Technology has come a long way to make our lives easier.
Advancements in technology has enabled us to perform previously difficult tasks with ease and comfort.
The benefits of modern technology can even be felt now when it comes to issues with our vehicles. It used to be that we need to bring our vehicles to a professional mechanic just to have them checked especially when we get a Check Engine Light warning.
Nowadays, with the help of On-board Diagnostics (OBD) scanners, we can conduct simple diagnostics even at the comfort of our own garages and homes.
OBD2 scanners are pretty handy especially when we encounter engine warnings while we are on the road. In just a few minutes or even seconds, these devices can help us pinpoint the exact source of the problem. Some OBD2 scanners can even provide us with tips on how to resolve the detected issue.
Here’s a real world, anecdotal example of how an OBD2 scanner came to the rescue.
A few years ago, I owned an Alfa Romeo (if you know anything about Alfa Romeos, then you can probably guess where this story is going).
After a few months of ownership, the Alfa developed a check engine light. How unexpected, right?
Normally, this would have any owner freaking out that they are about to face a monstrous repair bill.
However I had my trust OBD2 scanner, and plugged that in. I was then able to determine that the CEL was caused by a failed 02 sensor. This would have cost a lot of $$$ to fix, but really didn’t affect the performance or economy of the car to any noticeable degree.
Rather than taking the car down to the mechanic and no doubt spending a significant portion of its value on repairs, I was instead able to confidently drive around in my Alfa knowing that nothing really serious was wrong with it.
I was also able to disable the check engine light (although it did reappear from time to time). A cheap scanner that cost me less than $50 online helped me to get extra life and use out of my ageing Alfa Romeo.
With the influx of OBD2 scanners in the market, selecting a scanner that will suit your needs can be a daunting task.
There are just so many different scanners to pick from. How do you know which is the right choice for your needs!?
We want to make this task easier for you which is why we came up with a list of the best OBD2 scanners so you can choose one that will best serve your requirements.
All of these are OBD2 scanners that will be able to help you to diagnose and possibly even fix errors and issues with your car.
At the bottom of this guide, we also have some additional information about OBD/2 scanners and why they are helpful, in a general context.
Best Overall OBD2 Scanner
INNOVA 3100j OBD2 Diagnostic Tool
The Innova 3100j is one of the most popular OBD2 scanners out in the market today. If you check its listing in Amazon, there are more than 1,000 customer reviews for this product. That is a testament to the popularity of this scanner. So, what makes this scanner a favorite?
The first thing that we liked about this scanner is how easy to use it is. New mechanics and DIY drivers prefer this scanner because of its user-friendly interface. It can easily detect whatever is causing a check engine light warning. This means that instead of spending valuable time waiting for a diagnosis to complete, you can allot your time to what really matters, fixing the root cause of the check engine light warning. This makes it perfect for those who are always on the go or those who need to adhere to a strict schedule.
Something else that we like about the Innova 3100j is its sturdy build. Unlike other scanners that look and feel flimsy, this scanner feels like it can withstand some beating. If you’re a mechanic who services several vehicles at any given day, you need a scanner that can won’t get easily damaged. The craftsmanship of the Innova 3100j is durable enough to last longer compared to other scanners.
The Innova 3100j also has a companion app that you can download in Google’s Playstore or at the Apple Store. Speaking of download, Innova also frequently sends updates to its scanners. These updates help make sure that the database of your 3100j scanner is always current. With the help of these updates, your scanner will be made aware of new error codes that were previously undiscovered. The good thing about these updates is they are free of charge. You don’t need to make any purchase or pay for any fee just to receive them.
The only downside with the Innova 3100j is its price. At $127, it is pricier compared to other scanners. Don’t let that deter you though, because the features and the amazing quality of this scanner more than justifies its price tag.
What we like about it:
- Free updates
- Customer support in English and Spanish
- Good customer feedback
- App in Android and iOS
What we didn’t like about it:
- Pricier compared to others
Best Value for Money OBD2 Scanner
Foxwell NT201 Auto OBD2 Scanner
If you want a reliable OBD2 scanner but you have a limited budget, the Foxwell NT201 might just be what you need. At just $31.49, this is one of the most affordable scanners in the market. An affordable price doesn’t mean less features though. This scanner has all of the features that you will need during emergencies.
