Capable of doing everything you need in automotive diagnostics – reads a full spectrum of diagnostic codes. Works for almost any vehicle 1996 and newer. Easy to use and read; free to access software upgrades/updates.
It's pricey, but it's also the most comprehensive OBDII scanner on our list.
Offers readings for a variety of diagnostic codes. Easy to use – has a large screen and vivid readings. Works with most 1996 and newer OBDII compatible vehicles and light trucks.
Instructions lack details. Doesn't work on some large trucks or all listed vehicles. Pricey, considering it is a fairly basic tool.
A versatile tool for OBDII 1996 and newer vehicles capable of generic/manufacturer codes for numerous diagnostics. Has a sharp LED screen, convenient speaker, and patented One-Click key for emissions.
Somewhat basic. Some reports of it not working with all listed vehicles. Hard to get software updates.
An affordable scanner that provides accurate code readings for most engine issues. Tests EVAP systems. Works on a wide range of 1996 and newer OBDII vehicles. Comes with free lifetime software updates.
Not as versatile as expensive models – doesn't read codes for all components, but it's great at diagnosing engine issues.
An updated model that utilizes iOS and Android devices to deliver information on "check engine" lights. Ideal for maintenance alerts. App includes repair price estimator.
Basic – doesn't locate all issues, including airbag/ABS codes. Doesn't work with all vehicles. Can be difficult to pair to your smart device.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Car problems can be extremely frustrating. Not knowing exactly why the vehicle is malfunctioning creates worry and confusion. And even though error lights on your dashboard provide some clues, just as often, they create additional confusion. After all, a check engine light could signify anything from a loose gas cap to a serious engine problem.
That’s where an OBDII scanner can help. Just plug the scanner into the port beneath your dashboard. It will interface with your vehicle’s on-board sensors, finding problems and displaying error codes on the scanner’s screen.
OBDII scanners are made to work with multiple models and makes of vehicles, giving them amazing versatility. If you’d like to diagnose vehicle problems on your own and are interested in obtaining an OBDII scanner, read on for valuable information that will help you make the right purchase.
OBD is short for “onboard diagnostics.” OBDII is the second version of this hardware. The first version appeared in the early 1980s, but it was limited to certain makes and models. OBDII appeared in the mid-1990s with a universal port that allows one device to scan multiple models of cars. Vehicles from 1996 and newer should be compatible with OBDII scanners.
When shopping for an OBDII scanner for home use, you’ll likely be purchasing a handheld scanner. Professionals in repair shops, however, will want to make use of a computer-sized OBDII scanner. These larger scanners have powerful processors and run fast, so you can perform many scans in one day.
Scanners deliver data through a couple of means. Some OBDII scanners are wired: a cable runs from the OBDII port in the vehicle to the scanner, where it delivers data. Other scanners communicate data via a USB, Bluetooth, or WiFi connection. You connect this type of scanner with another device, such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, to get your data.
All OBDII scanners can generate error codes. Understanding what to do with those error codes can be tricky with some scanners, though. High-end scanners will show troubleshooting information on the screen along with the error code. This simplifies the process of fixing problems, while also saving time.
If the troubleshooting information isn’t displayed on the screen, the device may allow you to connect to the internet to find the data you need.
A professional-level OBDII scan tool can both receive data from the car’s systems and send data to the systems. This allows for more extensive troubleshooting.
All handheld OBDII scanners can read basic errors, generating the proper error codes. The scanners can clear error lights, too. But if you want a few extra features, here are some items to consider.
Apps: Some OBDII manufacturers create companion apps that accompany the hardware. With an app, your error codes and data can be stored on a smartphone or tablet. The app can also tap in to additional information about error code troubleshooting that’s stored in the cloud.
Connector: The connector on the OBDII scanner has a 16-pin plug. These pins are thin and delicate. If they’re damaged, the scanner will no longer work. Some scanner cables have plastic protectors around the pins, keeping them safe, which is a nice feature. Always store the OBDII scanner carefully to avoid inadvertent damage.
Display screen: A handheld scanner with a large, sharp display screen can show quite a bit of information. Some OBDII scanners have a screen large enough to show both the error code and the troubleshooting information.
I/M Readiness: If you live in a state where your vehicle must undergo regular inspections, you’ll want an OBDII scanner with the I/M feature. I/M, short for inspection and maintenance, can measure the vehicle’s systems to see if they’re ready for inspections testing.
