Looking for the best automotive diagnostic tool for your personal needs? Want your vehicle to operate at peak performance without having a mechanic or repair person on retainer? Owning a OBD2 scanner can be a huge help, as it will help you identify exactly what’s wrong with your vehicle — so that you can spend your time actually repairing the problem rather than shuttling back and forth to the auto parts store trying to troubleshoot problems blindly. Check out what we consider to be the 5 best OBD2 scanners of this year in our list below.
An OBD – or on-board diagnostics scanner – is a computer-based system that came about because of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations. While OBD-I scanners were OEM-specific (manufacturer specific) these new OBD-II scanners use the same protocols and connectors from one manufacturer to the other. The OBD-I systems were originally designed to reduce the emissions of cars by monitoring the performance of major components of the engine. These days the latest OBD2 scanners can give a diagnostic and comprehensive review of the defects of a vehicle and their over-all health. In turn, this saves you hours of time reverse-engineering a problem to get to the heart of your car’s ailment.
Whether you’re a DIY’er or a professional mechanic, there’s a code reader or scanner that’s a perfect fit.
5 Best OBD2 Scanners of 2017
Here are Twelfth Round Auto’s top 5 best OBDII scanner picks.
The BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBDII Scanner is a best seller in the diagnostic tool category and easily one of the best Bluetooth OBD2 scanners on the market right now. Combined with a smart phone or tablet, you get one of the best solutions for diagnosing and fixing issues with your car. Just download the BlueDriver App through the app store on Android or iOS and you’re ready to go. Plus, you get access to a massive amount of free information (no more getting nickled and dimed for each fix) about resolving car troubles (over 30 million fixes) and even free vehicle-specific Repair Reports. This information is curated and verified by certified auto mechanics.
The Identifix database is used by professional shops, so you know you’re getting access to some of the freshest and effective information out there for each specific trouble code. That’s a big reason this one made are list o the best car scanners. This unit automatically matches your vehicle’s year, make, model and trouble code to a specific fix. Other big bonus feature includes the live data dashboard where you can see graphs and other stats of numerous data sources such as PIDs like Fuel Pressure, Mass Air Flow, etc. Smog check, Mode 6 (advanced test results like misfire counts), and Freeze Frame other other handy features.
If you’re looking to save some bucks and want a code reader, INNOVA’s 3030g model is worth looking at and easily one of the best car diagnostic tools available. This plug and play unit has a bit more features than your average code reader. The read and erase check engine light feature works on vehicles 1996 and newer. They’ve made the most of their screen real estate with this one. INNOVA’s patented screen allows the user to see 25 pieces of diagnostic information all at the same time. While it may make you go cross eyed, on the plus side you can get a comprehensive check done relatively quickly. We recommend getting their model with the color screen at only about $10 more it’s a no brainer.
For code look ups and step by step repair information, this code reader integrated with INNOVA’s RepairSolutions, a web based service that provides extensive information to assist DIYers and technicians. Check out the video below for more info about their RepairSolutions service.
One thing we really like about INNOVA is their customer support. Monday through Saturday their support technicians are available. Located in Irvine, California, you’re not getting some call center representative located on Mars who speaks Martian and English as their second language.
A good middle of the road option, the Actron OBD2 Scanner is built with a quality color LCD screen and easy navigation buttons. Not costly enough to be prohibitive for the DIYer, and functional enough to work for professionals, the CP9679 is one of Actron’s most popular models and makes a run for the title of the best obd scanner. This is a no frills scannner that gets you accurate diagnostic info quickly, letting you hone in on what needs repaired with little wasted time. The autoscanning feature is slick too. For vehicles year 2000 or newer, this scanner will automatically pull the vehicle VIN, make, model, and year. The live data feature on this scanner is excellent, it allows you to view vehicle sensor data in real time, while your engine is running.
Of course, you get access to all sorts of diagnostic info: permanent DTCs, freeze frame, State emissions check, drive cycle mode, ABS codes, powertrain info, battery/alternator system monitoring, and all modes of OBD II data. Small enough to operate with one hand, you will find it easy to handle in your shop or garage while you look things over and get to the root of your car’s issue. The screen is also backlit so if you’re working in less the ideal light conditions you’ll still be able to read it. Actron builds their patented TrueLink tech into each of their scanners. This tech, combined with CAN gaurantees this scanner will be compatible with all OBD2 compliant vehicles. If the car was made in 1996 or newer, you’re good to go.
Those of us on a strict budget will appreciate this unit from Autel. We think it’s the best OBD2 scanner for the money. They stripped everything down to the essentials with the MaxiScan MS309 model. This unit is capable of receiving generic and some manufacturer specific DTCs (Diagnostic Trouble Code). While Autel does include a definitions lookup software on the included CD, you may want to plug them into Google for better results.
You get basic functionality with the Autel MaxiScan, but we still like it. Small in size, the LCD backlit screen is still functional and the unit is well built and easy to operate. The screen is clear enough to read the DTC definitions it retrieves. You can also view freeze frame data, pending codes, monitor & I/M readiness emission status, and can reset monitors and clear codes. It is capable of turning off the Check Engine Light. As with other OBD-II Code Scanners, it supports the CAN (Controller Area Network) and current post 1996 protocols. Overall, the MaxiScan MS309 is one of the simplest and best automotive diagnostic scanners for the money.
