Checking Engine Codes Without a Code Reader on a Ford Vehicle: The Guide

Last Updated on December 17, 2023 by Leepu Da Maxim

The powertrain control module (PCM) monitors your engine, and if it detects a problem, it will set an engine code and store the code in memory. One common way to retrieve engine codes involves using special equipment to scan the onboard computer.

However, you can read engine codes without this equipment by following this guide on checking engine codes without a code reader with Ford vehicles.

A step-by-Step Guide to Checking the Engine code Without a Code Reader

Before you can troubleshoot and correct an engine problem, you need to know what it is. Most vehicles, including Ford, require a code reading device. However, not all vehicles require one, and for those that don’t, there are ways of checking and correcting engine codes without a code reader.

Remember that depending on your vehicle’s make and model year, some of these procedures might not be applicable or vary slightly from what’s written here. Always consult your owner’s manual before attempting any repairs yourself.

#1. Disconnect the Negative Battery Cable

To begin checking for engine codes, disconnect your vehicle’s negative battery cable. Find the battery, then use an insulated pair of pliers to remove its clamp from your car or truck’s frame and pull it free from your vehicle.

Be sure that you don’t touch any metal parts (like screws) as you work with exposed parts like cables. Doing so could damage your car’s electrical system and even send voltage through you.

Once you have safely removed your cable, note where it connected. A piece of plastic is held in place by two bolts or a single bolt and nut in some vehicles. If necessary, move back over to it and tighten it down before moving forward with diagnostics.

#2. Turn the Key to the On Position

First, make sure your car’s battery is charged and in good working order. Proceed and turn your key to the On position (but don’t start your engine) to see if your Check Engine light is illuminated. If it is, you can continue to the next step; if not, there may be an electrical problem with your vehicle.

Go back to Step One and check that out before continuing. The next step is to pull up your car’s service manual or refer to online documentation for specific instructions on accessing codes without a code reader.

For example, some vehicles require you to tap into specific wires using a paper clip. In contrast, others require you to enter diagnostic mode through special buttons or switches located under your steering wheel or center console. Consult your manual for specifics about how to do this for your vehicle.

#3. Select DTC Mode

When you want to read engine trouble codes on your car, it’s essential to use your key to enter diagnostic mode. While each manufacturer has its own name for diagnostic mode, they all use a similar method of getting there.

In most cases, when you turn your key to position 2 and hold it there for 8 seconds or more, that will be enough time for both warning lights (check engine light and airbag light) to turn off and activate again shortly after.

You should see DTC appear within about 10 seconds after the lights come back on. The next step is simply going through each code until you find one with an explanation listed underneath it.

#4. Clear the Fault Codes

While it’s usually best to have an expert run a scan, you can clear fault codes by turning your car off and opening your hood. Then, please take out your battery and leave it disconnected for 20 minutes (so you don’t get an error when you test).

Finally, connect your negative terminal to an unpainted piece of metal with some wire. This will discharge any energy in your system. After about 20 minutes, connect everything back up and check if any codes are still there. If they are, it’s time to bring in an expert.

Other Ways of Reading and Troubleshooting the Ford’s Engine Code Without a Code Reader

1. Identify the Issue on Your Ford Car Using a Smartphone

Before you can fix something, you first need to understand what’s wrong. One of the best ways to do that is to use diagnostic codes. Every modern car has an onboard computer that records your vehicle’s engine performance when it detects an issue and turns on one or more warning lights.

Often, you can get away with using a basic code-reader app on your smartphone instead of purchasing costly equipment. This procedure is easy and takes only a few minutes. It’s invaluable if you want to avoid taking your car into a shop for something small but aggravating, like faulty fuel injectors.

Before proceeding, make sure that your cell phone or tablet supports Bluetooth connectivity so you can connect with your vehicle’s onboard computer system. If not, you’ll have to purchase an adapter.

Here are step-by-step instructions guide on using your smartphone to read your Ford’s engine code:

  • Open the phone’s Settings menu and go to Bluetooth.
  • Select On to turn Bluetooth on.
  • On your Ford car, press and hold down the SETUP button until SETUP MENU appears in large letters at the top of your screen.
  • Press down once on SETUP MENU, then select CODES.
  • Once again, press down once on CODES, then select OBDII INFO.
  • Select READ CODES.
  • The next screen will display all available trouble codes along with their descriptions.

2. Shut Off the Vehicle and Restart

The simplest way to check engine codes is by simply shutting off your vehicle and then restarting it. If you’re troubleshooting something that happened earlier in your drive, like a warning light or another problem, start with your vehicle running normally.

If not, try starting up while driving slowly until you come to a complete stop before turning off your engine. You can also use neutral or park if you prefer. Once you’ve stopped, please turn off your car and see what happens when you try to start it again.

For most vehicles, including Fords, a yellow indicator light comes on briefly as you start your engine. This is called a Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL) and indicates either an error or a fault code stored in memory somewhere in your vehicle’s computer system.

For instance, here’s how to do it for a 2013 Ford Escape:

Press & hold both buttons simultaneously for 3 seconds or more until MIL comes on. Keep holding them down until one of these indicators appears:

  • ETC: Display flashes four times, followed by Err. That means there are 4 errors detected.
  •  CEL/MIL: Display flashes three times followed by Err. That means there are 3 errors detected.
  • P0xxx-P2xxx series codes appear after Err, which indicates which sensors have failed or produced faulty readings.

Pxxxxx is a generic code that may indicate any number of problems within your vehicle; however, each Pxxxxx series represents different sensors and subsystems within your car.

The Final Word

Before you can fix an issue with your vehicle, you need to be able to identify it. Many tools can help you do just that, such as diagnostic software and scanners. However, sometimes those tools are not available or affordable.

Luckily, there’s a simple way of identifying engine codes for free, even if you don’t have access to specialized equipment. Follow these steps if your Ford gives you trouble but doesn’t have any engine codes displayed.