In 1996, Onboard Diagnostics 2 or OBDII (the successor to OBDI) was made mandatory and is still a standard in all vehicles. This system allows a mechanic or even you to troubleshoot by scanning for DTCs or Diagnostic Trouble Codes.
If you've never used an OBD2 scanner, you still might have noticed the Malfunction Indicator Light or MIL pop up on your dashboard. This tells you as the driver that you need to visit a mechanic. The mechanic will then troubleshoot with an OBD2 scanner in order to determine the exact issue with your vehicle.
The Best OBD2 Scanners
Most likely if you're here, then you're sick of going to a mechanic and want to determine the true problem on your own. Luckily, OBD2 scanners aren't overly expensive and are easy enough to understand.
1. SEEKONE OBD2 Scanner
The first option you might want to consider is Seekone SK860. Overall, this scanner has quite a bit to offer, especially function-wise. The Seekone can read and erase engine fault codes, reset monitors with ease, turn off celts, and check the engine light in your vehicle. Furthermore, the scanner can live stream numbers, graphs, and texts.
It even has several language settings available, including English, French, German, Dutch, and Italian.
The triple LED indication system for alerts and diagnostics is one of the main features that sets the Seekone apart from other OBD2 scanners in this price range. What makes this the best option is the fact that it is easy to use thanks to the one-click button system and the 2.8-inch display.
2. NEXPEAK OBD2 Scanner
When it comes to precision, you can’t go wrong with the Nexpeak OBD2 scanner.
Overall, the NX501 scanner is pretty basic, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It has a 2.8-inch LCD screen that is perfect for viewing the data. Furthermore, you won’t have to worry about translating the codes since the code definitions appear on the screen. You can even check the codes without getting in your car, as the scanner is equipped with a 5-foot diagnostic cable.
The Nexpeak OBD2 NX501 scanner offers four-graphics data, which helps you determine if there are any emission-related or fuel efficiency errors. Also, if you’re on the road a lot, you’ll appreciate the battery voltage check feature. It prevents you from getting stuck with a dead battery when you need your scanner the most.
Unfortunately, one thing you need to be wary of is the fact that this scanner works only on engine systems and doesn’t have codes for airbags and transmissions.
3. Autel MaxiCOM OBD2 Scanner
Unlike the previous scanners, the Autel MaxiCOM MK808 is a tablet scanner.
Right off the bat, you’re sure to appreciate the 7-inch LCD touch screen. Let’s face it — no one likes squinting at their scanner. Also, one of the best features of the MK808 scanner is that it diagnoses not only the engine but also other vehicle systems, such as the ABS and SRS. Of course, you can also use it to read and erase error codes.
As a downside, the price may be a bit higher than what you hoped for, but that’s purely because of the quality. If you consider all the features it has to offer, the price is actually pretty realistic.
Other features include EPB/BMS/SAS/DPF and oil reset, which are useful for system maintenance. This scanner even has built-in batteries, so you won't need to add them on your own.
Another thing you’re going to appreciate is the ease of use. Once you connect the device, accessing the key functions will be a breeze.
4. BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scan Tool
The BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional scanner is truly a professional diagnostics tool. It allows for graphing of engine parameters and even real-time data logging. One function that especially stands out is that the scanner provides you with a list of possible causes of the issues that are specific to your car. You even get a list of ways you can fix the trouble code.
Ultimately, this feature could end up saving you a lot of money since you won’t have to take your car to the shop for every tiny problem.
The BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro is also compatible with any Android or Apple smartphone. However, it doesn’t support Windows, so keep that in mind before purchasing it.
5. OxGord OBD2 Scanner Code Reader
Last but not least, the OxGord scanner is one of the smallest gadgets on the market. However, that doesn’t mean it lacks any important functions. The OxGord reads diagnostic codes, clears trouble codes, and it can practically fit in the palm of your hand.
The OxGord works with most 1990 vehicles, as well as newer, OBD2-compliant ones. It can read and clear generic and manufacturer error codes, not to mention retrieve the vehicle identification number on 2002 vehicles and some newer ones.
Furthermore, the device can display the meaning of more than 3000 error codes and turn off the check engine light. Plus, it plugs into the Data Link Connector located in your vehicle, which means you don’t have to worry about charging it.
Basically, if you’re looking for a straightforward device with a minimalist interface, the OxGord OBD2 scanner is just the thing for you.
What to Look for in an OBD2 Scanner
The proliferation of car diagnosis tools has made life much easier for auto repair professionals – and for home mechanics. These tools make it easy to know what’s wrong with a car – or at least get a good idea on where to start looking – when the “check engine” light comes on. In short, connecting one of these tools to a car provides human-readable data from the car’s onboard diagnostic systems.