Live data: If you want to measure a system while driving, you’ll need a scanner with the ability to measure live data. Other scanners only work when the vehicle engine is not running.
Storage: If you’d like to remember the results of past scans, look for an OBDII scanner with a memory storage area. This can be helpful for tracking errors as they evolve over time.
VIN retrieval: Certain OBDII scanners display the VIN number of the vehicle after scanning. Reading the scanned VIN allows you to match it with the VIN on your vehicle paperwork. This assures you no one has tampered with the vehicle’s systems or changed the VIN.
Basic handheld OBDII scanners can be had for a low price, usually from $20 to $50. These scanners, often referred to as code readers, check for the most basic problems. If you just want to have a bit of information in hand when you visit the repair shop, this type of entry-level OBDII scanner is a good choice. (They can clear error lights, too.) However, an entry-level OBDII scanner won’t provide immediate troubleshooting information.
Mid-range OBDII scanners work nicely for people who like to do some repair work at home. These vehicle scanners have the ability to recall data from past scans, which can be helpful for comparison purposes. Called scan tools, they can diagnose both basic and extensive problems, providing troubleshooting data. Mid-range OBDII scan tools cost between $50 and $150.
The most expensive OBDII scanners for amateur use cost anywhere from $150 to $1,000. Some pro-level models cost up to $10,000. Models at the upper end of this range will not be handheld devices. Expensive OBDII scan devices have the ability to add extra data to the readings. For example, you may see the exact time the error code occurred, as well as any other errors that were occurring at the same time. Those who commonly perform auto repairs will want a top-tier OBDII scanner for the best results.
Even though the OBDII scanner can clear MILs from your dashboard, if you don’t fix the issue that caused the MIL in the first place, the light will pop on again later.
Occasionally, an OBDII error code may not point you to the exact problem. For example, the code may indicate a bad sensor, but the problem could actually be related to the wiring extending from the sensor.
Connecting an OBDII scanner to a vehicle is an easy process. Reading the codes doesn’t require a lot of technical know-how, either. Still, there are a few things you need to know ahead of time. We’ve compiled some tips to help you have more success with your OBDII scanner.
Know where to find the OBDII port. Commonly, the port is located beneath the dashboard to the left of the steering column. The port may have a cover or latch. If you cannot find the port, consult the internet: there are multiple online sites exist that have the right information for your make and model of vehicle.
Plug in the scanner gently. Don’t force it. If the scanner and port are lined up properly, it should pop in with minimal force. Using too much force could damage the pins.
Know how far to turn the key. Some OBDII scanners require that you start and run the car’s engine while scanning. Others require you to turn the key just halfway to activate the vehicle’s power systems.
Have your data ready. Depending on the scanner, you may need to enter the make and model of your car before the unit begins scanning.
The BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scan Tool sends the data it collects wirelessly to a smartphone. As such, the scanner costs a little less than some scanners that come equipped with a display screen. If you want a Bluetooth OBDII scanner that’s even less expensive, consider the BAFX Products Bluetooth Diagnostic OBDII Reader/Scanner. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices. Another inexpensive choice for a handheld scanner is the Autel AutoLink AL319 OBDII Scanner. This scanner does have a screen, and it’s extremely easy to use with plug-and-play connectivity.
Q. Why would I want an OBDII scanner? After all, I can’t fix my car myself.
A. Having an OBDII scanner at home is helpful even for those who have no experience as a mechanic. By running the scanner, you can find error codes that give you an idea what’s wrong with the vehicle. You can then make an informed decision about whether the car needs to be taken to a mechanic immediately or if the problem can wait. Additionally, you’ll know whether the repair shop is treating you fairly regarding proposed repairs.
Q. What vehicle problems can an OBDII scanner detect?
A. An OBDII scanner can detect any error code that would trigger an MIL (malfunction indicator lamp) in the vehicle. These lights may include a check engine light, an oil error light, or a battery error light. The purpose of the MIL is to alert you to a problem. By using an OBDII scanner, you then can pinpoint the exact problem that caused the MIL.
Q. What do the OBDII codes mean?
A. The error code displayed on the OBD2 screen follows a certain pattern. The first character is a letter that signifies the area of the vehicle with the error. “B” signifies a body problem, while “C” signifies a chassis problem. The numbers that make up the remainder of the code further pinpoint the problem. Rather than trying to memorize the codes, OBDII scanners typically display the code’s meaning or connect you with an app that can define the code for you.
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