A car diagnostic scan tool is a tool that you plug into the DLC port of your car to diagnose the problem that occurs in it. Your car has a built-in diagnostic system called onboard diagnostic or OBD. The current OBD standard that has been used in all cars manufactured and marketed since 1996 is called OBD2. This system monitors the entire system of the car. When it detects a malfunctioning component, it will generate a code that it stores in the car’s memory and turns on the check engine light to notify you about the problem. In order to get this code, to understand the nature of the problem, and to plan the best solution for it, you need a scan tool, which you need to buy from various places online and offline.
How Does a Scan Tool Differ from a Code Reader?
To retrieve the generated trouble code, you can actually use either a car diagnostic scan tool or a code reader. Although both devices are more often considered similar, many people distinguish between the two based on the features that they offer. A code reader generally offers very basic code reading feature without extra features that make it more useful. With a code reader, you can get the code, but you need some other ways, such as checking online reference, to interpret the retrieved code. Code interpretation, freeze frame options, VIN acquisition, and other fancy features generally belong to a scan tool. Nonetheless, because of the blurry distinguishing line between both devices, it is better to consider the two devices the same. Therefore, a professional scan tool is basically a code reader with many fancy features.
Can a Car Diagnostic Scan Tool Be Used on All Cars?
There are actually two types of car diagnostic scan tool depending on the OBD generation they are associated with: the scan tool for the old OBD system before 1996 and the new OBD2 scan tool. The old OBD system is not standardized, so the design of its port generally varies among manufacturers. An OBD scan tool that is compatible with a certain car is thus not always compatible with another car. In this case, the scan tool is usually exclusive for one particular car model only or cars manufactured by the same manufacturer.
The OBD2 system, on the other hand, is a standardized system. All manufacturers must use the same DLC port design and the same set of generic trouble codes, although it is possible for them to generate their own manufacturer-specific codes to represent problems that are not yet represented by the generic codes. Because of this standardization, an OBD2 car diagnostic scan tool can mostly be used on all cars manufactured after 1996. Their compatibility is mostly limited by their ability to read manufacturer-specific codes. Hardware-wise, all OBD2 scan tools have no compatibility problem. The only limitation lies in the device’s software and database. However, because almost every scan tool can now have its database updated, Compatibility should not be a problem, both hardware-wise and software-wise.