The On-Board Monitor Test is one of the best features of the NT201. It provides you with a recommendation on how to fix whatever problem the NT201 detects. One downside with this feature though is the problem needs to be specific enough for the recommendation to be spot on. You can use it though to narrow down the source of the problem so you can come up with the proper troubleshooting steps.
One of the most practical features of this scanner is its Evaporative Emission Control System or Evap. What it does is it lets you know if the emission of your vehicle complies with state standards. This way, you can take proper measures to avoid a failed Emission Inspection.
The NT201 is also a plug and play device. Unlike other scanners that require batteries to operate, the NT201 uses the power from the OBD2 interface of your vehicle. There’s no need to replace batteries or recharge them if you need to use this scanner.
Although this scanner is reasonably-priced, it is made with dust-resistant materials. This is a great feature for those who live in areas where it is usually dry and dusty. This feature can help prolong the life of your scanner by preventing any damage caused by dust getting into the interior components of the scanner.
One complaint that we have about this scanner is its size. It is heavy but it is bulky. It can be difficult to hold using just one hand.
What we like about it:
- Plug and Play
- Reliable Emission Test
- Value for money pricing
What we didn’t like about it:
- Not compatible with electric vehicles
- Bulky design
Best All Around OBD2 scanner
Autel MD802 OBD2 Diagnostic Tool
If you are a professional mechanic, you’d want an OBD2 scanner that you can use in almost every vehicle you will be servicing. This eliminates the need to bring several scanners with you or a different one for different vehicle models. It is also practical in a financial sense since there will be no need to purchase several scanners. This makes the Autel MD802 highly-recommended for professional mechanics. The Autel MD802 is all that you need whether you’re servicing a humble Honda Civic or a powerful Ferrari. You can use this scanner for Asian, European or American vehicles as long as they are produced from the year 1996 or later.
The all-around aspect of this scanner is not limited to just the wide range of vehicles it can handle. The Autel MD802 is also an all-around tool because aside from reading trouble codes, it can also clear them. This includes codes on engine, airbag, transmission, and ABS trouble. And it doesn’t stop there, this scanner also provides code tips to technicians. These tips can help a mechanic or technician have an easier time when determining the root cause of the warning code.
Another advantage of the Autel MD802 over its competitors is its ability to perform a thorough diagnosis of all available electronic systems of a vehicle. It can even access the power train, chassis and onboard communication modules of target vehicles.
As expected from a scanner of this caliber, Autel provides free software updates to ensure that the scanner can detect all trouble codes including the newer ones.
Another feature that makes this scanner ideal for professional technicians is its capability of linking it to a personal computer so that data can be printed. This adds value to the product since technicians can give their clients a hard copy of the diagnosis for records keeping.
What we like about it:
- Professional quality OBD2 scanner
- Performs deep diagnosis of all electronic systems
- Can work on a wide range of vehicles
- Can print via PC
What we didn’t like about it:
- Can be pricey for personal use
Best Mid-range OBD2 Scanner
ANCEL AD310 OBD II Scanner
As far as pricing is concerned, the Ancel AD310 sits smack in the middle of the pack. It is not as cheap as other models but certainly not as expensive as most. This makes it an ideal choice for those who don’t want to shell out too much money for an OBD2 scanner but doesn’t want to settle for basic models as well.
The most notable feature of the Ancel AD310 is its simplicity. You won’t see any complicated dials or buttons on this scanner. All that you will see are 4 buttons that lets you can use to navigate through the menu.
The menu is displayed in a large LCD display. This makes the error codes readable even for those who might have problems with their eyesight. The Ancel AD310 can detect a wide array of error codes. Affordable OBD2 scanners are often limited to detecting generic error codes. The Ancel AD310 on the other hand can easily detect even manufacturer-specific error codes. The nice thing about this scanner is that it doesn’t just display the error code, it also tells you immediately what the said error code means. It saves you the trouble of having to Google the error code meaning specially when the said error code is limited to just one vehicle manufacturer.