There are two major types of car diagnostic tools, known in the industry and to some consumers as OBD2 (or OBD II) units. We’ll look at them very shortly. However, don’t confuse either of them with the tool’s predecessor, the OBD1 system, which was rather rudimentary and is only used today to diagnose cars built before 1996.
Read More: The Differences Between OBDI and OBDII
Even more limiting, each manufacturer’s cars require a different OBD1 tool. Starting in 1996 the technology was standardized, and all American cars manufactured since then can communicate with OBD2 scan tools. (In the EU, cars made in 2001 or later have the same capability.)
Types of Car Diagnostic Tools
The car diagnostic tools we’re discussion here fall into two basic categories: code readers and scan tools.
These are lower-level, relatively-inexpensive OBD2 devices which are able to read (and clear) most basic error codes from the car’s onboard diagnostic system. They cannot, however, read codes which are specific to manufacturers or vehicle models; this is sometimes referred to as being able to read “P0” codes but not “P1” codes. They also can’t display the data that’s tracked by the car’s internal systems.
These are more advanced and more expensive OBD2 car diagnostic tools. They can do everything a code reader can, as well as reading P1 codes. They can also show live data in real time, recorded data captured by the car’s onboard diagnostic system, and other advanced information to help in troubleshooting problems.
To put it in simple terms, if you only want to be able to do things like turn off the “low tire pressure” indicator, or get a general idea about what’s caused your “check engine” light to turn on, a code reader will usually do the trick. (With lower-priced OBD2 models, you’ll probably have to search the internet to find out what the displayed code actually means.)
If you want to do more in-depth diagnostic and repair work on your car, you’ll probably need a scan tool. Consumer-level models communicate in just one direction; in other words, you can get almost all of the information you’ll need from the car, but you can’t send information back (except to reset some indicators). Pro-level OBD car diagnostic tools provide bidirectional communication so they’re able to instruct the car’s systems to perform self-checks, among other things. They will also run you at least $1500 or so, and can cost as much as $20,000.
Connecting Car Diagnostic Tools to Your Vehicle
Various models can connect to and communicate with your car in several different ways.
The most common method is via an OBD2 connector. Every car made since 1966 has a port specifically designed for this purpose, located near or underneath the steering wheel and often hidden behind a lower dashboard panel. Many scanners also allow connection via Bluetooth or WiFi to a PC, handheld phone or tablet, and some allow direct connections to laptops and computers as well.
Dongles that connect to the car’s OBD2 port and transmit wirelessly to computers are also becoming more common. These types of connections are sometimes meant to be permanent, because they transmit information to insurance companies with the goal of reducing premiums based on the driver’s habits and behavior.
If you plan on using your car diagnostic tool regularly, Bluetooth, wireless or direct laptop connections may be extremely helpful. Otherwise, they may simply be overkill.
Functions That Some Advanced OBD2 Scanners Can Perform
Budding mechanics (or budding Jay Lenos) may want their car diagnostic tool to handle some of the advanced functions necessary for in-depth troubleshooting and repairs. Higher-end devices can handle tasks like:
- Detecting problems or failures in ABS braking systems
- Testing battery current, voltage and performance
- Taking freeze-frame shots of key readouts like speed, RPM, fuel consumption, coolant temperature and other metrics that can identify the cause of engine misfires; historical freeze frames can show you what was happening with your car at the exact time the “check engine” light turned on
In most cases, you won’t find a laundry list spelling out which of these functions a car diagnostic tool can perform. If you opt for a high-end model, it should be able to handle most or all of them.
One distinction which used to be important was the one between factory OEM models and aftermarket diagnostic tools, but over the years the difference has gradually disappeared. The majority of today’s aftermarket OBD2 scanners can do just about everything a more expensive OEM tool can.
Other Car Diagnostic Tool Features
One very handy feature available on some OBD2 scanners will be built-in (or Internet-accessible) access to a huge database of not only diagnostic codes, but recommended fixes for the problems the codes indicate. Some of these models will simulate emission tests and locate potential problems.
A number of OBD2 scanners will be compatible with at least some of the older cars outfitted with OBD1 systems. Some will reset airbag indicators once the airbag has been replaced, and there are models which can even program new keys to work with your vehicle.
One final consideration when buying a car diagnostic tool is how easy it is to use and read. Larger screens and bright LED readouts can make all the difference when diagnosing your car’s issues in a dark garage or in the driveway at night.
Many drivers wouldn’t dream of opening the hood of their car, let along trying to diagnose potential problems. After all, it’s not difficult to call your local repair shop or dealership and say “I’m bringing my car in tomorrow morning.” Having a car diagnostic tool, though, can be a big help for those who are somewhat mechanically-inclined, and has become an absolute necessity for weekend tinkerers or car aficionados.