To get the most out of the OBDII in your car, you first need the best OBD2 scanner. With the right one, you not only get to enjoy all the benefits of OBD2 technology, but it will also make your life a whole lot easier. But which one should you choose?
With so many of them out there, it can be hard to find the best one. Fortunately for you, we’ve made it simple. Once you’re done reading this article, not only will you have the best OBD2 scanner for your car, but you will also know everything that there is to know about OBD2 scanners.
What is OBD Scanner?
Before we get to understanding OBD scanner, let’s do a quick recap of what is OBD. On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) is a diagnostic system found in vehicles. It helps, mechanics and car owners alike, in monitoring and fixing various components of the car.
However, OBD systems on their own can only indicate that there is a problem. For example, if there is an issue in the engine, the OBD system in your car will alert you through the Check Engine Light (CEL). But you won’t be able to figure out the exact problem from just that.
This is where OBD scanners come in. OBD scanners are the tools that help in translating what the OBD system in your car is saying to something that you can understand. The OBD system checks your vehicle and produces specific Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC) according to the problem.
Then, the OBD scanner makes it possible for us to read, understand, and act upon these codes. Since there are so many different scanners out there, the scanner’s functions depend on the type of scanner.
Let’s read more about this ahead.
Types of OBD Scanners
When you’re deciding which is the best OBD scanner for you, the number of options you see will leave your head spinning. Once you understand all the different types of OBD scanners, it will be much easier to narrow down your choices.
OBD1 vs. OBD2 Scanner: Do I Need OBD1 Scanner or OBD2 Scanner?
In a nutshell, OBD1 is an older diagnostic system, and OBD2 is a more modern, more commonly used, and much better diagnostic system. So, to decide whether you need an OBD1 scanner or OBD2 scanner, you first need to figure which system your car uses. If your vehicle was sold any time from 1996 onwards, it most likely has OBD2 technology.
Therefore, you’ll need an OBD2 scanner. Similarly, If your car was manufactured somewhere between 1991 and 1995, it’ll have OBD1 technology for which you’ll need an OBD1 scanner.
Besides that, there are other differences between the two types of scanners. For instance, OBD1 scanners could only be used for one specific car made by a particular manufacturer. Whereas, OBD2 technology is more standardized so the same scanner can be used for multiple vehicles, regardless of make or manufacturer. Furthermore, OBD2 scanners are more accurate, have more features, and therefore, are more popular.
Types of OBD2 Scanners: Code Reader, DIY Scanner, or Diagnostic Tool?
Now that we’ve established that OBD2 scanners are the better option, we will discuss the different kinds within OBD2 scanners. There are three main kinds: Code Reader, DIY Scanner, and Diagnostic Tool.
1. Code Reader
Code readers is the most basic and popular scanner available. They are relatively cheap, and you can most probably find it at any hardware store. You might have also seen your mechanic using this type of an OBD2 scanner.
For most code reader type scanners, you need to plug them to the OBD2 port. These can perform essential functions like reading and clearing the DTCs. Although there are some code reader scanners which offer some advanced features as well.
2. DIY Scanner
DIY Scanners are a step ahead of Code Readers in terms of features. Moreover, these are more expensive too. They make diagnosing easier as you can not only read and clear codes but also access more information regarding the codes and your car.
With DIY scanners, you can see details behind the codes, DTC definitions, troubleshooting methods, live data about your car, and much more. Furthermore, some of these scanners can be traditional with them having to be plugged during use. But most DIY scanners can be used wirelessly with the help of dongles and dedicated apps.
3. Diagnostic Tool
The Diagnostic Tool scanners are the most advanced OBD2 scanners. They are more powerful and better suited for professional use. Accordingly, these are also the most expensive out of the three scanners.
Some of its features include ECU programming, coding, adaptations, and many more advanced options. Moreover, they allow you to save substantial amounts of data from your car.
Which OBD2 Scanner Type is Best for Me?
Since all three types of OBD2 scanners have different levels of features and functions, it then depends on an individual’s need. Which one proves to be the best OBD2 scanner for you will depend on how you plan to use a scanner, and which features you need. For instance, a code reader would be best for you if you’re looking for something cheap and that can perform essential functions for you.
Similarly, if you’re a home mechanic, and you want more features and secure connectivity, then a DIY Scanner would be perfect. Moreover, if you require a more sophisticated tool, more features than a DIY scanner, and you don’t care about the price, you should take a Professional Diagnostic Tool Scanner.
The Best OBD Scanner Brands
Now that you know how OBD2 scanners work and the types of scanners out there, we can start with the fun part: looking at different OBD2 scanner brands. When you’re out in the market, these are some brands you should look out for.
With more than a decade of experience, for Autel’s OBD2 scanners, quality is guaranteed. Moreover, not only are they of good quality, but they’re also cheap and easy to use. Autel has some of the best OBD2 scanners out there which are customer favorites.
With Launch, you get the best of both worlds. Their scanners are full of advanced features and that too, at a pretty good price. Also, they’re considered to be one of the most reliable brands in the market.
More importantly, one of the best things about Launch is that their scanners are supported by all U.S. vehicles.
For more basic scanners such as Code Readers, Innova is one of the leading brands today. Their scanners are easy to use and are compatible with a wide range of cars. Moreover, regardless of whether you’re a beginner or a pro, everyone can find something perfect for their needs.
