Last Updated on March 31, 2020 by Team TRA
That check engine light annoying the heck out of you? 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 an OBD2 scanner can be a huge help, as it will help you turn off your engine light and identify exactly what’s wrong with your vehicle. With that info at hand, 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. Imagine diagnosing complex engine issues in a matter of minutes without having to get your hands dirty.
Check out what we consider to be the 10 best OBD2 scanners of this year in our list below. Whether you’re a DIY’er or a professional mechanic, there’s a code reader or scanner that’s a perfect fit.
Comparison Table: The Top 10 Best OBD2 Scanners
Before you get to some of the more in-depth reviews, here’s a quick look at the OBD2 scanners we’ve featured in our article. We put them in the same order as our review section to make it easier for you to reference.
If you’re on a smaller screen or handheld device, you may have to click on the green plus symbols next to each image in order to expand the table and access more information.
|OxGord OBD2 Scanner Tool||Handheld|
|Autel MaxiScan MS309 Diagnostic Code Reader||Wireless|
|Launch CReader 3001 OBD2 Scanner||Handheld|
|KOBRA Wireless OBD2 Car Code Scan Tool||Wireless|
|Topdon TD309 Diagnostic Scan Tool||Handheld|
|INNOVA 3030g Diagnostic Code Reader||Handheld|
Wireless OBD2 Scanner
|Actron CP9679 OBD2 AutoScanner||Handheld|
|BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBDII Scan Tool||Wireless|
|Autel Maxidas DS808 Automotive Diagnostic Tool||Handheld/Tablet|
Closer Look: 10 Best OBD2 Scanners for 2020
Here are Twelfth Round Auto’s top 10 best OBDII scanner picks.1. OxGord OBD2 Scanner Tool
Our pick for The Best Cheap OBD2 Scanner
The OxGord Scanner will easily fit in the palm of your hand. This is a more simplistic OBD2 scanner that will read and clear over 3000 Generic error codes as well as some manufacturer specific codes. The minimalist interface is easy to use with three buttons: enter, and scroll up or down. For infrequent use, that interface is tolerable, but for day-to-day operations, it would get cumbersome. The OxGord OBD2 Scanner is universal and will work as a diagnostic tool for cars, SUVs, trucks, and much more. It’s also capable of turning off some indicators such as the Check Engine Light. It will retrieve VIN numbers on most cars year 2002 or newer. If you’re looking for the best car code reader for the price, this is a good option.2. Launch CReader 3001 OBD2 Scanner
The Launch CReader 3001 OBD2 Scanner is a professional scanner for beginners. For the money, this OBD2 scanner is hard to beat. The Launch code reader supports all OBD2 functions. It will read and clear error codes with ease while clearly displaying their meaning so you can get right to the problem. What’s more? It can also view freeze stream, live data, on-board monitor test, O2 sensor, and even EVAP system test. It can solve most regular problems you have on your car-related to emissions data.
