If you have a small OBD2 scanner tucked away in your glovebox when your Check Engine Light comes on, you can check your code right then and there on the side of the road. However, if you don’t have a scanner handy and don’t want to drop $100 – $200 at the mechanic for a scan, you may want to explore your other options.
Although, we’d love to talk about our FIXD Bluetooth OBD2 scanner and how it could make your life easier (actually we did in the first paragraph), in this article we’ll cover where and how you can diagnose your check engine light for free.
We’ll list 6 national chains in the U.S. that offer free Check Engine Light testing and show you which chains best cover your area.
Warning: Make sure you confirm your car doesn’t have a serious issue before you drive to a nearby chain location. Check out our article on what to do when your check engine light comes on before you drive to get your free test. Why? Because if there is a serious issue with your engine you could end up damaging it by driving. Even short distances.
If you don’t know how to use an OBD2 scanner or don’t know where the OBD port is, don’t worry. The free “diagnostics” or “scans” from these chains usually have a store employee who will check your engine light for free.
If the store you visit for some reason won’t read the check engine light for you and instead just hands you a scanner, check out our step-by-step guide on how to read your check engine light with a scanner.
Reading your light with a scanner is the easiest option, but, just so you know, if you’re in a pinch and want to read your code without a scanner, for instance – stuck on the side of the road in a winter storm – that’s possible too.
If you choose to go to a shop you may be able to get the inspection and repair done at the same place. But, add looking up repair reviews and making an appointment to your to do list. You don’t want to waste your time getting your vehicle inspected at a shop that can’t repair it, or by taking it to a shop you don’t trust. Watch out for red flags in reviews, not all shops are good shops or able to do every size of repair. Even just a lack of responses to complaints you find online could be what alerts you that something’s not right.
If the check engine light came on after an accident, confirm that the shop takes your insurance too. If they don’t take it, don’t go. It’s better than having to take your vehicle back without getting the fix done after waiting an hour for a diagnosis simply because they don’t take insurance. Call your insurance company to check if they’re covered.
Some shops have their own credit cards or loans for repair. Just to spark some ideas, if you need a loan and have good credit, you may consider shopping around to finance your maintenance services or repairs (not financial advice).
If you’re in the middle of nowhere and can’t get to one of these chains or even if you just intend on doing some DIY diagnosing, we recommend checking out our other resources too:
- What Your Check Engine Light Means | Flashing v.s. Solid v.s. On & Off
- Can You Drive With The Check Engine Light On?
- What to Do When Your Check Engine Light Comes On
- The 13 Most Common Reasons For A Check Engine Light | How To Diagnose Them
- How to Read a Check Engine Light With or Without a Scanner
- How to Reset Your Check Engine Light | 4 Ways To Clear It (With or Without a Scanner)
Let’s get started.
These national U.S. chains all offer free check engine light code retrieval services and a slew of other free services too. The first 3 chains are known for offering automotive parts and services.
In a few circumstances, like a bad gas cap causing your check engine light, you may be able to get your part and install it immediately. Auto parts stores are a good place to find maintenance and repair supplies, like an oil filter, engine oil, a fuel filter, air filter (or even filter housing), an oil cooler, or to order a whole intake manifold. Keep in mind, some check engine light causes may require labor hours and/or the ordering of parts for the repair. It can take a while if parts aren’t available.
AutoZone, a popular chain of auto parts stores with countless maintenance supplies and parts in each store. They have been in the industry for over 40 years, and have over 6,000 stores across the United States.
Based on ScrapeHero data for AutoZone, their locations most thoroughly cover:
Texas, California, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, and Georgia.
They do not have locations in:
American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
To use AutoZone’s Check Engine Light diagnostic service, dubbed “Fix Finder,” just follow this process:
- Find the closest AutoZone store near you, visit their official website and enter your City, State, or Zip Code and they automatically filter results by nearest to furthest locations. Select the nearest location.
- Visit an AutoZone location and ask a team member for assistance with your Check Engine Light
- A trained AutoZoner will scan your vehicle with an OBD2 scan tool and present a free report containing any Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC).
- You’ll review the report with the AutoZoner and discuss how to repair any problems.
In some situations AutoZone may be able to get you the part and you can install it right then and there. However, some parts must be ordered, just remember to always ask the AutoZoner to check surrounding stores if they don’t have the part in-store.
