For most drivers, getting in the car and seeing the check engine light come on can create significant stress. Since there’s no way of knowing what the problem is, most of us head to the mechanic’s shop for a pricey and potentially unnecessary visit. Which is why an OBD2 scanner is a great device to have on hand, no matter how auto-savvy (or not) you may be.
Here are the best OBD2 scanners available in every category so you can avoid overpaying for mechanic services and keep your car running correctly.
Editor’s Choice On-Board OBD2 Scanner
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- 1 Best OBD2 Scanner Reviews
- 1.1 1. BlueDriver Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner:
- 1.2 2. Autel MaxiDAS DS808 Scanner:
- 1.3 3. BAFX Products Bluetooth Diagnostic OBDII Reader:
- 1.4 4. Innova Color Screen Bluetooth 3160g Code Reader :
- 1.5 5. FIXD OBD-II Active Car Health Monitor :
- 1.6 6. ANCEL AD310 Universal OBD II Scanner:
- 1.7 7. Autel AutoLink AL319 Scanner:
- 1.8 8. Foxwell NT301 :
- 2 OBD2 Scanner Buying Guide
- 3 Questions and Answers
- 4 Final Thoughts
Best OBD2 Scanner Reviews
1. BlueDriver Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner:
An iPhone and Android compatible unit with an accompanying (free) app, the BlueDriver Bluetooth pro OBDII Scan Tool is a portable and streamlined unit for checking vehicle systems.
The BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scan Tool is only compatible with the accompanying app, but the app is free and is constantly improving. Top perks of this OBD2 unit include the fact that you can use it in real time to track any issues with your vehicle.
Within the unit’s app is a database of codes and recommended fixes, and it’s the same database that Certified Mechanics use. While some vehicles will only show a single code, many will show multiple, and cross-checking the fixes for those code types can help you narrow down the right fix for your vehicle’s issue.
With BlueDriver charting and graphs, you can track live data in real time (with a relatively minimal five-second delay) to see how your vehicle is performing. Store the data for later and see performance snapshots when codes do come up, all with the Bluetooth-enabled unit and your smartphone or tablet display. So much more capability than just figuring out why the check engine light is lit.
Plus, according to the manufacturer, you can leave this OBD2 unit plugged in without jeopardizing your car’s battery or performance. However, you can also unplug the device and use it only when technical issues come up. Overall, we think this BlueDriver model is the best OBD2 scanner with all features considered at this time. You’ll also love that this advanced scanner is not expensive in the range of OBD2 scanners out there and you get a lot for your money.
- Scanner works with Apple and Android devices
- BlueDriver App and Sensor connect wirelessly
- Access to ASE Certified Mechanics database of over 30 million fixes
- Smog check readiness evaluation mode
- Bluetooth operation; no Wi-Fi required / support
- Freeze Frame function for snapshotting the vehicle when a code is stored
- Data export via file download
2. Autel MaxiDAS DS808 Scanner:
An all-in-one OBD2 kit, the Autel Maxidas comes in its own carrying case complete with the MaxiDAS unit plus the necessary cables, preparing drivers no matter where they need to run diagnostics.
The Autel MaxiDAS looks like a miniature tablet, but it’s a dedicated OBD2 scanner which comes with Cloud-based MaxiFix and Shop Manager functions. It does have Wi-Fi, helpful for diagnostics and updating the unit, and its 32GB of memory ensures you won’t miss any piece of data.
This Autel OBD2 unit runs on an Android interface, so it will feel familiar to Android users. Which also means the MaxiDAS scanner might be a bit easier to manage for today’s smartphone operators versus a standalone unit.
You will need to register the unit right out of the box, and from there, you’ll have a year of software updates from Autel to keep the scanner running smoothly. However, when the one-year term is up, you’ll need to purchase a software update, which can increase the overall cost of the unit.
Autel’s MaxiDAS also offers program keys, a function that’s worth highlighting, especially for more serious users and even those in professional settings. Whether it’s your personal vehicle or work truck, you’ll likely be able to diagnose issues and clear codes with this scanner. Overall, we like this Autel scanner quite a bit and could very well be the best OBD2 scanner for many folks, especially those who take pride in their automotive tools.
