How to Use a Laptop As an Automotive Scan Tool

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Modern automobiles come equipped with an On-board Diagnostics system. OBD-II is an advanced management system that professionals and home mechanics can connect to via the diagnostic port. You can also use a computer or laptop instead of a handheld scanner, however, you will need a kit. Most laptop diagnostic software is more advanced than handheld scanners, offering the ability to monitor engine performance, as well as read trouble codes.

Things You'll Need

  • Laptop OBD-II kit
  • Purchase a laptop OBD-II interface kit. You can purchase these kits at many automotive parts stores; in addition, they are available online.

  • Insert the software installation disc. Follow the prompts to complete the installation. If the installation does not automatically begin, access "My Computer" and double-click on the disc to start.

  • Connect the components to your laptop. Most kits contain a USB to serial adapter for laptops without serial ports. Once the device is attached to the laptop, connect the OBD-II diagnostic port cable.

  • Start the software program. Double-click on the desktop icon if the program did not automatically start. Get comfortable with the control interface.

  • Bring your laptop to your vehicle. Turn the ignition key to the "On" position, but do not crank the engine. Connect the OBD-II scan cable from the laptop to the diagnostic port on your vehicle, usually located in the driver's side foot well, below the steering well.

  • Click the "Scan" button on the control interface, if required. View the engine codes and diagnostic information provided by the program.

Tips & Warnings

  • Not all programs have the same number of features. The basic program will read "Check-Engine" codes. Upgraded programs may offer additional features, such as engine operation monitoring, horsepower and fuel economy.
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