There is also an option to customize the language for the menu. Aside from English, you can choose to use Spanish, French, German, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, or Finnish. This makes this scanner a great choice for a wide array of users.
The only drawback that we see with the Ancel AD310 is that it only works with vehicles that use a 12v battery.
What we like about it:
- Supports multiple languages
- Large LCD display
- Easy to navigate Menu
- No need for batteries
What we didn’t like about it:
- Works only with vehicles equipped with 12v battery
Best Mobile OBD2 Scanner
BlueDriver LSB2 OBDII Scan Tool
With mobile phones becoming more powerful with each new model, it is not surprising to find that even OBD2 scanners are now relying on these useful devices. The BlueDriver LSB2 Bluetooth Pro is proof of this. This tiny scanner is paired with a mobile device to provide accurate diagnostic results. You can use this scanner whether you have an android phone or an iOS mobile device.
Since this scanner uses your mobile phone to display diagnostic results, the scanner part itself is quite small and portable. The lack of a display screen helped shave off bulk from the device.
The companion app won’t take up too much of your phone’s memory. The small size of the app belies its powerful capabilities. Once the sensor has scanned a vehicle, it taps into the extensive database of the companion BlueDriver application to provide you with a comprehensive report of what the diagnosis is and how you can go about fixing the issue. You can also generate an interactive graph based on the live data that you are capturing.
Just like any application in your phone, periodic updates are available for free. These updates can help you ensure that the database is updated with the latest error codes and recommended fixes for your vehicle needs.
Aside from its small size, the companion application is also energy-saving so you don’t have to worry that it will quickly drain your mobile phone’s battery. The sensor is connected to your mobile phone through a Bluetooth connection so just make sure that you deactivate the Bluetooth connection in your mobile phone to efficiently use your phone’s battery.
BlueDriver also has enhanced diagnostics. This means that information about your ABS, Airbag, and Climate Control are automatically generated when your use this scanner. In most handheld scanners, this additional information is not included during a normal scan. You need to specifically scan them together with the Check Engine Light scan. BlueDriver performs these additional scans every time you use it so it saves you time and ensures that you are not missing any crucial information. However, the enhanced diagnostics is not available for all makes and models.
The results of all your scans are saved in your mobile phone for future use. This ensures that you have your records organized. For professional technicians, this means that there is no need to always bring a hard copy of previous scans. Records of customers can be easily pulled up for reference. These reports can also be shared with customers through their mobile phones.
What we like about it:
- Portable device and doesn’t take up too much space
- Companion app is thorough yet easy to use.
- Works on both Android and iOS phones
- Makes records-keeping easy
- Companion app gets periodic updates for free
What we didn’t like about it:
- Enhanced diagnostics is not available for all vehicle models
In the same way that we take our time in selecting a vehicle that we are going to purchase; we should also carefully consider which OBD2 scanner to buy. There are a lot of OBD2 scanners with different features. Some of them are pretty crucial or what we call our must-haves. Other features are nice to haves but are not really as important. So, which features should you look for before your purchase an OBD scanner?
This is pretty basic. You need to make sure that the OBD2 scanner that you plan to purchase is compatible with your vehicle or vehicles. OBD2 scanners work with 1996 vehicle models and up. If you have a vehicle whose model is older than 1996, you need an OBD1 scanner.
Aside from the age of the vehicle, another thing to consider is the type of vehicle that you own. Almost all OBD2 scanners work with light vehicles but there are some models that work even with light and heavy trucks. If you own a truck on top of your personal vehicle, you need to make sure that your scanner can support both types. This is a practical decision so you can save money since there won’t be a need to purchase separate scanners for your different vehicles.
Some scanners work with vehicles produced locally while others can also work with Asian or European vehicles. If you can, purchase a scanner that works on vehicles produced both locally and internationally even if you just have a locally produced vehicle. This is a simple way of future-proofing your scanner. If in the future, you decide to try a European vehicle, then you don’t need to purchase a new OBD2 scanner.
Range of Diagnostic Tools
The number of diagnostic features of a scanner is also important to consider. Basic OBD2 scanners and those that are intended for DIY use often have fewer diagnostic capabilities. This doesn’t mean that they are not as good as sophisticated ones. It just means that sophisticated ones are intended for professional mechanics or technicians. It goes without saying that OBD2 scanners packed with more diagnostic tools are also more expensive.