- Self-contained OBD2 unit (uses a test cable); no smartphone necessary
- Broad vehicle coverage with over 80 vehicles from 1996 to 2017 covered
- Automatic software updates keep this scanner device current
- Wi-Fi ready for updates and data transfers
- Weight is about 5 pounds and 14 ounces
3. BAFX Products Bluetooth Diagnostic OBDII Reader:
An Android-compatible OBD2 scanner that promises to work on all vehicles post-1996, BAFS Products’ Bluetooth Diagnostic OBDII Reader might be the budget-friendly solution for your everyday driver.
BAFX’s diagnostic reader requires a third-party app to communicate data, but you have the option of multiple apps ranging from free to around $40. If you have an Android or Windows device, you’ll be able to access an app (BAFX recommends Torque Pro) and retrieve all the relevant code information from the OBDII reader. There is a separate version of the product for iPhones if you require it—and that unit is also compatible with Android devices.
Not every sensor will read with this OBD2 scanner unit, however, because as the manufacturer states, there are limitations based on what sensors are present in the OBD2 system at the time of the vehicle’s production. Also, the company highlights that its reader doesn’t recognize a handful of error codes (such as AirBag, ABS, TPMS, or Oil Change lights).
Real-time data helps in towing and other monitoring situations, and with BAFX’s confirmation that the unit is compatible with all current vehicles regardless of make or model, this is one handy tool to have in your automotive repair toolbox.
- Android and Windows compatible
- Works with USA model vehicles 1996 and newer
- Requires a third-party app (multiple options)
- Uses Bluetooth for connectivity
4. Innova Color Screen Bluetooth 3160g Code Reader :
A highly compatible OBD2 reader with compatibility across all vehicle years and types, the Innova 3160g features the ability to stream and record real-time data via the included app and save data for reference. There is a bit of a lag on the live update rate, which could make diagnostics difficult in some scenarios.
On the plus side, you’ll be able to save the data from the last three vehicle scans, which allows you to refer to stored information later. Preset buttons make accessing specific functions simple without entering any menus.
Although this OBD2 unit has received many updates over the years (previous versions featured a black and white screen rather than full color), you may find that newer vehicles’ codes are not in the accompanying app’s database. While you may not have full diagnostic functions for newer cars, you can still achieve most basic diagnostic functions in most cases.
And finally, setup is pretty straightforward, but it does require installation of Innova’s software for registration (at least as of their last update). In the days of smartphone apps and Bluetooth connectivity, that’s a bit of a disappointment for this product.
- Scanner is compatible with all OBD2 vehicles 1996 and newer
- Ability to reset oil light
- Saves Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC)
- Saves live data from three previously scanned vehicles
- Stream and record real-time data
- Included app (Repair Solutions)
5. FIXD OBD-II Active Car Health Monitor :
Mobile app compatibility means this modern OBD2 unit can send you alerts on maintenance and error codes, keeping you connected to multiple vehicles (with separate monitors). Continuous monitoring means you’ll receive alerts when an issue crops up, and the app will also tell you how severe the problem is as it occurs.
The app also includes additional resources for each issue your vehicle may have (you’ll also have freeze frame data). Videos and other resources may help you repair the issue yourself, or at least let you know what to expect once you get into the garage. There are also cost estimates, which can be helpful for planning maintenance if you’re not the DIY type.
Installation should only take a minute or two, but keep in mind you’ll need to record both the device’s serial number and your vehicle’s VIN before getting everything running and plugged in. However, universal compatibility is a highlight, as is the ability to track multiple vehicles with separate devices via one app.
It’s a good wireless obdii scanner, but it’s not the best OBD2 scanner on the market.
Key Specs :
- Compatible with gas-powered vehicles 1996 and on
- Requires a compatible app
- Clear check engine light via the app
- Monitor multiple vehicles from one app (with multiple devices)
- Includes maintenance reminders
- Live data function
- Scanner works with Android and Apple devices
6. ANCEL AD310 Universal OBD II Scanner:
Compatible with most 1996 and newer US-based vehicles, the ANCEL AD310 scanner is a basic OBD2 scan unit with straightforward functions and few frills. It scans and reports errors quickly, making diagnostics simple.
