Automotive OBD2 scanners and car code readers are the easiest and least expensive ways to find out why your engine light is on and get it to turn off. Even a basic car code reader under $50 will give you most of the same basic information you’d get from the dealer or an auto repair shop, and there’s no labor cost.
Since a shop may charge you $100 just to diagnose a problem, these handy devices can pay for themselves after a single use.
If you need a bit more than just reading and clearing basic engine fault codes, a full featured automotive scan tool is a great investment. Like other technology, prices on these scanners continue to drop making them affordable to most home mechanics and DIYers.
Best OBD2 Scanners
In addition to what a basic car code reader does, these automotive scan tools offer additional features for diagnostics, testing, and access to other supplemental systems in a vehicle such as the ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System) or SRS (Supplemental Restraint System).
For those who want to turn their smartphone or tablet into a powerful car diagnostic tool, OBD2 Bluetooth scanners are becoming increasingly popular. Prefer not to use Bluetooth? There are even automotive scan tools that connect via Wi-Fi.
Below you’ll find our top picks for the different categories of scan tools. We understand your time is valuable so instead of having to read dozens of long OBD2 scanner reviews, we simply give our recommendations and tell you why you may want to consider it.
OBD2 Scanner Reviews
Along with Autel, Launch is another household name in the world of quality automotive diagnostic tools. Their CRP123X is an improvement over their popular CRP123 base model.
The CRP123X features a large 5″ (720 pixels/inch resolution) touchscreen for excellent text/image quality in addition to physical buttons (the CRP123E version is touchscreen only).
A fast processor and 16GB of onboard memory make the Android 7.0 based software quick and easy to navigate and the large 6100mAh rechargeable batter offers excellent battery life.
You’ll have access to Engine, Transmission, ABS, and SRS (airbag) systems which allow you to read and erase diagnostic trouble codes. In addition, you get live stream data (with graphs), vehicle information, I/M readiness, and the ability to turn off any warning lights illuminated in your dash.
With support for over 10,000 vehicle models (from 57 auto manufacturers) and free lifetime software updates via Wi-Fi, it’s no wonder the Launch CRP123X is commonly recommended in various automotive groups and forums.
While it’s not as feature rich as some of the pro scan tools that offer bi-directional support, 90% of their functions can be had for hundreds less. For the home mechanic, the Launch CRP123X is arguably the best OBD2 scan tool out there and should be able to handle whatever you need.
We’ve become big fans of Autel scanners (and their customer service) and this model is one of the best bang for your buck diagnostic tools out there. This makes it one of our favorites for a fully featured auto scan tool.
In addition to being able to clear out normal OBD2 fault codes, it will read/clear ABS and SRS (airbag) codes quite well although not for every make.
No scanner is perfect when it comes to ABS or SRS codes, but the AL619 seems a bit more consistent than others, especially when you make sure to update the software immediately after receiving the unit.
In addition, the Autel automatically pulls in your VIN, displays monitor and I/M readiness (emissions), shows real-time diagnostic data, and even allows printing of data through a PC (sorry not much Mac support here). The full color monitor is clear and the buttons are simply to use.
While some may prefer a touchscreen like some other more expensive models, buttons, in my opinion are a lot more functional for a scan tool. Especially when you’re in the middle of a repair and fingers covered in oil/grease.
A lot of users have noted that they couldn’t get the AL619 to read ABS or SRS codes out of the box, but in most cases, a free firmware update took care of the issue.
The update may take an hour or two but it’s only a one time process. Autel support is top notch so you won’t be on your own if there’s ever an issue with your new OBD2 scanner.
As someone who has used the OBDeleven Bluetooth device on my Audi A5 on a number of occasions, I can attest to its usefulness for both daily drivers and experts alike, especially if you drive an Audi, Volkswagen, or newer BMW. This tool offers a diverse range of features for different car brands and models, with three different subscription plans for different needs – FREE (comes by default), PRO, and ULTIMATE Plans.
Thanks to its official licenses from Volkswagen Group (VAG) and BMW Group, OBDeleven allows for full vehicle diagnostics and feature customizations for VAG and select BMW vehicles, as well as engine fault diagnostics for all car brand owners to easily diagnose engine-related problems.
