9 steps on how to use a car diagnostic tool

Your car can act up when you least expect it. Knowing how to use a car diagnostic tool can be your saving grace. Learn how it works!

Have you seen the kinds of cars that are manufactured nowadays? You’ll agree with me that they are indeed a great combination of different facets of technologies.

Safety is prioritized in these cars. Automation is an advanced technology used by modern car manufacturers to ensure safety while driving. One of such features is that the dashboard lights come on when the car engine is faulty.

Automated lights are programmed to draw your attention to arising issues. Rather than being taken unawares, you are hinted early enough of the dangers lurking around. But sometimes, these lights can be confusing. For example, the check engine lights may suddenly come on, without a specific indication of what exactly to check. It’s even more tiring because you aren’t a professional mechanic. So, what do you do?

A car diagnostic tool comes very handy. Rather than wondering what the problem of your car is or where it’s coming from, this tool can be used to spot the error. Many car users are fascinated by the idea of the tool, but the majority don’t know how to use it. They miss out on the opportunities the device presents. Automilas.com brings you a step by step guide on how to use a car diagnostic tool.

A car cabin

The dashboard lights illuminate to indicate there’s some problem inside the car

Car diagnostic tool user guide

Step #1 Pick the right car diagnostic tool

The first step to effectively using a car diagnostic tool is to make the right choice. There are different diagnostic tools for different cars. Using the wrong one is counterproductive.

Cars manufactured before 1996 make use of the OBD-I scanner while cars manufactured afterwards make use of the OBD-II diagnostic tool. This is where a lot of car users get it wrong. They purchase a car diagnostic tool without putting the year their car was manufactured into consideration.

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We are in 2018, hence, we will focus on OBD-II i.e cars manufactured after 1996. It goes without saying, that majority of cars on the road today fall into this category.

The OBD-II car diagnostic tool is placed in your car to monitor all its activities. It measures your car performance, including emissions in the control system. A key component in the OBD-II is the check engine light. It’s programmed to come on when your car encounters any problems.

The digital Can OBD2 tool

A car model manufactured after 1996 requires the OBD-II diabostic tool

Step #2: Find the DLC in your car

As mentioned earlier, the check engine light is your cue that there’s a problem with your car. When this light shines, the first thing you must do, is to check your Diagnostic Link Connector (DLC). In a triangular shape, it has a 16-pin connector. It’s mostly located right under the dashboard very close to the steering area. If you can’t find it as described, please check your manufacturer’s manual to get its right location.

Step #3: Connect the car diagnostic tool

The whole essence of locating the Diagnostic Link Connector is to connect it to the diagnostic tool.

Turn on your ignition. Don’t start the car. In this mode, the tool sends signals to your car system and receives signals in return. Fix your eyes on the screen of the tool, you should see messages that indicate that the tool is working. If you can’t see any messages, it’s an indication that the tool isn’t properly inserted. Adjust the connector continuously until you see a message. Newer cars have better connections due to advanced technologies compared to older cars. So don’t be surprised if the connection isn’t very clear on an older car.

A man ussing the car diagnostic tool

Fix your eyes on the screen of the tool, you should see messages that indicate that the tool is working

Step #4: Enter your car details

When connection is established, you’ll be required to enter the details of your car to begin the diagnostic process. The details include: car make, car model and vehicle identification number (VIN). To get this number, please check your vehicle title or registration card. You may also be required to enter your car engine type as well as other related numbers. Ensure that you enter the details accurately. Any errors in doing this will alter the diagnosis of your car problem.

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Step #5: Select codes

After successfully entering your car details, the diagnostic tool will begin to boot. It’s an indication that it’s processing the information you provided. A code menu will come up. You need to select the right codes to proceed. Options such as transmission, airbag and powertrain will be visible on the screen. Select each item at a time, and pay attention to the codes that appear afterwards.

There are two different kinds of codes to look out for: an active and pending code. The former is a live code that keeps the check lights running while the latter is an indication that the diagnosis was unsuccessful.

Checking the engine problems with the car  diagnostic tool

You need to select the right codes to proceed

Step #6: Understand the code letters

There are different codes emanating from the system. Each of these letters represent the various systems designated by the codes.

Letter P represents Powertrain. Items in this category include: transmission, fuel system, engine.

Letter B represents Body. Items in this category include: seat belts, power seating and airbags.

Latter C represents Chassis. Items in this category include: ABS, brake fluid and axles.

Letter U represents Undefined. Items in this category include every other part of the car.

Step #7: Identify the specific problems to be fixed

Each of these alphabets are preceded by certain numbers. The last two digits of the numbers show you the particular issues that need to be fixed. For example, if you have PO301, it’s pointing at a misfiring condition which has occurred in the first cylinder. It’s an indication that a spark plug, plug wire or vacuum leak is worn out around the first cylinder.

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Step #8: Master the codes

Mastering the codes doesn’t happen overnight. It takes constant reading and practice to have them right in your hands. If you are dedicated, you are sure to fully understand them. When you get to that point of mastery, you can easily communicate the codes to your mechanic. Being a professional, he/she will be able to decode the problem and fix it.

A man using a car diagnostic tool to check the engine problems

It takes time to study the codes

Step #9: Set back the check engine light

The check engine light was tampered with during the diagnostic process. After your diagnosis, ensure that you reset it via your car main menu. If you fail to do this, it will become a nuisance to you, constantly drawing your attention to things it detects. You can do the reset by simply pressing the “clear” or “erase” button showing on the error code. Your warning light will go off once that’s done.

Video: Check Engine Codes with a Scan Tool

Don’t be left in the dark about the problem of your car. With a car diagnostic tool, you are always in the know. With such information, you are better informed on how to take proper care of your car.

>>> Visit Naijauto.com for more handy and maintenance tips and advice!



















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