For more traditionally-minded mechanics (or DIYers), ANCEL’s AD310 is a familiar option. The Ancel is handheld unit which attaches to your vehicle via a cable, relying on the OBDII Data Link Connector in your car for power. The upside of this is, there are no batteries to charge or replace.
The drawback is, of course, that you might drain your vehicle’s battery while running diagnostics. In most cases, you likely won’t want to drive the vehicle while performing a diagnostic check. Rather than a full-time monitor, ANCEL’s unit functions as a short-term use device for running diagnostics on cars, not scheduled maintenance reminders or performance specs.
However, error code results get displayed quickly on the display, allowing you to figure out what the problem is and getting it fixed. The key here is getting it fixed: with ANCEL’s AD310, you can’t clear a code until the issue is fixed, per the manufacturer, which might be frustrating for some consumers. It’s not the most advanced model or best OBD2 scanner among all of the products we’re discussing here in this buying guide. But, it’s worthy of your review as you look at which of these tools may best support your needs.
- Compatible with most US-based vehicles 1996 and newer
- Features simple menu operation and buttons
- Ancel needs no batteries or charger (uses vehicle power via OBDII Data Link Connector in the vehicle)
- Standalone reader (no app required)
- Provides code information and explanation of the potential issue
- No connectivity or Wi-Fi/Bluetooth necessary for this Ancel product
A plug-and-play OBD2 unit with compatibility across a range of older and newer vehicles, the Autel Auto-Link AL319 retrieves a variety of codes and provides data you can use to determine the best course of action for repairs.
For basic plug-and-play operation, you can’t beat Autel’s AutoLink AL319 scanner. It runs off your vehicle’s power, so there are no batteries or charging to worry about. Of course, that also means it could run down your battery as well.
With this device, you can diagnose codes for cars & trucks, look up the error information via the DTC lookup screen on its display, and clear codes, all from the unit itself. No connectivity or external apps are necessary, except for a computer to connect to in order to run any software/firmware updates to the unit over its lifetime.
It may not be the most user-friendly scanner model in terms of setup among OBD2 scanners, but the AutoLink AL1319 provides enough OBD2 key diagnostic information to make the initial headache worth it. Expect to need to input vehicle information and details before you can run a scan, but if your vehicle is compatible with the device, diagnostic steps should be simple.
One final potential frustration is the need for a microSD card reader; this scanner uses a microSD card, so to update the firmware, you’ll need to remove and plug in that card.
- Scanner works withing the range of all 1996 and newer vehicles
- Clears and reset codes
- Retrieves generic, manufacturer-specific, and pending codes
- One-Click key for State Emissions readiness check (Smog Check check)
- Power derives from your vehicle’s OBD II Data Link Connector
8. Foxwell NT301 :
It’s deceptively simple in appearance, but the Foxwell NT301 scanner turns back plenty of data and allows you to diagnose and clear codes from your vehicle. There’s no extensive setup or registration process; plug it in, and the device automatically pulls your VIN to determine what type of vehicle you have.
The only “clunky” part of the NT301 is updating the software. It’s not a necessary step before use, but you may need to update the unit at some point, meaning you’ll need to download software to your computer and plug it in. However, your purchase includes lifetime free software upgrades, which is a key perk.
However, the amount of technical data the NT301 provides for cars makes it worth the slight headache of managing updates. It’s also a quick and comprehensive tool as far as data goes: there’s live sensor data, graphing, data logging, and enough technical jargon on its display to confuse all the non-professional mechanics out there. Of course, with the help of the user manual (and possibly YouTube support), you should be able to decipher any code this advanced OBD2 unit turns back.
- Automatic VIN acquisition; no plugging in data
- Live data and graphs
- Emission test helper to prepare for Smog Checks
- Utilizes vehicle battery for power
- Printer compatible to print out data reports
- Color screen display
- Lifetime free software upgrades
OBD2 Scanner Buying Guide
To help you navigate the purchase of your OBD2 scanner, we’ve compiled a guide with all the basics and features of these products for cars and trucks. Here’s what to look for as far as pre-purchase considerations plus common questions and answers on the topic of the best OBD2 scanners.