With this device, I was able to run Advanced Diagnostics and easily scan, read, clear, and even share trouble codes. One of my favorite features was the One-Click Apps, which are pre-made coding applications that I could activate or deactivate in a single tap on my smartphone.
One unique advantage is the Professional Features benefit, which allows users to code and modify vehicles themselves manually. This also includes bypassing the Volkswagen Group (VAG) SFD lock as an approved third-party tool, making it possible to work on the newest VAG models. For instance, I was able to safely and easily change certain factory default settings in my Audi such as opening my sunroof using the key fob or having the parking brake automatically engage when I turn off the car.
The device is compatible with iOS, Android, and HarmonyOS. OBDeleven supports Volkswagen Group (VAG) and BMW E (from 2008), F, G, and I–series, MINI (F-series), and select Rolls-Royce models, and all other car brands with CAN-bus protocol, manufactured from 2008.
The BlueDriver is one of the most popular Bluetooth diagnostic scan tools out there. Designed in Canada (made in China), it’s compatible with iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, you don’t have to worry about it not working with your smartphone or tablet (unless you use a Windows phone).
What differentiates this app from others is the Repair Report which takes an error codes, interprets them, and actually shows you possible causes and potential fixes. This takes it above and beyond the standard “read code” and “erase code” features of basic code readers.
Also, since you’re using your smart phone’s screen to view data, the screen resolution will be much higher than any stand-alone scan tool with an integrated screen.
The Smog Check feature is quite useful and can give you a good estimate of whether the vehicle will pass or fail a smog test. Other common features will read error codes, monitor engine performance, clear CELs, and even read/clear enhanced codes for the ABS, SRS, and other supplemental systems for most major car manufacturers. The small dongle is easy to plug in and remove.
One small annoyance is the fact that the VIN number has to be manually entered. At this price point, you’d think it would be read automatically. Some users have reported issues with getting the dongle to pair with their phone, but once done, the connection was solid.
The BlueDriver is one of those tools that’s easy enough to use for a home mechanic but has features that professionals would appreciate.
See Also – BlueDriver Pro Scan Tool Review
The 3150RS scanner is a wonderful all-around scan tool to meet the needs of most DIY mechanics. This Innova scan tool is capable of displaying live streaming data, reviewing trouble codes, and running starting/charging system tests.
Many users will also find favor in the Innova scanner’s compatibility with the company’s RepairSolutions2 App. This app provides users with a wealth of verified fixes, parts catalogs, and technical service bulletins, all of which will assist in making the proper repair in a timely manner.
A number of consumers have questioned the Innova 3150RS’s ability to withstand use in a shop setting, because of its lack of a rubber bumper or other additional durability related features. However, when handled with care, this should be of no issue.
The OBDLink MX+ OBD2 Scanner is the perfect option for those who own late-model vehicles that feature proprietary onboard diagnostic programming. This scanner is one of the only Bluetooth enabled options for those who wish to access GM-LAN and Ford MS-CAN systems.
Most users will also find favor in the OBDLink MX+ OBD2 scanner’s lightning-fast data transmission. This unit transmits data at a fast enough pace to provide smooth, streamlined graphing and seamless gauge readings.
There have been numerous reports detailing issues related to the OBDLink MX+ OBD2 Scanner’s longevity. Some consumers state that they have experienced problems with this unit failing to operate after periods of frequent use. However, this should be of little consequence for the occasional user.
Looking for a simple, inexpensive, easy to use OBD2 scanner? The Ancel AD310 is one of the most well designed basic car code readers you will find. It’s easy to hold, has a logical button layout, large screen for this price point, good interface, and ok length cable. Codes are read quickly and definitions for fault codes are provided on screen.
While the AD310 is a very no-nonsense scanner and doesn’t have a color screen like the Autel below, it works very well and should be enough for most home mechanics. Many people actually prefer the simplicity of a black and white screen over color.
If you do a lot of work on your cars, the advanced features in either the Launch CRP123x or Autel AL619 above would most likely be better options but even in that case, this Ancel AD310 would make for a great secondary or backup scanner. Available in orange, black, or red.
Another Autel scan tool on our list, the Autel AL319 is one of the easiest auto scanners you’ll find. It doesn’t have the wide range of functions that one of its big brothers (the AL619) has, but it only has three buttons, so the operation is a simple as it gets.