Another highly experienced brand, Foxwell is well known for its quality products. They have some excellent scanners for beginners. Furthermore, Foxwell’s scanners are on the affordable end while maintaining the quality.
Versatile yet cheap, Actron OBD2 scanners are perfect for beginners and DIYers. Their scanners are easy to use, and anyone can handle them. Actron has a whole range of scanners with various features to satisfy everyone.
When you want the most bang for your buck, you go for Bluedriver. Their scanners have a ton of features at a much lower price as compared to other diagnostic scanners. Moreover, Bluedriver scanners have some of the best technology which shows in their brilliant performance.
You’ll find Ancel code reader scanners to be some of the most highly rated scanners in the market. Even the basic scanners come with a range of features at an excellent price. Furthermore, not only are they very convenient to use but they are quite durable.
OBD Scan Tools for Specific Vehicles
Getting an OBD2 scanner specifically for your vehicle will be even better as then you won’t run into any manufacturer specific complications.
- BMW Scan Tools: Some general scanners might not be able to interface with your BMW OBD system completely. So, you will need a BMW-specific OBD2 scanner to avail all of its features.
- Audi Scan Tools: Similar to BMW, Audi OBD systems might not support all OBD2 scanners and will need scanners specially made for Audis.
- Ford Scan Tools: A scanner that is specifically for Ford vehicles will give you much better results and performance than a generic scanner.
- Volkswagen Scan Tools: With a Volkswagen scan tool, you can use the scanner with any Volkswagen manufactured from 1996 onwards.
- Toyota Scan Tools: You will find some excellent Toyota scan tools that will give you the most accurate and reliable results when used with a Toyota.
- General Motors Scan Tools: If you use a General Motors-specific OBD2 scanner, there’ll be fewer chances of running into trouble with your scanner.
- Heavy-Duty Truck Scan Tools: Different kinds of vehicles have different problems. Which is why you need a heavy-duty truck scan tool if you own a heavy duty truck.
OBD2 Bluetooth Adapters for iOS, Android, Windows Devices
Another great thing to come out of OBD2 scanners are the Bluetooth adapters. Rather than using traditional cords to connect to the OBD2 system in your car, many OBD2 scanners now come with the option of wireless connection through Bluetooth. You can use these adapters with any Bluetooth compatible device like smartphones, laptops, and tablets.
Although, while most OBD2 Bluetooth adapters will be compatible with your car, your phone or laptop might not support all of them. There are some which might only work with Android systems or only Windows operating systems. Similarly, with an iPhone, it’ll be harder to find the right adapter as iOS supports minimal Bluetooth connections.
So, when you’re choosing an OBD2 Bluetooth adapter, you have to check it against the operating system you’re using.
What If I Need an OBD2 Scanner for a Specific System or Diagnostics: ABS, SRS, Engine, Transmission, or Bidirectional Scan Tool?
Something you’ll realize when you’re looking for OBD2 scanners is that there are a lot of them out there. Moreover, all of them have such different features and qualities, that everyone can find something that fits their needs perfectly.
An Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS) scan tool is useful for diagnosing when the ABS light turns on due to any problem such as a bad relay. Moreover, Safety Restraint System (SRS) scanners can be helpful when the car detects a problem with the airbags. Similarly, you use Engine Code readers for engine-specific issues or Transmission scanners for checking the transmission.
Furthermore, only some of the OBD2 scanners are bidirectional tools. They allow you not only to read the incoming information from the car but also input information as actions for the vehicle to follow.
Other Things to Consider Before Buying an OBD2 Scanner
After coming this far, it’s crucial to note these few things. Otherwise, all the hard work that you’ve done up till now will go to waste.
- Price Range: The price of these scanners depends on the features it has. You can get basic Code readers with limited features for as low as $10. While professional diagnostic tools with more advanced features can cost you even more than $3000.
- Update: Since all new cars come with new features, they also bring with them new problems. Therefore, you need to continually update your scanner so that they can support these changes. Some brands offer free lifetime updates while some charge for it, so you must choose wisely.
- Guarantee: Accidents can happen anytime, so it doesn’t hurt to have a 1- or 2-year warranty with your scanner. Ideally, though, you should look for 3-year warranties.
- After Sale Service: Most of the scanners are now becoming more and more complex with much more advanced technology. So, it is best to go for an OBD2 scanner that offers after sales service in case you face any issue with your scanner.
- Tech Support: When you’re stuck in the middle of the road and have no idea what your scanner is saying, you’ll need the best tech support to guide you out of the problem.
- Communication: You must also look at how easily you can contact the scanner’s manufacturer or seller because they’ll be the ones you need to contact if you need any spare parts or extra tools.
- Refund Policy: This might not be that important if you’re going for a cheap and basic scanner tool. But, if you’re going to spend thousands on a professional diagnostic tool, you need some assurance for refunds if the product is not to your liking.
The Bottom Line
When you’re buying something as vital as an OBD2 scanner, you don’t want to make a hasty decision and end up regretting what you bought. Therefore, a wise choice would be to carefully look at all the features of a scanner and analyze your own needs before deciding on the best OBD2 scanner for your car. Lucky for you, we’ve got everything you need to know all in one buying guide.