Here’s what to look for when shopping for the best OBD2 scanners for your vehicle.
Diagnostic Tool Device Type
With the availability of apps for every purpose these days, there is, of course, an app for OBD2 readout. Some devices plug into your vehicle and then require a smartphone or tablet to receive the wireless information either via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity. You’ll need to download an app to use these types of devices, but they often don’t require charging or batteries and take up very little of your vehicle’s power.
Other OBD2 devices are traditional handheld units with included cables to plug into your vehicle. These are the types of unit you will often see in mechanic shops and parts stores with LCD displays. Fortunately, the updated versions often have color LCD screens, long cables for easy access, and vehicle battery-dependent power.
There are also other OBD2 units that are hybrids, such as those with remote plugs and a reception device of their own. The devices often resemble smartphones or tablets and run on their own software that you launch, with separate charging and updating requirements from the unit which plugs into your vehicle’s port.
Diagnostic Tools Power Source
While most older OBD2 units relied on vehicle power, today’s modern scan tool units come with options. You can easily find a handheld scanner unit that relies on your vehicle’s 12V battery, but there are also independent devices with rechargeable or replaceable batteries.
Further, there are also scan tool devices which use the vehicle’s battery but include a receiving device which requires batteries or regular charging. For those who use their smartphones or tablets as receiving devices, you’ll need to factor charging time or battery power into the equation as well.
Data Transfer from Diagnostic Tools
For traditional hand-held OBD2 scanners, there is truly no “data transfer,” as everything you need displays on the unit’s screen. Some are compatible with printers, however, so you can access and store data on paper. Other units relay information via Bluetooth or WiFi to your smartphone, tablet, or a designated receiver.
In addition to vehicle data, your OBD2 scanner may also need to store firmware or software. Handheld standalone devices often require a computer or laptop to download software and then upload it to the device.
Smartphone or tablet-operated scan tool devices often rely on app updates to stay current, which might be a simpler process in many cases. However, outdated software can impede your ability to use a remote unit, so this is an important consideration when shopping for a device.
Diagnostic Tool Vehicle Compatibility
Most popular OBD2 units claim near-universal compatibility across all vehicle makes and models. Most will specify compatibility beyond a particular year of manufacture of cars & trucks, but in general, nearly any unit will detect and relay nearly any vehicle’s wide range of codes such as the check engine light.
There are exceptions, however, so it’s essential to read the fine print before purchasing an OBD2 scan tool unit which claims to be universal. It’s also worth noting that many hybrid and electric-only vehicles may have different error reporting technology than older vehicles, potentially making error code readers incompatible.
Diagnostic Tool Device Compatibility
If you opt for an OBD2 unit which relies on a smart device to transmit trouble codes information to, you’ll want to make sure the code scanner is compatible with your existing equipment. Many code reader products are compatible with Android, Apple, and Windows devices, but it’s also common to find platform-specific code reader units as well.
Be careful to read the manufacturer’s specifications before purchasing a unit and check out the app store on your preferred device to see what options are available. With some systems, there might even be a few different compatible apps to choose from at varying price points.
Car Diagnostic Tool Update Requirements and Manufacturer Longevity
As technology changes, many OBD scanner manufacturers change their OBD2 code reader products to keep up with modern offerings. Therefore, an older code reader unit or one from a brand who might be quitting the business is never a good bet. Unless you purchase a code reader system which does not require firmware or software updates (which is practically unheard of, as bugs always crop up in tech devices), you’ll want to make sure you choose a brand that offers customer service and continued updates.
On that same note, some manufacturers require membership or subscriptions you need to pay to keep your code reader device current. If you only want to check on one or two personal use vehicles, you may not want to pay a membership fee per year for a device you don’t use often. In contrast, the expense may be worth it (and also deductible) if you work in a professional auto shop.
Questions and Answers
Here are FAQs on the subject which can help consumers to better understand what these units do (and what the benefits are of buying one).
How Does an OBD2 Scanner Work?