Step your automotive diagnosis game up with the ultimate DS808 Maxidas scanner from Autel. This is one of the best professional automotive diagnosis scanners out there. Maybe you’ve got a car repair gig on the side or even own an auto shop. The Autel Maxidas DS808 is a comprehensive OBD2 scanner that uses an Android operating system and quad core processor. The vibrant 7 inch (1024×600 pixel) touchscreen is unparalleled in guiding you through your diagnosis and repair projects. Bolstered by remote control tech support and the MaxiFix cloud community, you get first hand troubleshooting and automatic updates so you’re always working with the latest intel.
This unit will autoscan your vehicle and pull all the necessary vehicle information as well as pertinent data from the vehicle’s available systems. Plus you’ll get a selection menu of all the available control units of the vehicle you are hooked into. This unit comes with a carrying case, USB external power adapter, qucik reference guide, mini USB cable, and user manual.
General Thoughts on OBD2 Scanner Usefulness
At this point, you may have already made the decision to purchase an OBD2 scanner, but are perhaps unsure as to which would be the ‘best’ one for your personal needs. The fact is, there are so many devices on the market with varying capabilities and price ranges, it can be a little daunting to throw down your hard earned cash without at least a perfunctory primer. To that end let us take you by the hand and walk you through what we know, to ease your decision-making process.
The first thing you want to do is assess your current needs, as well as any ‘growth’ in need for the foreseeable future. A properly purchased diagnostic scanner is usually a one-time investment, so while you don’t want to overspend by buying one that’s way out of your league (if you’re a Weekend Warrior but you’re eyeballing a fancy-schmansy obscenely expensive professional model, for example), but neither do you want something you’ll ‘outgrow’. Like Goldilocks, you’re looking for ‘just right’.
Provided your vehicle is post 1996, most any OBD2 scanner device will work for your vehicle. The deciding factor is always going to be what your personal needs are times your personal budget. This need not be an overwhelming task: read above for our top picks for 2017 OBD2 scanners and below for more information about OBD2 products. Read here about how to use a diagnostic scanner.
Benefits of the Best OBD2 Scanners
Purchasing one of the best OBD2 scanners has some big time benefits for car owners.
- Compatibility – All cars manufactured after 1996 are required to meet a set of standards when engineering the vehicles’ computer systems. Before that, auto shop owners had to go out and buy a different scanner for each make of car. That was expensive and they weren’t happy about it. Changes were made and now cars manufactured after 1996 are all compatible with a standard OBD2 scanner. All this means that once you own a scanner, you’ll be able to use it on any car belonging to your household including the cars of neighbors, friends, and family.
- Comprehensive Diagnostic Tool – Data from virtually every sensor that has some sort of input to the vehicle’s onboard computer can be viewed via an OBD-II scanner. Every vehicle nowadays has at least one (or more) computers that are in charge of its systems (including automatic transmission, fuel injection, ignition, and so on). Sensors built into the vehicle gather all the data from these systems and store in back in the main computer module(s) of the car. A OBD2 scanner tool communicates with those modules and receives the information necessary to pinpoint the source of potential problems.
- Peace of Mind — Arguably the best thing about owning your own OBD-II tool is the peace of mind. Knowing you can resolve any of your vehicle’s problems before it causes a major breakdown is worth the cost of a OBD2 scanner to many folks. That glowing check engine light is never a friend, especially when it doesn’t decide to go away. With a diagnostic tool, a quick scan will tell you whether the light is on because of a simple malfunction or if it’s something that requires immediate attention.
- Easy-to-Use — Fortunately, despite being able to diagnose the complex systems in a vehicle, the best auto scanners and OBD2 scanners themselves are designed to be quite user friendly. A short cable comes with each scanner which is connected to a car’s OBD2 port which is located just under the dashboard near the driver’s side. One connected, you simply turn your key to the first notch (enough for the lights and clock to come on). Follow the on screen instructions and enter details like your VIN, make, model and engine type. Then you’re ready to scan. Some of the best models even have full touch screens with high resolution, making everything easy to read and navigate.
- Affordability — Diagnostic scanning tools used to be extremely specialized and expensive. Where a scanner may have worked for a VW, it may not have worked on a Chevy and vice versa. Some of the lower end models that return problem codes are very affordable these days. OBD2 scanner models that offer more detailed descriptions of issues and outline steps to fix it for example, are generally much more expensive. If you aren’t looking to buy your own scanner, you may want to check with your local auto repair shop and borrow their scanner.
What to Look for when Buying a OBD2 Scanner
There are two main categories of OBD-II scanners you should be aware of when shopping for one.
1. Code Readers
OBD2 code reader scanners are generally inexpensive. DIYers typically purchase these code readers. They are no frill devices that are simply plugged in and return problem codes that can be looked up. For example, many auto parts stores will actually check your codes for free. The internet is also a great place to look first as there is a ton of free diagnostic information out there. Code reader scanners are able to check codes that have activated the check engine light as well as pending or soft codes that haven’t yet activated it.
2. Scan Tools
OBD2 diagnostic scanners are more expensive than their code reader counterparts. If you’re looking for one of the best professional automotive scan tools you will want to look at models in this category. Autoshops and other professionals generally invest in these more advanced scanners. This kind of OBD2 tools have a wide array of features. Instead of just looking up and spitting out a code, they often provide more information about the manufacturer specific code. You can typically skip the lookup phase and/or trip to the auto parts store. Some of the higher range OBD2 scanners will even provide extensive access to live and recorded data plus walkthroughs and troubleshooting steps that help you get the problem fixed right away. Some come with OBD2 Bluetooth Adapters, so you can view all this information right on your smartphone.