Most OBD2 scanners come with a companion app. This means that you can connect your scanner to your mobile phone so you can keep a record of the error message and use your mobile device as a display so you can easily read the diagnostic results and search for a solution. Some apps even provide a guide on how to solve a particular issue.
Do take note that not all apps are free. Some scanner apps require purchasing. Some even have monthly subscription fees. Check if the scanner you are purchasing comes with a free app so you maximize your savings.
Mobile phones can be connected to your OBD2 scanner either through WiFi or via Bluetooth connection. Bluetooth connection seems to work well with Android devices while WiFi works better with iOS devices. If you have both an Android and an iOS device, just choose whatever connection you prefer. Based on our experience through, Bluetooth connection consumes less power so you might want to go for a Bluetooth connected OBD2 scanner if you’re always on the road and you need to conserve the battery of your mobile device.
Another thing to consider is how often a scanner updates its database. This is important since it’s a great way to ensure that your scanner can pick up even new error messages. Updates also mean that you are made aware of new solutions to existing issues. This can save you time and money since some solutions can help you avoid bringing your vehicle to a professional machinist.
There are also scanners that use cords for connectivity. These are often used by professional technicians. Corded scanners can be connected to a personal computer for a more detailed scan and diagnosis. One advantage of having a corded scanner is you don’t have to worry about WiFi signals. This is important especially if you like to travel a lot. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation wherein you are in an area with spotty WiFi signal which prevents you from using your OBD2 scanner properly. If you’re just using your vehicle within the metro then this shouldn’t be a problem since you can find a WiFi signal almost anywhere in cities.
On-Board Diagnostics scanners are here to help easily detect vehicle trouble. These devices are portable and easy to use. They are a must in every vehicle emergency kit since they can also help you solve simple issues on your own so you can be safely on your way. Professional technicians rely on them for faster and more accurate detection of vehicle issues. Whatever your needs are, picking the right OBD2 scanner is an important choice.
Owning the right OBD2 scanner can help make sure that you are always ready to handle any engine or transmission issue that you might encounter. The guide above can help you make the right decision so you can buy an OBD2 scanner that will serve all your needs without costing a fortune.
OBD2 Scanner FAQs
As an update to our buyer’s guide, we have also added this section with answers to frequently asked questions about OBD2 scanners and how you can use them to diagnose and fix issues with your car.
We hope you find this helpful.
If there are any questions you would like answered that are missing below, then feel free to comment or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Do OBD2 Scanners Work On All Cars?
OBD2 scanners work on all new cars. It is a standardised system (a bit like USB for computer) that ensures there is one universal connector that all vehicles can use. Basically, any car built in the last 20 years will almost certainly have OBD2 functionality.
If you are dealing with an older vehicle, then your car may not have this feature.
OBD2 was made a requirement for all cars manufactured in the USA in 1996. It was then mandated by the European Union in 2001 (2004 for diesel vehicles) and 2006 for Australia/New Zealand.
Please note that the exact nature of what you are able to diagnose and do with a scanner does vary from vehicle to vehicle. For example, some makes/models tend to require additional software (often dealer software that is intended for use with service agents) in order to actually do anything beyond basic code reading.
Where Is The OBD2 Port On My Car?
One of the most common questions we see asked about OBD2 and scanning is where to find the port itself.
Even the best scanner in the world is useless if you can’t find where to connect it!
Unfortunately, unlike the requirement for an OBD2 port and functionality itself, there is no mandated port placement.
As a rule, you will generally find the port on the driver’s side, somewhere above the pedal box and below the steering wheel.
Sometimes you will see a cover a bit like the following:
You’ll need to remove the cover first before accessing the port and using your scanner,.
To find the OBD2 port on your car, we recommend you start at the steering wheel level and then work your way down, scanning left to right. In this manner, you should quickly find the port.
If you don’t want to waste any time, then also just Google for your particular car year, model and OBD2 location, e.g. “2008 WRX STI OBD2 port location”. You will then usually find a quick and reliable answer.
