Updated on: 9/17/2018
Owning an OBD2 scanner/code reader is a must if you own a modern automobile. It doesn’t matter if you are a professional automotive technician, a do-it-yourself weekend warrior or simply an owner of a modern automobile.
OBD2 or On Board Diagnostics 2 came out of the need to control vehicle emissions using electronics to monitor vital emission systems. All cars after build date of January 1, 1996 are required to have an OBD-2 system, but some manufacturers had it as early as 1994.
So why should you buy a OBD2 reader?
Having OBD2 code reading capabilities can save you a LOT of money. Instead of blindly trusting a dealership or your personal mechanic, you are able to do some internet research about the fault stored in the engine computer causing your check engine light to come on. There are many forums/blogs dedicated to every vehicle brand, and chances are very high somebody has had a similar fault on the same year/make/model that you have. Not to mention some shops can charge anywhere from $20-100 just to read the code for you!
OBD-II diagnostic equipment used to be very expensive that only shops could afford to have them, but now days these little pocket sized tools are accessible to everyone. Don’t have high expectations of inexpensive units as they are only able to retrieve codes from engine computer, sometimes even without complete descriptions. You’ll have to spend some extra to be able to read from different vehicle computers responsible for anti-lock braking, transmission, airbag and supplemental restraint systems.
Over the years I’ve tried out many different obd2 readers and diagnostic equipment. That’s why I’m excited to bring you my personal experiences and best obd2 scanner reviews.
Here Are Our Picks For Best OBD2 Scanners in 2018
Best Overall Handheld OBD2 Scan Tool
The Autel MaxiCheck Pro packs a ton of features and capabilities usually only available to larger and very expensive ($2,000+) scan tools. The Autel MaxiCheck Pro was designed for the professional automotive technician, but at a price point that makes it available to the average do it yourselfer.
Here are some of my favorite features of the Autel MaxiCheck Pro.
If you own a newer(2014+) Mercedes/Volvo/Volkswagen/BMW/Kia/Hyundai you most likely have an electronic parking brake on the rear of the vehicle. This stumps many do it yourselfers as instead of simply compressing the piston of the caliper it now needs to be retracted electronically. The Autel MaxiCheck Pro will assist you in continuing to do your own brake work with its ability to retract and engage these electronic brake calipers.
Resetting maintenance and service lights on some vehicles can be a chore especially on German vehicles. The Autel MaxiCheck Pro has the capability to reset those pesky oil service lights.
You get access to multiple modules such as Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), Supplemental Restraint System (SRS), Electronic Parking Brake (EPB), Tire Pressure Monitoring (TPMS). You also get the ability to access Diesel Particulate Filter information (DPF), and programming of Steering Angle Sensors (SAS).
And with all those features you also get the ability to view generic and manufacturer specific system faults. Viewing o freeze frame, graphing of live data, viewing readiness status also comes standard as on most obd2 tools.
You can update the software on your MaxiCheck Pro by going on Autel’s site and registering your tool and then you will be able to download the new software updates.
Autel has really packed a lot of features and abilities into the MaxiCheck Pro making it a great value tool for the professional working in the shop environment or for the average do it yourself backyard weekend warrior.
Best Economy OBD2 Reader
The Creader VI by Launch is the best obd2 reader to just throw into the gloves box of your car and forget until it’s needed. Creader VI’s small size and quick connects to view and erase diagnostic trouble codes make it a great obd2 code reader. You get a lot of value from this scanner, here are some of its features I enjoy:
- Generic and manufacturer specific fault code descriptions. You must update with the provided software to get updated manufacturer specific code descriptions. Most inexpensive obd2 readers don’t have the manufacturer specific fault code descriptions stored, so this is a HUGE plus.
- Viewing readiness monitor status. Readiness monitors are tests that the engine computer runs on the emission systems. You may now pass smog if some of these readiness monitors have not completed, or if you have recently disconnected the battery (after repairs) as that resets them to incomplete until tests complete. Quickly check your monitor status before taking the car in for smog to avoid unnecessary headaches.
- Viewing basic PIDS (Parameter ID’s, or sensor information received by the computer). You are also able to graph the data up to 4 different data streams at once.
- Well laid out, responsive and colorful interface.
The Creader VI by Launch is unfortunately unable to access any other modules besides the ECM (Engine Control Module), so you are not able to read/clear faults in the SRS/airbag, transmission and other modules. But I didn’t really expect an inexpensive pocket sized handheld obd2 scanner to have those capabilities.
Best Bluetooth OBD2 Dongle for Android Devices
Bluetooth OBD2 dongles like the BAFX 34T5 pair with your android device and run 3rd party apps to create a communication link between the vehicles powertrain control module and your android device. These apps vary in price, anywhere from free and up to $200 depending on your needs. One of the most popular OBD2 android apps is torque pro, costs just $5.
You have to be extremely careful when purchasing these OBD2 dongles. Many vendors offer cheap Chinese knock offs that are unable to communicate over certain protocols such as J1850 and CAN (Controller Area Network) which can be found in many newer cars. This is why I prefer the BAFX product as it’s able to communicate over ALL networks found in vehicles from 1996 and newer.
What I like about BAFX 34T5 Bluetooth OBD2 adapter:
- Inexpensive and easy to use. Quickly links with your android device.
- Able to communicate over all protocols used in passenger vehicles.
- Offers two year warranty.
- Can be used with a variety of 3rd party Android apps.
A major downside of OBD2 data over Bluetooth is minor delays when viewing live data. Being directly plugged into the OBD2 port will often give you a better refresh rate of data. It’s minor and has no effect in simply reading diagnostic trouble codes, which is what most users will use these adapters for.
NOTE: NOT COMPATIBLE WITH iOS DEVICES!
Best Value Diagnostic Code Reader with ABS Fault Scanning
Innova Electronics is one of the top suppliers of test equipment. They produce digital multimeters, test lights, air/fuel/compression gauges, and of course obd2 scanners. The Innova 3100i is a fairly inexpensive scanner with ABS reading capabilities. ABS (Anti-Lock Brakes) is a system where from experience the faults are either inexpensive, or very part and labor costly.
Whether you are a novice or a pro looking for a fast and easy way to get a quick diagnostic look into the health of you vehicle, you have to try the Innova 3100i Diagnostic code Reader. I found it a joy to use – simple, clear, and easy to read information in an all in one screen with hot buttons. The Innova 3100i comes with an accessible web-based and customer support making you feel like there is help always available with any diagnostic or repair questions.
The internet-based support, as well as daily accessible customer service, made me feel confident because I always knew I had a backup no matter what came up. If I didn’t understand it, the support answered all my questions. It boosted my confidence and its is small and light at 1.1 lbs. So I felt comfortable carrying it around in my glove compartment at all times. Personally, it offered extra security and peace of mind for a small price.
The following are some of the great features of this product:
1. Internet support to summarize and estimate repair and diagnose
2. Customer support in English and Spanish by qualified technicians
3. Explains “Check Engine Light “warning on all 1966 and beyond vehicles
4. ABS light trouble codes for most cars
5. Checks battery and alternator performance
6. Shows freeze frame of many engine function at time of malfunction indicator
7. Multi -color status of emission controls
Overall, the Innova 3100i Diagnostic code reader is a well-organized piece of equipment, easy to use, and comes with an instruction manual. You can also get great support, and a must have for novice as well as pro in your tool kit. It is indeed well worth the investment and will save you many times the money invested in it.