I have been in the car diagnostics and repair business over ten years, and I know the struggle of picking out the best OBD2 scanner personally. This question often comes up every time I am talking to car enthusiasts or novice mechanics.
With a little help from my team, I compiled some of the Bluetooth OBD2 Adapters and Scanners on the market for a range of application . We arrived at a conclusion after a not-so-friendly deliberation. Before we get to the top 7 obd2 scanners, we’d like to go through a few basics first.
What Does OBD2 Scanner Do?
OBD stands for On Board Diagnostics. All vehicles manufactured post-1996 are required to have one of these systems. On a very basic level, the OBD collects and compiles information related to emissions.
This system can, however, collect a series of complex electrical information depending on the vehicle manufacturer and vehicle make and model.
An OBD2 Sensor is a handheld device that plugs into the system to retrieve this information. What the sensor does exactly largely depends on the type. The conventional sensor shows code which can be cross-referenced to figure out what exactly is wrong with the vehicle.
More advanced equipment lets the user know what the particular problem is and how to resolve it. The OBD2 scanner can also reveal impending problems that have not yet shown up on the dash light for you to perform pre-emptive repairs. The device may also remove any error codes on your vehicle once you resolve the issue.
How To Choose OBD2 Scanner
Type Of Vehicle You Are Working On
One of the major components of selecting a scanner is the type of vehicle you are working on. OBD2 systems are standard, but there are roughly five variations in hardware communications.
If you are only working on one car, essential equipment that is compatible with your vehicle is sufficient. You may need a more complex system if you are working on various makes and models or a new model car.
The Information You Want To Receive
OBD2 scanners are only legally mandated to reveal emission related information. Any additional features or information is entirely up to the equipment manufacturer.
If you’re only interested in remaining compliant with US Environmental Protection Agency regulations, a cheap, basic tool will work. If you want to access more information that is not related to emissions, you need a more advanced system.
Static Or Up-Scalable
There are OBD2 versions that are static which just means that you need to buy new equipment if you upgrade to a newer vehicle model if you start working on a car that is not compatible with your machine.
These are often cheap and straightforward to figure out. An auto mechanic, for example, would find an up-scalable version much more useful. This scalability only means that the software can be updated as needed to use on newer model vehicles.
Remember those car manufacturers are constantly upgrading and adjusting their vehicles and ODB systems. This updatable equipment is also a good choice if you want to invest in a sensor for the long-term.
Most cheap to mid-priced OBD2 scanners typically offer basic information in the form of code. It is all up to you to figure out what the code means, usually by looking it up on a relevant database .
High-end equipment typically offers code and brief information about what the code means, such as why the engine light is on, so there is no need to cross-reference any information.
7 Best OBD2 Scanners
We used the above criteria to come up with a list of the seven best scanners you can buy today. Note that we have categorized each scanner based on what it does best or what if offers the user.
What is the best scanner for one person may not be the same for the next so keep in mind what you want to get out of your equipment before making a final choice.
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Best Professional Automotive Diagnostic Scanners
We have three selections under the best professional automotive diagnostic scanner category. These are the type of OBD2 scanners you would typically see in an auto repair shop.
Note that a professional automotive diagnostic scanner has a high learning curve and would be an over-kill for the ordinary DIY car enthusiast.
1. AUTEL MAXISYS MS908 Automotive Reprogramming Diagnostic Tools and Analysis System
This scanner is arguably the most advanced and powerful system you can find on the market. We highly recommend it for auto-shop, professional applications. We have one of these, and it scores high points in efficiency and use.
The Autel Maxisys MS908 runs on 1.40 GHz, so it is a beast of a machine. It reads and churns out information about 50% faster than most of the other scanners in its price range. The high-resolution interface means that all the information is clear and reduces your margin of error.
The scanner runs on an Android OS and is capable of multiple functions, just like you can run some applications on your laptop or computer concurrently. This flexibility is useful if you have a lot going on in your project.
This model also connects to the cloud for additional resources and help that you might need in your diagnostics or subsequent repairs or modifications. This type of technology is pretty new in the industry especially because you don’t have to jump through hoops to get access to online information.
Finally, the scanner has wireless capabilities, so you don’t have to be tethered to the vehicle you are working on. You have the freedom to work and move as you please while you run your diagnostics.
2. LAUNCH X431 PRO3 V2.0 Scanpad Diagnostics Scanner
We also have the LAUNCH X431, and we hate to be shallow, but we love it just from appearance alone. This model is a rugged and sturdy scanner that is ideally suited for a workshop environment.
