Weighing less than half a pound and smaller than an iPod, the PocketScan lives up to its name and is the essence of simplicity. It has a small monochrome LCD screen and two switches, and it doesn't require batteries. We found that the nonremovable 17-inch cable is too short to comfortably use on some cars and can't extend to the engine bay. After plugging it in and starting up the car, all you do is press the Read button to see all current power train problem codes scroll across the screen. Any faults can be erased, but the PocketScan can neither read codes for networking, chassis, or body problems nor dig into the car's memory to pull up past trouble codes.
Rather than displaying the explanations, you'll need to leaf through the 20 pages of code conversions in the manual. The error codes are printed in both English and Spanish as well as contained in a database on the included CD, but the application is PC only. The best part is the company's unique online diagnostic software that can help figure out what's actually going on by explaining the code and suggesting a diagnostic scheme. Just log onto the company's Web site and enter the trouble code. You get three uses for free with the scanner, but after that, it costs about $1.75 per use or $100 each year.
Easy to connect and read, the Actron PocketScan reacted quickly and found several faults we created in three cars. But it didn't report basic parameters such as engine speed, coolant temperature, and spark advance, which more sophisticated devices show. For those who need further detailed info, there are pricier Actron scanners as well as a professional line. The device comes with a short manual that explains everything you'll need to know. However, the one-year warranty is too short for our tastes, although we like the free lifetime technical support through the company's Web site or its toll-free help line that's open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern time on weekdays. This scanner is inexpensive and useful enough to have one in every toolbox or glove box.