Reading the right code

When a customer comes into a shop concerned that a “check engine” light is on, what can techs do?

For minimal fixes and quick code clearing, DTC code readers allow techs to quickly and easily diagnose and clear trouble codes.

Especially at larger shops and dealerships, techs have the opportunity to verify problems and potential solutions of issues with a customer’s vehicle.

Having trouble selling to larger shops? Explaining that code readers offer a fast alternative compared to other diagnostic equipment, techs may find purchasing a code reader ideal for fast diagnoses when they don’t have access to the shop’s scan tools.


Unlike larger and sometimes bulky scan tools, DTC code readers offer techs a simple plug-in for checking and clearing codes.

“When a customer just comes in and wants something checked real quick, or they want the (check engine) light turned off, we don’t even bother reaching for the scanner anymore,” said Larry Powell, owner of Larry’s A1 Auto Repair in West Berlin, N.J.

“Just plug it in, tell (the customer) what (the problem) is and clear the code.”

Powell doesn’t charge when he uses the code reader, unless further repair or investigation is necessary.

He likes that when his shop’s large scanners are being used, particularly out on road tests, Powell still has access to his code reader for quick diagnoses.

Other techs also use code readers for quick computer checks.

In response to a blog about code readers from PD’s sister publication, Professional Tool & Equipment News, technician Victor explained that code readers help him pinpoint problems faster.

“A quick scan of the codes will be a good indicator of where the problem lies and can save a lot of wasted time.”

Tom Ebenhoe, parts manager at Lemieux Toyota in Green Bay, Wis., said about half of the 13 techs at his shop have a code reader.

“Some guys don’t want to wait for the shop tool. They don’t want to mess with something that large. They just want something quick and easy, to give them a number,” said Ebenhoe.

He said code readers will address generic codes, but scan tools may be required for manufacturer-specific issues. Although dealerships use factory-covered scan tools, code readers can still give fast diagnoses before any job is set up.

“Anything that we have to do for warranty, we can’t use (code readers),” said Ebenhoe. “But they’re good for quick checks, like if someone’s on a long road trip, their light comes on, and they just want to know if it’s safe to drive. It’s good for that.”

Ebenhoe explained that many techs will also use their code readers for side jobs and personal use.

Another selling point? Compared to regular scan tools, code readers are easier on the pocketbook.


Techs that mentioned how much they like their code readers said they got a lot of use out of them, for the amount of money actually paid.

“That’s probably the most used tool here,” said Powell.

“That code reader’s been fantastic. And if you leave (the code reader) in the car, you’re not going to get upset.”

Service technician Mike Mirsberger from Dodge City in Brookfield, Wis., purchased his code reader within the last year, and uses it all the time.

“It’s very simple, very fast. It does what I need it to do.”

Mirsberger will use the code reader for quick jobs, and finds it’s easier than checking out a scan tool from the dealership.

“I have checked (the code reader) enough against the regular scan tools, and it’s almost 100-percent on,” said Mirsberger.

Powell’s also happy with his purchase.

“I just bought it to try it,” he said. “I swear a day doesn’t go by that I don’t take that out of the box at least three or four times.”


Of the techs interviewed, some mentioned they’ve considered buying a new code reader within the last six months.

With Powell’s recent uptick in business, he mentioned he’s been meaning to purchase another code reader, but hasn’t yet.

“I have to go get another one,” he said. “You figure all the money that (my current code reader) has made me in the last two years.”

Ebenhoe doesn’t have his own code reader, but has also considered making the purchase.

“I would have use for one,” he said. “I’ve thought about buying one, but I’ve never got around to it. I haven’t had as many side jobs lately. But it’s handy to have.”