Finding answers and definitions in your trouble codes

The average car rolling off assembly lines these days uses more than 100 million lines of code, operating multiple vehicle systems and keeping you on the road. Chances are your ignition and fuel injection system, transmission and more are controlled by one or more computers and monitored by dozens of sensors.

With automobiles subject to more extreme environments than traditional electronics – heat, cold, rain, snow, sleet, wind, dirt, dust and more – something is bound to give. With automotive electronics becoming much more reliable, using an automotive scanner to talk to a vehicle can give you a wealth of information about how it is operating.

So what do you do when something goes wrong with your vehicle? The familiar dash light pops up, alerting you of a problem but what does that mean? Whether it’s the check engine light, ABS or Airbag light or another, reading and defining the code is the first step toward repairing your vehicle.

Grabbing your scan tool, available at most automotive retailers and right here at, can help you fix the problem yourself. At the very least, it’ll arm you with knowledge and confidence if you choose to bring your car into a repair shop and make a decision on repair.

Once you have the code, look up the definition at to get more information. The free feature has definitions for thousands of codes based on vehicle year, make, model and engine.

How does it work? When you first read a vehicle code, for example P0011, it may not mean much to you, but it says a lot. First, the P code means there was an error in the powertrain, either engine or transmission.

The 0011 designation points to a specific powertrain module, in this case the camshaft position sensor, and points to a timing issue. A faulty or broken sensor or something more serious may have set this code. You won’t know without testing the sensor, and now you know what to test based on the code.

We recommend using a scan tool or code reader and definition as a means to start diagnosing what’s wrong with your vehicle. Simply because the code identifies an issue from the camshaft position sensor doesn’t mean the sensor should be immediately replaced. Depending on your vehicle, the issue could be more serious or simply require turning a few bolts and replacing the sensor. You won’t know until you test.

In our next post we’ll talk about a new feature on that helps narrow down your diagnosis to make fixing your car easier. Check back soon.