De-Coded: What Your Engine’s Error Codes Mean

The dreaded “check engine” light. You’ve seen it, and now there’s no pretending it’s not there. You’ve got no choice but to take it in, right?

Well, that’d be wise, but maybe not!

In a very wise move, the Society of Automotive Engineers agreed on some standardization of their OBD II codes for vehicles in the 1990s. This meant that with some relatively simple diagnostic equipment, mechanics could get a computer readout of what a car’s problem might be.

Since then, these codes have become indispensable for mechanics. But did you know that you don’t need to take your car to the mechanic to have the OBD II code read? You can do it for free at your local auto parts store!

That’s right. While the equipment to read these codes was once prohibitively expensive, they’re now widely available to shops and retail customers alike. You can even buy your own to make reading those codes even more convenient. Here’s a link to a large selection of these readers online:
https://www.amazon.com/Code-Readers-Scan-Tools/b?ie=UTF8&node=15707381

But the question still remains, what do those codes mean?



While some of the codes are specific to makes, models or regions, some of them are universal. The categories of these codes are as follows:

P – Powertrain (engine, emissions, transmission)
B – Body (airbags, lighting, climate control, etc.)
C – Chassis (ABS, stability controls, steering, electronic suspension, etc.)
U – Network communications (only in vehicles made after 2006)

There are many, many specific “trouble codes” for your vehicle. After reading the code, a simple web search of the code using natural language like “what does OBD II code PXXXX mean?” should yield results.

This website also has a very thorough and well-indexed listing of hundreds of common error codes.

It is important to remember that these codes are just an initial diagnostic tool designed to narrow down the search for a problem. After understanding what the code is referring to, it is important to run an “old-fashioned” diagnostic on the part or parts involved. Basically, opening up the hood and watching things run.

While you might not be able to fix your vehicle yourself after getting the code read, you should have a good idea of how immediate or severe the problem is. While it’s ideal to take your vehicle to a mechanic anytime you see a warning light, there are certainly some problems that can wait longer than others to be fixed. If money’s tight, you may benefit from knowing you can wait a few hundred miles until that next check clears.

For more cost-saving tips and general auto advice, check the Strutmasters blog early and often!