Is It Worth Buying An OBD2 Scanner?
In our opinion, it is well worth buying an OBD2 scanner. Prices start at less than $50 (you can even score very basic Bluetooth only examples for less than $20) so you won’t have to break the bank in order to get one. Being able to diagnose fault codes with your car is extremely useful, as it will help you to determine if a problem is serious or something you can live with and save money on fixing. With modern vehicles having so many sensors and electrics etc, we believe that a good OBD2 scanner is something your tool kit must have. It is more likely these days that any “modern” vehicle throws some kind of error code than simply stops working, so having an OBD2 scanner will allow you to understand what might be wrong with your vehicle and formulate a plan to fix it.
Is It OK To Leave An OBD2 Scanner Plugged In?
Realistically, it is ok to leave an OBD2 scanner plugged in to your car all the time if you wish. You may wan to do this because you can’t be bothered with the hassle of connecting and disconnecting the scanner each time (especially if it is one that sits behind a removeable cover). Of course if you are having to scan your vehicle on a frequent basis, then it might suggest a problem with the vehicle itself – i.e. you have purchased a “lemon”, or you have an Alfa Romeo behaving normally.
The only thing to bear in mind about leaving an OBD2 scanner plugged in permanently is that you may drain a small amount of charge off the battery by doing this. If you are frequently using your vehicle – especially on longer trips – then this won’t be an issue. However, if your car spends most of its time sitting around doing nothing, then there is a small risk that you could drain the battery or at least exacerbate battery drain.
If you are only using your scanner on an infrequent basis, then we suggest unplugging it after each use. However, you might like to consider leaving it in your car for easy access, especially if you have one of the portable bluetooth units that are very popular these days.
Are OBD2 Scanners Universal?
Yes, OBD2 scanners are universal. Provided your car has an OBD2 port (which is almost guaranteed if it was made any time in the last 20 years, probably even 25) then you can use any scanner. Some scanners do offer more features than others, and your vehicle may require special software to do much beyond simply diagnosis, but this does not restrict the core function.
When Did OBD2 Become Mandatory?
OBD2 first became mandatory across the United States in 1996 (although California had legislated for this in 1994 for vehicles produced from 1996, with the rest of the USA following suit). Europe followed suit with legislation in 1998 that mandated OBD2 functionality from around 2001.
Japanese cars are a bit different. Japanese cars produced for export to the United States, Europe, Australia/New Zealand etc will tend to have OBD2 functionality from an earlier date, but cars produced for sale in Japan (especially JDM) cars may actually lack this functionality until relatively recently.
OBD2 was mandated for all Japanese vehicles from 2008, but here are some other years to look out for depending on your make of car:
– Honda from 2001
– Mazda from 2001
– Mitsubishi from 2006
– Nissan from 2007
– Subaru from 2003 (engine codes only – full OBD2 from 2008)
– Suzuki from 2006
– Toyota from 2006
– Toyota Diesel from 2008
Are OBD2 Scanners Safe?
From the perspective of simply connecting up an OBD2 to your car and reading error codes for further investigation, OBD2 scanners are safe. There is little risk of any damage to your car; probably the biggest risk is actually that you damage the connector pins on the port by being too forceful when inserting the reader.
However, you do want to be a bit careful with deleting error codes and trying to write anything to your car’s ECU (if this is something you are even able to do, depending on the make and model of your vehicle). There is always a risk here that you might cause some kind of temporary or permanent error.
Unless you are confident in what you are doing, our view is it is generally better to use your scanner tool for an initial analysis/check, and then do further investigation online before taking any additional steps.
How Many OBD2 Codes Are There?
According to OBD2Pros, there are around 5000 generic and manufacturer-specific codes in use today.
Can You Use An OBD2 Scanner On An OBD1 Car?
Probably not. Using an OBD2 scanner with an OBD1 equipped, older vehicle requires a special adapter such as this example. However, OBD1 was much less “standardized” and many users report issues with using their OBD2 scanner on an OBD1 car, even with a suitable adapter tool. In our view it is best to save any potential headache and source a genuine OBD1 tool for your older vehicle, especially a manufacturer-specific option if available.