If you need assistance with the repair or just prefer not to DIY, Fix Finder can also suggest a reliable local shop to help you out.
AutoZone also offers other free services such as alternator, starter, and battery testing. Talk to the staff too, they could help spark some ideas or even give you the answer just by talking about their experience helping others in the past.
2. O’Reilly Auto Parts
O’Reilly Auto Parts is another well-established chain of auto parts stores that has been in business for over 60 years. With nearly 6,000 stores across the U.S.A., finding an O’Reilly Auto Parts location near you should be easy.
Based on ScrapeHero data for O’Reilly Auto Parts, their locations most thoroughly cover:
Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee, and Michigan.
They do not have locations in:
Puerto Rico, District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, New Jersey, Delaware, U.S. Virgin Islands, or the Northern Mariana Islands.
- Find the closest O’Reilly near you by visiting their official website and using their store locator tool.
- Get to the nearest store
- Ask a team member for assistance with your Check Engine Light.
- They will use an OBD2 scanner to identify any Diagnostic Trouble Codes
- The team member will suggest a part if you decide to DIY or recommend a trusted local repair shop to help with repairs if you decide not to.
O’Reilly Auto Parts also offers a few other free services to assist you with car maintenance including battery, alternator, and starter testing, and more. Talk to the staff too, they could help spark some ideas or even give you the answer just by talking about their experience helping others in the past.
3. Advance Auto Parts
Based on ScrapeHero data for Advance Auto Parts, their locations most thoroughly cover:
Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, New York, Virginia, Illinois, and Tennessee.
They do not have locations in:
Alaska, District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Montana, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, or Hawaii.
- Using their free locator tool, find the closest Advance Auto Parts.
- Get to the nearest location.
- Request an Advance Auto parts free Check Engine Light service.
- A trained employee with an OBD2 scan tool will check your car for trouble codes
- The employee should offer guidance about what to do next, taking into account your DIY prowess and budget.
Advance Auto Parts also offers other free services to help you with vehicle maintenance such as: Loaner tools, oil recycling, battery testing, starter testing, and alternator testing. Talk to the staff too, they could help spark some ideas or even give you the answer just by talking about their experience helping others in the past.
4. Pep Boys
Who checks engine lights for free and will fix the problem for you too?
Consider Pep Boys or the next 2 options, Firestone or Goodyear.
Pep Boys has been in the auto industry for over 100 years. But, keep in mind that Pep Boys has the least amount of locations in the U.S. out of all chains on this list. There are about 900 locations throughout the country.
Based on ScrapeHero data for Pep Boys, their locations most thoroughly cover:
California, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Alabama, Puerto Rico, and Arizona.
They do not have locations in:
Idaho, Hawaii, Alaska, South Dakota, Vermont, Nebraska, Iowa, West Virginia, District of Columbia, Wyoming, American Samoa, Oregon, Guam, Wisconsin, Kansas, Montana, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and North Dakota.
- Use Pep Boys’ store-locator tool to find the nearest location.
- Get your car to the nearest location.
- Request the free check engine light code pull service.
- They scan your vehicle’s on-board diagnostic system using an OBD2 scanner.
- Any Diagnostic Trouble Codes are recorded and interpreted to aid in diagnosing the cause of the problem.
- Pep Boys will also check that no recalls or technical service bulletins are open for your vehicle’s make and model.
- The technician helping you will suggest what repairs should be made and give you a quote.
PepBoys also offers other free services, including: windshield wiper replacement and alignment check.
Firestone is a well-known auto parts and service provider serving customers for over 100 years.
They are also noted by Consumer Reports as one of the Top Tire Brands of 2023. In fact, we have reviewed several Firestone tires. You may save money shopping online for tires (discounttire.com for example) but, Firestones’ tires are well-made and worth their in-shop price if you find yourself in dire need of a tire (because of a flat).
With over 1,600 store locations throughout the United States, there’s likely a Firestone Complete Auto Care store in your own backyard.
What’s included in the Firestone Free Code Scan Service, and how do you use it?
- Using their free store locator tool, find their closest location.
- Get your vehicle to the Firestone location.
- A technician will scan your vehicle with an OBD2 tool.
- The technician will provide you an informational report to aid in diagnosing your check engine light.
- The technician will recommend the appropriate service based on your report.
