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I read the features to look for in an OBD-II reader, but I am curious if getting one is the right move. I'm just planning to get a cheap one, which is proving to be interesting shopping local. What I expect to happen is I will read the code, go to my computer and look up what it means, and then follow the instructions in the Chilton's manual to fix whatever is wrong (assuming it is something I can fix.) I've replaced spark plugs, O2 sensors, fuel filters, etc. before, so I am moderately comfortable under the hood.

I realized there is an assumption in my plan, which is what brings me here. When I use the reader to read the code, how do I translate that code to something actionable? Is there a web site I go to, or do I just post the codes on this site? And when I get that translated, will that be enough information to look it up in the Chilton's so I know what the heck to do next?

It is a '97 Saturn SL1, and it currently won't start after it was running really rough (no power). Felt like it was not firing on all cylinders perhaps.

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I answered your OBDII question, but the last paragraph about the Saturn seems out of place, is this another question? –  jzd Jul 26 '11 at 11:32
    
The last paragraph is just what is going on with my car, in case someone is curious. Since OBDII is a industry standard it is most likely irrelevant. –  Jim McKeeth Jul 27 '11 at 0:39

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you are simply buying it to try to fix your car, and not as a tool to have, car part stores sometimes read the codes for you. The readers will usually have a description, but if not OBD-II became a government standard in 1996. The codes are basically the same accross the board, and any additional codes are manufacturer specific. To translate them, you can rely on this wiki "DTC Codes" as they are pretty much universal.

Hope this helps.

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It would have been good to get it read at the store, but it won't start right now. Picked up an a scanner and it told me cylinder 3 misfire. Now I know what to fix. Cheapest scanner I could find had all the codes in the manual, plus a CD with updatable software. –  Jim McKeeth Jul 27 '11 at 0:38

Be cautious, OBD-II is not as standardized as most people think... Ford & GM both went their own ways with early OBD-II cars and industry standard "ISO only" readers won't work on them. You need tri-mode readers that also support VPW (? going from memory, I believe that's Ford's OBD-II interface) and whatever GM used. Side note, the Toyota Supra OBD-II models are also non-ISO, I believe using VPW.

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Good to know. The one I got work. Guess I was lucky. –  Jim McKeeth Jul 28 '11 at 17:30

That is what I typically do since my reader just gives me a code. Searching for the code online will generally give you a good idea as to what the problem is. Some items will require some research that might involve looking for someone with the same make/model who got the same code.

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Got my reader, scanned my van too. Google helped find the manufacture specific codes, and some simple steps to fix it. –  Jim McKeeth Jul 27 '11 at 0:44

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