scanners are so affordable if one gets lost, stolen or broken it isn’t the end of the world. They’re so affordable you can afford to own multiple mini scanners and keep them in different vehicles. Their price also allows you to keep one for your toolbox and one for use in your vehicle etc.
Browse some of the affordable Elm 327 wireless bluetooth code scanners currently available on Amazon below:
Step up to a Full Featured Diagnostic Scan Tool:
The affordable code scanners above are a fantastic way to access your vehicles DTC codes yourself on a budget. As you’d expected, their functions can be somewhat limited when compared to a more expensive tool. Looking for more? When you’ve got the funds and expertise, consider stepping up to a full fledged diagnostic scan tool. These tools unlock a huge variety of special diagnostic functions not available on the cheap devices above. Their pricing can vary widely from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of dollars! We’ve provided some examples below for your consideration.