Don’t forget, Firestone also offers a free Courtesy Check that includes a visual examination of:
- Battery Related Components
- Windshield Wiper Blades
- Headlights, Mini Lights
- Air Filter
- Cabin Air Filter (if accessible)
- PCV Valve (if applicable)
- Fluid Levels
- Belts and Hoses
- Tire Condition
- Tire Pressure Check
- Tire Tread Depth
- Illuminated TPMS Light
- Visual Signs of Misalignment Conditions
Keep Firestone in mind if your prefer a less hands-on approach to deciphering your check engine light.
Dating all the way back to 1898, Goodyear is one of the most trusted (if not the most trusted) automotive brands out there.
In addition to manufacturing millions of top-rated Goodyear brand tires every year, Goodyear also has around 1,100 auto/tire shops across the U.S. that offer a free Check Engine Light Service.
What’s included in Goodyear’s Check Engine Light Service?
- Find the nearest Goodyear service center today using their online store finder.
- Get your vehicle to the nearest location.
- A trained professional will use an OBD2 scanner to quickly check your car for trouble codes.
- A Goodyear professional will help determine the cause of the problem.
- The professional will offer a solution and the available schedule at their service center.
Goodyear also offers a Free Car Care Check that includes inspection of the tires, alignment, brake and brake fluid, & shocks and struts.
A Check Engine Light (CEL) does not always mean there’s a major problem. If you have a simple issue like a loose gas cap that just needs to be tightened, driving with the light on may be fine and the light may clear on its own. However, unless you are confident that the issue causing the light is not serious, you shouldn’t drive. You’ll risk making the damage worse and creating an even bigger repair bill or, you could even total your engine.
It’s worth noting that while O’Reilly and AutoZone generally offer code-clearing services, they may have different policies and procedures regarding this service at each location.
For instance, some store locations (for AutoZone or O’Reilly Auto Parts) may require a purchase before clearing codes or may only clear codes for certain vehicle models.
Some stores may even outright refuse to clear any codes for liability reasons, as clearing the light does not fix the underlying issue and ignoring the light can make engine damage worse. The last thing they want is an angry customer with a $2000 repair because they thought their issue was resolved just by clearing the light.
If you’re unsure about what’s causing your light or what to do about it, start with our article on what to do when your check engine light comes on before you reset your light, you may save yourself a major repair and some major money.
Most auto parts stores, such as AutoZone and O’Reilly, will lend you a basic scanner for free. But, if you are looking for something more advanced and don’t want to drop $150 – $2000 on a scanner you may only use once, an OBD2 scan tool rental may be a better option.
That being said, unless you are an experienced DIY-er working on a project requiring the advanced capabilities of pro level scanners, you can probably get by with the simple, 4 button scanner that these stores lend out for free.
If you are looking for something that is easier to navigate than a basic scanner, for $19.99 you can pick up our FIXD sensor. Unlike the bulky handheld devices these stores lend out, our easy-to-use wireless scanner connects to your smartphone through a free app.
The FIXD Sensor and app instantly explains over 10,000 engine codes in simple terms right on your phone, saving you time and money. With our 2-week free trial of FIXD Premium, you can even get advice from a real, live mechanic, by phone, for free. Our sensor is small enough to keep in your pocket (or better yet, your glovebox) and for about 1/3rd of what Netflix costs it will save you time and give you peace of mind. In fact, it can easily pay for itself too. FIXD Premium can often save you more than what it costs you each year ($70), in just one repair. Even the most reliable vehicles like the Honda CR-V often cost over $500 to maintain and repair each year (based on our customer surveys). There is plenty of room to save money and we want to help you too.
Diagnostic testing costs vary depending on the shop location, vehicle make and model, and issue complexity. Typically, prices range from $50 to $200 but can sometimes reach as much as $500.
It’s important to remember that diagnostic testing is not the same as repair, and a thorough diagnosis is necessary before any repairs can be made. Some auto shops may waive the diagnostic fee if you decide to have the repairs performed there. Others may charge a flat rate for the service.
Getting a written estimate for testing and repairs is always a good idea before committing to any fix or auto shop service.
Josh Barrett is a writer hailing from the great state of Alaska. While describing himself in the third person is not his forte, writing about any and all things automotive is. After 13+ years hustling in the exciting world of car sales, he took off to travel the world with his dog Teemo. Josh has written for several reputable automotive sites besides FIXD, including Vehicle History, AutoChimps, and more.