Read and clear codes with ease on a bright color screen. At this price point, it’s a nice surprise that a short definition of an error code is provided so you don’t need to manually go online and look up each code.
A useful feature is the one-click I/M (Inspection & Maintenance) Readiness Key which gives you a good idea if your vehicle will pass a smog check. By far the biggest negative of the AL319 is the short cord.
If you plan on needing to use a scan tool during driving for real time monitoring, you should probably look elsewhere. The cord is literally long enough to barely sit on your thigh in most cases.
Other than that, the Autel AL319 is a great value and super simple to use which is probably why it’s so popular with DIY mechanics.
If you want a more basic wireless scan tool than the BlueDriver but with WiFi connectivity, the Veepeak OBD2 scanner is your best bet. In addition to working with iOS and Android tablets and smartphones, the Veepeak will also work with Windows smartphones as well as PCs.
You will need to supply your own app that works with this dongle but the Apple iTunes store and Google Play have you covered. We personally recommend DashCommand for iOS and Torque Pro for Android.
The Veepeak Wifi auto scanner will read and clear trouble codes, turn off the check engine light, and view engine sensor readings and that’s about all. It will not allow you to diagnose your ABS or airbag system or provide troubleshooting guidance.
The Veepeak is an excellent OBD2 Wifi scanner that’s small, cheap, and reliable. This is the perfect scanner to take with you when shopping for a used car.
Basics of Car Diagnostic Tools
Most garages and auto centers have something called an OBD2 scan tool available to them. This is a car code reader or diagnostic tool that allows you to communicate with the engine’s computer about what’s wrong and needs to be fixed.
This system has been in use for nearly all makes and models since 1996 to allow mechanics and shops to diagnose problems. For shops, these are very effective for quickly diagnosing a vehicle.
The downside is that professional automotive scanners may cost several hundred dollars. This is a significant expense for the home mechanic, but it is an important one to make if you plan on fixing vehicles often.
There are a variety of options available for the home mechanic, from very basic vehicle code readers, to OBD2 Bluetooth adapters, to comprehensive OBD2 automotive scanners. The features will vary depending on price, so you should buy a scan tool that will provide you with the features you need at a price point you can afford.
What’s the Difference Between OBD1 vs OBD2?
The acronym “OBD” stands more on-board diagnostic system. The first version of this system (OBD1) offered the ability to troubleshoot diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs).
It covered vehicles up to 1996 and each car manufacturer had their own codes and location to access these codes. It was not very user friendly and typically not used by the average home mechanic.
In 1996, OBD2 was created. Along with having a universal standard that worked across all makes and models, it was fast, easy to use, provided much more detailed fault codes, and numerous advanced diagnostic features that continue to improve as new models of OBD2 scan tools are introduced.
Which Features Do I Need?
Not all scan tools are made the same. Some may only provide basic engine code and check engine light (CEL) functions, while others may provide freeze data, real-time data, SRS and ABS functionality, battery and alternator testing, and even comprehensive databases of recommended fixes.
Just remember, you get what you pay for, so if you’re planning on using a scan tool often for a variety of diagnostics, make sure you buy a scan tool with the features you plan on using. The top OBDII scanner for the money might be a $40 code reader for one person and a $200 scanner for another.
Your check engine light may simply be caused by a dirty fuel system where a $10 fuel injector cleaner could fix a clogged fuel injector or more complex where a faulty oxygen sensor is the culprit. The key to saving money is to do the initial troubleshooting (with a car scanner) yourself.
If your car is hard to start, don’t automatically assume it needs a new battery or starter. Your OBD2 tool could tell you that the battery simply needs to be hooked up to a battery charger overnight and be good as new.
Should I Get a Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner?
One of the best parts about Bluetooth scan tools is that with the right app on your tablet or smartphone (either with BlueDriver, Torque Pro, or another app), you have the ability of having more features, data points, and ways of presenting this data over a traditional handheld scan tool.
You’re not limited to a standard set of features and a small low-resolution screen. In addition, you’ll pay less and in the case of having a tablet, have a much larger screen to work with. Another benefit is that you can keep it connected at all times and collect and graph your data over time.
The biggest drawback is that you need to be more tech savvy than if you simply had a standard plugin diagnostic tool where you don’t have to worry connecting to other devices and making sure the software was configured properly.
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