HomeCar RepairCode Reader VS Scan Tool

Code Reader VS Scan Tool




To see what is causing the check engine light to come on, you will have to use either a code reader or scan tool to read and erase the fault codes. But on many occasions, people normally confuse a code reader and a scan tool. These two functions in a similar way but are very different. The similarity between these two is that they feature basic code reading and clearing functionality. But they are different in that scan tools come with additional features like advanced data reading, extensive knowledge, and usually, have a built-in testing equipment.

Therefore, if you want a more versatile tool for testing a wide range of vehicles, I would recommend that you embrace a diagnostic scan tool. But if you want a simple tool for reading and erasing codes on your car, then a code reader is the best for you. Code readers cost less than scan tools.

Differences between code readers and scan tools

Code reader

Between the two, the code reader is cheaper. In addition, it has limited functions. Code readers function in a simple way by basically connecting them to an OBDII connection and tell you what the error code is. Then, you can decide to clear the error codes if you want to. That’s all about the code readers. Moreover, code readers are very easy to use and access. These are ideal for DIYers and startup mechanics.

Scan tool

On the other hand, scan tools are more versatile and also cost more. Diagnostic scan tools are built for use in an automotive shop or car repair shop. They have numerous features meant for testing and diagnosing your car. Furthermore, mechanics can as well access more than simply ECU – the code scanner typically offers access to codes and faults in the ABS system, traction, control, and other supplemental systems. A good number of scan tools need some knowledge to use them as they are more versatile with lots of features.

To elaborate more on the two, there are things that every code reader can perform, things high-end code readers can perform, and things only a scan tool can perform. These are as follows:

Things a code reader does: read and display codes, clear codes and reset the check engine light.

Things a high-end code reader can do: read and display live data, display trouble code names, reset readiness monitors, and display freeze frame data.

Things that are done by a scan tool and not a code reader: record and playback live data, read manufacturer and pending codes, provide troubleshooting information, utilize functions that need bi-directional communication, and graph data or graph specific PIDs.

It is crucial to know that features found in a code reader or scan tool vary with the quality of the device. A low-quality code reader will only have the basic features while an advanced one will have more features. This as well applies to scan tools. Also, some brands incorporate extra features to make their scan tools stand out from the rest.


Depending on what you intend to do with the scan tool device; you can decide to go for a code reader or scan tool. If you want to read and erase codes, a code reader is the best for you. But if you want to do more than just reading and erasing codes, then a scan tool will be the most ideal for you. Whatever the case, you will have to decide if you want a basic or versatile tool for your needs.


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