Like most OBD2 scanners, it is compatible with car models from 1996 and newer, that are manufactured in multiple countries. The best part? It’s accompanied by a 100% money-back guarantee and 2-year replacement should anything falter.3. Autel MaxiScan MS309 Diagnostic Code Reader
Our pick for The Best OBD2 Scanner for the Money
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 definition 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.4. KOBRA Wireless OBD2 Car Code Scan Tool
Our pick for The Best WiFi OBD2 Scanner
KOBRA makes one of the most versatile wireless OBD2 scanner, as it is capable of connecting to virtually an smartphone or tablet using WiFi. A key difference is that it cannot connect to phones or tablets via Bluetooth, but must use a WiFi network connection. You can also purchase it with an extension cord, so that you can use it in a bind when you don’t have access to the internet. Its database includes over 3000 code definitions, and is compatible with many free and paid OBD apps for your phone so you’re not just stuck using their brand if it’s not what you prefer.5. Topdon TD309 Diagnostic Scan Tool
Topdon’s TD309 OBD2 diagnostic scanner works on most models from 1996, 2000 and beyond. It is very similar to the Oxgord model featured further up our list. It will help you save time and money by giving you a quick and simple solution. The design is simple and user friendly. In about 6 seconds after connecting to your vehicle, it will pop up with the VIN and generic fault codes. Features wise it is pretty limited though: you can’t export data to a PC, update its software, retrieve live car data, and navigating with the two buttons can be a chore.6. INNOVA 3030g Diagnostic Code Reader
Our pick for The Best Scan Tool for Home Mechanic
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 lookups 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.7. FIXD
Another great wireless option comes from FIXD and will read your check engine light to give you an accurate diagnosis straight on your smartphone. This unit is extremely easy to use, with set up times with Android and iOS devices taking under 5 minutes. That’s quick! It has the ability to remind you to have your car’s maintenance problems but the diagnostic skills aren’t as comprehensive as other models. It can turn off the check engine light and it will show you things like when it’s time to change the oil or grease your sunroof track but can’t turn the service light off. It will show you generic and manufacturer fault code but won’t show you dynamic data.
This is the best Wireless OBD2 scanner for those with Android phones, as it was designed specifically to work with them. It’s compatible with both Android and iOS and will work with any gas-powered vehicle that was made in 1996 or newer.
Note: It does not work with diesel or all-electric models. It will not detect airbags, maintenance, TPMS or ABS lights.8. Actron CP9679 OBD2 AutoScanner
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 scanner that gets you accurate diagnostic info quickly, letting you hone in on what needs to be repaired with little wasted time. The auto scanning 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 guarantees this scanner will be compatible with all OBD2 compliant vehicles. If the car was made in 1996 or newer, you’re good to go.9. BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBDII Scan Tool
Our pick for the Best OBD2 Bluetooth Scanner
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. It goes far beyond just providing basic scans. It also shows dynamic data, repair suggestions, and manufacturer recalls. Combined with a smartphone 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. You can be up to 32 feet away from the BlueDriver when accessing info on your smart device. Plus, you get access to a massive amount of free information (no more getting nickeled 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 of the best car scanners. This unit automatically matches your vehicle’s year, make, model and trouble code to a specific fix. Another 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 handy features.10. Autel Maxidas DS808 Automotive Diagnostic Tool
Our pick for The Best Professional Automotive Diagnostic Scanner
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 inches (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 auto scan 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, quick reference guide, mini USB cable, and user manual. If you’re looking for the best professional automotive scan tool this one is hard to beat.
OBDII Scanner Guide Part I: What is an OBDII Scanner?
An OBD – or onboard 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 overall health. In turn, this saves you hours of time reverse-engineering a problem to get to the heart of your car’s ailment. Some OBD2 scanners have their own displays (and the fancier ones have large touchscreens) and other OBD2 scanners connect wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet. All OBD II scanners work on all cars since 1996.
Regardless of which OBDII unit you choose, you’ll need to learn how to read the codes. All fault codes they spit out will be comprised of a string of 5 characters (1 letter followed by four numbers). The leading letter is one of the following: Body (B), Chassis (C), Powertrain (P), and Undefined (U). There are in the ballpark of 5,000 diagnostic fault codes in total. Some of these are generic to all cars while others are carmaker specific. Generic codes start with a 0 after the letter and manufacturer-specific start with a 1.
OBDII Scanner Guide Part II: 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-schmancy 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 2020 OBD2 scanners and below for more information about OBD2 products. Read here about how to use a diagnostic scanner.
OBDII Scanner Guide Part III: 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. An 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 peace of mind. Knowing you can resolve any of your vehicle’s problems before it causes a major breakdown is worth the cost of an 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.
OBDII Scanner Guide Part IV: What to Look for When Buying an 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, even the best car code readers aren’t costly. 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. Auto shops 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.