It is also nice that the equipment is flexible. You can increase the memory, for example, from 16GB to 32GB if you are a busy shop. The processor is also configurable, so you don’t have to worry about throwing money for a new scanner every few years when a new model vehicle comes out.
Again, this is a wireless OBD2 sensor, Bluetooth to be specific and operates for up to 8 hours continuously on its rechargeable battery.
3. AUTEL MAXISYS Pro MS908P OBD2 Scanner Vehicle Auto Diagnostic System
This OBD2 scanner is another one of the professional grade equipment that we liked. This model is particularly useful for the novice mechanic who has little experience with diagnostics.
It has a comparatively simple learning curve and has all the capabilities you would need to perform a competent vehicle analysis.
The model covers a broad range of vehicle manufacturers, makes and models. You can run diagnostics on European and Asian cars and works on a variety of languages if English isn’t your first language.
These languages include Russian, German and Portuguese among others. It also works on Android OS and might be a good option if you don’t have big money to spend on a scanner.
BEST OBD2 Scanners for the Money
This section is just for the DIY car enthusiast who wants to perform his diagnostics. A professional mechanic would need to invest in some of the options we have gone through above.
There are however some good choices here for a novice with zero experience working with diagnostic tools. Here is our list of the best OBD2 scanner for the money.
4. AUTEL AL519 AutoLink Enhanced OBD2 Scan Tool with Mode 6
You have probably noticed a lot of AUTEL equipment on this list, but we can’t help that this is an excellent manufacturer.
We like this particular version because it has decent capabilities for its price range. It is a good choice for a novice mechanic who wants to start diagnostics with something basic or an advanced DIY enthusiast who knows his way around codes.
You get all the basic vehicle information such as CVN, CIN, and VIN . It’s also an excellent choice for performing a quick drive cycle verification and emission readiness test.The equipment is easy to navigate and treads the fine line between basic and advanced equipment.
5. BAFX PRODUCTS 34t5 Bluetooth OBD2 Scan Tool for Android Devices
This scan tool offers a good range of compatibility with major car manufacturers. It is an excellent choice if you need to scan for problems at home. You probably won’t know how to fix the issue, but you will have a good idea of what the problem might be.
You also get the generic manufacturer information and clears codes. If you have a phobia of getting ripped off by mechanics, this is a good purchase.
We like that you can plug it up to your PC and a decent range of diagnostic codes. If your main aim is to check emission readiness quickly and efficiently, this is the perfect and inexpensive tool for it.
Best Scan Tool For Home Mechanic
Finally, we have the best scan tools for the average DIY car enthusiast. This equipment is relatively cheap and offers necessary information you might need before taking your car for repairs or attempting to fix it yourself. Here you will find the best scan tool for the home mechanic.
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6. ACTRON CP9670 Auto Scanner
This scanner is an excellent choice if you are easily impressed with the technology. The LCD screen means the information is easy to decipher.
You also get all the necessary information you might need about what is wrong with your car or any impending trouble that you should address as soon as possible.
We like that the software can be updated online and for free . This update is something that you can do by yourself with basic computer skills, and also means that you can keep your scanner for a long time or until you need a better scanner with more features.
Finally, it erases codes for ABS and Powertrain which is always useful to have in a personal auto scanner.
7. VEEPEAK Mini Wi-Fi OBD2 Scanner
If you want a professional scanner without the high learning curve, the VEEPEAK Mini is as good it gets. This device is a wireless scanner which means that you have the comfort to move around or work from a comfortable desk.
It is highly portable and is especially useful if you regularly buy and sell used cars. It even comes with a portable bag to keep the equipment dry and safe if it’s something you’d like to store in your vehicle and retrieve as need arises. The scanner offers all the essential data you would need to make an informed decision on a used vehicle.
Again, this scanner reads and clears trouble codes . It is the most reliable and portable option in this segment, and we also like that it is very affordable and usable even by a novice car enthusiast.
OBD2 Scanner Vs Tuner
As you might have figured out by this time, an OBD2 Scanner just collects the information stored in the OBD sensor. This capability just means that it tells you what’s wrong with the car but doesn’t fix or rectify the problem.
At best, the scanner will clear the code so, for example, you can get rid of the check engine light on the dashboard.
A tuner, on the other hand, configures the vehicle to take care of the problem reported by the OBD2. The software is available on the internet, but we highly recommend that you get your car to a professional mechanic for a tune-up.
This software is highly generic and can make your vehicle worse rather than better. Let a competent mechanic figure out what the problem is and recommend the best course of action.
The OBD2 scanner is still very useful because you are already aware of the problem, so there is little chance that the mechanic will take advantage of you.