These types of scanners work by tapping into your vehicle’s onboard computer. The OBD-II connection is primarily for emissions testing, but the port allows you to access the information your vehicle is storing. When an error code comes up—and a check engine or other light comes up on the dashboard—the computer is detecting and recording an error.
What a code reader scanner does is retrieve that information (via an OBDII scan) to show what could be the cause behind the code activating. In most cases, you’ll need to perform maintenance on your vehicle to keep the error from popping up again, but if it’s not severe, you may want to clear the fault codes and keep driving anyway.
Can the Scanner Clear Specific Codes?
Some OBD2 scanners have functionality that can clear error trouble codes like check engine light, while others require you to fix the issue before you can clear the codes out. In some devices, you can opt to clear a code after confirming that you’ve checked everything out.
With other car code reader devices, you’ll need to make the necessary repairs, then wait a predetermined amount of time before re-scanning the vehicle. By this time, your vehicle’s computer will recognize the issue has been resolved (e.g. fault codes have cleared), and therefore the status of the code will change, allowing you to clear it from the vehicle’s memory.
What Vehicles Does It Work With?
Although many OBD2 scanners claim to work with “all” vehicles, it’s impossible for any single device to report on all fault codes from every vehicle in existence as things are simply not that standardized. However, most units which claim to work with specific years of cars onward are often reliable.
The issue comes down to specific scanner brands and how they program their vehicles. Some vehicle brands may not build specific error trouble codes into the OBD2 system, meaning you can’t access the codes via a scanner or any other means. In this case, you may very well have to visit a dealership to have them check your vehicle’s codes with brand-specific equipment.
Some car code reader units may also have restrictions such as battery compatibility; devices which use your vehicle’s battery will often require a specific voltage. Other scanner units may not work with hybrid vehicles; it’s crucial to read the manufacturer’s statements thoroughly.
Where Do I Plug the Scanner In My Vehicle?
The placement of the OBD2 port varies depending on your vehicle’s make and model and even the year range. In most cases, it can be helpful to use your vehicle’s user manual to locate the port. However, common locations include under the driver’s seat, underneath the steering wheel, inside the glove compartment, or even in the center console.
Wherever it is, the port will usually have a convenient label or notation on the cover or door of the port. If you don’t have a user manual for your vehicle or are having trouble finding the port on your own, YouTube can be a valuable source for make and model specific information.
What Scanner is the Best for My Needs?
In general, there is no clear answer as far as which option is the best scanner. It all depends on personal preferences, the type of vehicle or vehicles you have (a BMW, a French vehicle, or another manufacturer), features you need, and how you plan to monitor and diagnose your vehicle.
If you want to track performance while towing a vehicle, for example, you will likely want a device that either has its own battery power or uses very little energy to avoid draining your vehicle’s battery. In this case, a smartphone compatible scanner option will also provide the best experience, as you won’t want to ride in the tow vehicle to check its metrics!
In other scenarios, such as small garages or home mechanic setups, you may want a battery-powered handheld device that stands alone and doesn’t require a smartphone or tablet to operate. A scanner unit which has its own touchscreen interface is helpful for regular vehicle checkups and maintenance and keeps you from losing battery power on your smartphone and on your vehicle. Identifying your main use case will help you a lot as you review the list of features the scanners have.
And finally, a traditional handheld unit which uses the car’s battery to operate is a simple and straightforward solution in many scenarios, if your vehicle has the power to run it. Apart from that, there are a few drawbacks to a handheld unit for someone who tends to work in a garage or shop rather than on the road or the side of the road!
Although there’s an OBDII reader option out there for nearly every buying scenario, it can take a bit of research to learn which is the best for your needs. We did our best above in our comprehensive reviews to suggest which could be the best OBD2 scanner for your needs.
Whatever type of vehicle you have, at the end of the day, purchasing a scanner can help protect your vehicle and your pocketbook by alerting you to serious issues (indicated by an error code such as check engine light or other info) in your car and preventing you from overpaying a mechanic for simple fixes. These products have proven themselves to enthusiasts and DIYers that they can support your car and truck needs with their features and save you time and money on expensive service visits.
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