If you enjoy tinkering with your vehicle or just want to save some money by doing your own maintenance, you will need an OBD2 scanner. What exactly is an OBD2 scanner? It is a device that reads the OBD system information (such as checking the engine lights) included in every post-1
What to Look for in an OBD2 Scanner
Vehicles used to be noisy, smelled of power and metal, not to mention had cable-operated throttle bodies. Mechanical parts. Those days are long gone, and most automotive systems, be it tranny, engine, emissions, brakes, and more, are all managed by a wide variety of sensors and computers.
As it turns out, computers are pretty smart. That’s where an OBD2 (onboard diagnostics) scanner comes in handy. It can read all the information these sensors and computers collect – just plug it into your car’s OBD2 port and you’re good to go. Whether you are a home mechanic or a professional, you want to find a scanner with the most features for what you need.
- Characteristics: If you want to check and clear engine trouble codes, a simple BT / Wi-Fi scanner is perfect. However, more intensive tasks or codes, such as real-time testing, require something bigger. Get what feature set you need or feel comfortable with.
- Connectivity: Then consider how you intend to read the codes. Some models have a display that shares information, while others simply connect to smartphones or tablets via a companion app.
- Price: These scanners can range from $ 20 to several hundred, and along with the price difference, there’s a wild array of features. Professionals will clearly want (or need) something more robust, so make sure you know what you need.
A word about OBD2 scanner apps
Affordable options like the BlueDriver or KOBRA work over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and sync / share data with your phone. These require some sort of companion app to share and transmit information. These apps have become extremely useful over the years with real-time information, agency workers, engine check lights, and more. Some even stay in your car permanently, alerting your phone to potential problems.
- Couple Pro: This is probably the best overall option in terms of features, but the interface could use an update. It is available for iOS or Android.
- OBD Fusion: Another excellent option is Fusion, which works on phones or tablets, allowing users to get a lot of information on one screen. It even works on the Apple Watch if you want to be in the mood. It is available for iOS or Android.
Keep in mind that these apps often also cost a few dollars on top of the scanner itself. Scanners like the FIXD brand have their own app, but for others, you can give these feature-rich apps a try.
Best Overall: INNOVA 6100P
The best overall option in terms of price / performance is from INNOVA. Not only will this read codes, but it also offers live data, battery or alternator tests, a built-in color display and even the ability to perform “active testing”. This means you can make changes to your system on the handheld and push the changes live to your car. Most scanners don’t offer such a feature, especially at this price point, making it a great option for everyone. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, be careful with some of those advanced features. Otherwise you could damage your car.
Best Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner: BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro
If you are looking for a fast, simple and effective OBD2 scanner, you cannot go wrong with the BlueDriver. It was one of the first BT scanners to work with the iPhone and has remained popular ever since. It actually works with both Android and iOS, and they have their own dedicated app to make it easy too.
Just plug in the BlueDriver, download the app, connect them via Bluetooth and you are ready to service your vehicle like a pro.
Best Leave-In Scanner: FIXD Pro
FIXD is an OBD2 scanner for modern times. It is designed as a simple plug and play system that stays put and always sends relevant vehicle information back to the owner. It’s a powerful diagnostic trouble code checking tool, but that’s just one of its many features. FIXD also has its own app, which allows you to freeze frame data, provide live diagnostics and proactive vehicle maintenance reminders to keep your car running longer. Download it for Android or iOS. They will try to sell you a premium version of the app that shows you how to troubleshoot, which some may like.
Most powerful: LAUNCH Creader Professional
Professional technicians have a variety of tools at their disposal, including a large powerful OBD2 scan tool. Rather than a small dongle, the LAUNCH C-reader Pro is an all-in-one tablet packed with useful features. It is more of an all-in-one scanner and reset device perfect for a vehicle technician or aspiring mechanic.
In addition, this model has a large screen full of information that supports more than 60 car brands in more than 10 languages. It’s a very powerful tool that might be a bit overboard for regular people, but if you’re just starting out with auto mechanics, give it a try.
Best Budget OBD2 Scanner: KOBRA Wi-Fi Universal Scanner
Finally, we wanted to offer an excellent, small, inexpensive OBD2 scanner for all home mechanics and DIY enthusiasts. The KOBRA OBD2 Scanner is nothing special and you have to download one of the aforementioned apps to use it. But once you do, you can check for misfires, read a CEL, clear codes, and even get real-time information. This is what I have along with the Torque Pro app, and it is extremely useful.
The KOBRA runs on iOS or Android, via BT or WiFi, but know that the experience isn’t quite as user-friendly or polished as the more expensive BlueDriver mentioned above. Still, the price tag is hard to beat and much better than driving to AutoZone to have them scan your Check Engine Light.