Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for best car health monitors

Investing in a car health monitor is a great way to stay one step ahead of potential issues with your vehicle. A car health monitor plugs into your car’s onboard computer and reads the diagnostics when vehicle sensors detect an issue, making it quicker and easier for you to fix problems.

Different car monitors come with different capabilities. First and foremost, a good car health monitor needs to understand a large portion of the diagnostic and error messages a vehicle's computer can send. Smart features, such as instant notifications and alerts, come in handy if you want to be proactive with car maintenance. Some car health monitors even provide periodic oil change reminders to help simplify the upkeep of your vehicle.

Are you interested in the benefits offered by a car health monitor? If so, read our handy guide. In it, we discuss several important features and considerations, so you know what to look for when shopping. More importantly, you will find some of our top recommendations to get you started on your search.

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A car health monitor can help you keep up-to-date on vehicle maintenance. Many apps recommend a specific maintenance schedule based on the vehicle you own.

What to consider when choosing a car health monitor

OBD-II port

A car health monitor needs a way to “talk” with your car's onboard systems in order to get diagnostic information. To do this, the monitor plugs into a car's On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) port. This 16-pin port, often located beneath the driver's side dash, is the same port that professional mechanics use to interpret and diagnose common car issues.

Most cars have an OBD-II port because, starting in 1996, car manufacturers were legally required to add this port to all new vehicles. Unless your vehicle was made before 1996, it's likely you already have a port you can use with a car health monitor.

If you do have a pre-1996 car, your options are more limited in terms of car health monitoring. Many cars made between 1987 and 1995 have the first version of the OBD port, but this version may require the use of specialized tools.

Smart features

A car health monitor, at its core, does nothing more than a basic OBD-II scanner or diagnostic tool. That is, the monitor reads the information coming from the car via the OBD-II port and translates it into something you can understand. As a result, car health monitors and OBD-II scanners share lots of features. In fact, it's not uncommon to confuse these two handy automotive tools.

The added value of a true car health monitor — as opposed to an OBD-II scanner — lies in the additional smart features, many of which vary from monitor to monitor. Beyond the diagnostic services the device provides, car health monitors are designed to be used continuously instead of just when problems arise. Many monitors include notifications and alerts when something might be on the verge of having issues. Some provide automotive statistics, such as distance traveled and fuel efficiency.

It's best to determine which features you need or want from the start. Virtually all car health monitors have the same diagnostic capabilities, so the main differences come down to details. For example, if you just want an affordable, easy-to-use monitor, something similar to a scanner would be your best choice. For a full-service monitor, however, you would need something that provides more information and alerts/notifications.


One major choice to make when selecting a car health monitor is how connected you want to be to that monitoring. Since many smart monitors offer notifications and alerts, these need some way to communicate with a smart device in order to pass along information. Other health monitors lack these notifications and don't have the same connective requirements.

For smart car health monitors, the most common type of connection is Bluetooth. A simple Bluetooth connection is more compatible with the various makes and models of vehicles on the road today. The car monitor links to a smart device via Bluetooth and passes along information and alerts as long as the phone is in the car or nearby.

Car health monitor features


First and foremost, a car health monitor needs to actually monitor the health of the car. Since most vehicles have thousands of parts that work together and wear down over time, there are a large number of diagnostics that a monitor could possibly obtain through a vehicle's onboard computer.

It's important to understand that, despite the name, a car health monitor doesn't actually monitor the individual components of the car. Instead, the vehicle's onboard computer and sensors do this automatically, making the information available to any device connected to the OBD-II port. The car health monitor is programmed to recognize certain messages and error codes, interpret them, and send the appropriate notification.

The most common diagnostics and statistics a car monitor can interpret include the check engine light, brake warnings, part temperatures, and oil pressures. Some monitors have different feature sets than others.

Control app

The notifications and alerts from a car health monitor must be sent somewhere, but even with a smartphone or tablet, the device won't be able to interpret or understand the information without the right app. A few car health monitors rely on third-party automotive apps for this purpose. This is a good option if you have some experience with diagnostic automotive apps or if you prefer or familiarity with a specific app.

For an easier user experience, choose a car health monitor with its own native app. This is a specialized app, often designed by the manufacturer, that works with the car monitor right out of the box. If you’re looking for something with a minimal installation process, a car health monitor with a native app is probably the better choice.

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Did you know?
Most car health monitors don't work with diesel engines. However, gasoline and hybrid vehicles are well-supported.

Car health monitor prices

Pricing varies based on the features and connectivity offered. You can find basic car health monitors that offer average diagnostic capabilities, much like a scanner tool would, for $20 to $30. These products lack the advanced notification features that a true smart car health monitor would have.

Between $50 and $100, you will find smart car monitors with more consistent monitoring capabilities. These devices are typically plug-and-play: you connect the monitor, load up a compatible app, and start getting data right out of the box.

There are several car health monitors above the $100 mark that are geared for expert or professional use. High-end features here include 3G connectivity, in-depth diagnostic capabilities, and paid apps for smart devices.

"The OBD-II port is typically located under the dash on the left or right side of the steering wheel. Some cars may also have one left of the glove box on the passenger side. "


  • If you have trouble locating the OBD-II port in your car, refer to the owner's manual. It will tell you the location of the port and how to access it.
  • Keep an eye on basic stats like fuel efficiency. If you notice the vehicle's performance start to dip, it might be an indication of a problem developing.
  • For older cars, a wireless car health monitor will help you determine if the car is likely to pass an emissions test or not.
  • If you’re taking your car in for maintenance, generate a repair report from your car monitor's app if you can. The report will provide extra information to the mechanic, including known issues, likely causes, and possible solutions.
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Data from your car health monitor can quickly bring your mechanic up to speed if you take your vehicle in for maintenance or repairs.


Q. Can I use one car health monitor on multiple vehicles?
It is easy to plug most car monitors into an OBD-II port quickly. As a result, you can switch the monitor around the multiple cars, but you will only get the stats for one car at a time. To monitor multiple cars at the same time, you would need more than one monitor.

Q. Can I control a vehicle's settings with a car health monitor?
Some vehicle settings aren't available for control through the OBD-II port. However, some car health monitors do allow you to change settings related to the vehicle's on-board diagnostics, such as the check engine light.

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