Unlock the Code: What the Computer Codes for Cars Really Mean

Noticing a warning light is on inside a vehicle dashboard can sometimes be worrisome. There is always reason why a light comes on. When you take it to the mechanic, they are able to use specialized tools and diagnose exactly what the problem is. That is because there is an OBD code associated with all warning lights, even if the vehicle does not tell you what it is.

What is OBD?

OBD stands for On-Board Diagnostics. It is a system located in the computer of your vehicle. It is constantly monitoring your car for signs of trouble. When something goes wrong, even if it is minor, it captures the problem with a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) that will tell whoever is looking for it what the problem is. For example, the check engine light is the first indication that the OBD system has found something wrong.

How do You Find the DTC Codes?

Your vehicle does not have a display to show you the DTC codes. The main reason for this is to allow you the chance to take your car to a professional mechanic and get it worked on properly. However, an OBD scanner can be purchased by car owners so that they may find the code for themselves.

What is an OBD Scanner and Where can You Find one?

An OBD scanner is hand-held device that connects to the vehicle. Vehicles that are more recent will have a female connection beneath the dash on the driver’s side, next to the console. You can get one online, or at your local auto parts and accessories store, often for under $50.

Is There a Way to Get the DTC Code without a Scanner?

Yes. Every car sold in the United States has a built in method to tell you cryptically what the problem is. Turn your car off. Then turn the key in the ignition 3-5 times, depending on the make of your car. For example, the check engine light will blink in a rhythm specific to the DTC code. If the number is 223 it will blink twice and then pause, blink twice and then pause again, and then blink three times.

What Comes After Getting the Code?

These codes are specific to your manufacturer, and can be found in your vehicle’s user manual. Once you have the code, you can look up the problem. After you have found the problem, you can decide if you should fix it yourself, or take it to a professional.

The next time you see that check engine light, don’t ignore it. A small thing can turn into a big problem if you’re not careful. That light might that your engine temperature is 1 degree off. That 1 degree could turn into a flaming engine in no time.