Automotive OBD2 scanners and car code readers are the easiest and least expensive ways to find out why your engine light is on and get it to turn off. Even the best car code reader under $50 will give you the same basic information you’d get from the dealer or an auto repair shop, and there’s no labor cost.
Since a shop may charge you $100 just to diagnose a problem, these handy devices can pay for themselves after a single use.
If you need a bit more than just reading and clearing basic engine fault codes, a full featured OBD2 scanner is a great investment. Like other technology, prices on these automotive scan tools continue to drop making them affordable to most home mechanics. For mechanics, even the best OBD2 scanner will quickly pay for itself.
Our 7 Favorite OBD2 Scanners
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In addition to what a basic car code reader does, these automotive scan tools offer additional features for diagnostics, testing, and access to other supplemental systems in a vehicle such as the ABS or SRS systems.
For those who want to turn their smartphone or tablet into a powerful car diagnostic tool, OBD2 Bluetooth scanners are becoming increasingly popular. Don’t have Bluetooth on your phone? There are even auto scan tools that connect via Wi-Fi.
Below you’ll find our top picks for the different categories of scan tools. We understand your time is valuable so instead of having to read dozens of long OBD2 scanner reviews, we simply give our recommendations and tell you why. If you’d rather first learn more about OBDII scanners in general, click here.
OBD2 Scanner Reviews
One of Innova’s newer entries, the 3150f code reader is hailed as the ideal onboard diagnostic tool for professional mechanics and do-it-yourselfers alike. Not only does it retrieve (and clear out in one button push) the usual check engine light codes of both foreign and domestic vehicles built since 1996, it has a host of other advanced features not found in many other models.
It will also read ABS, SRS (airbag), and battery codes on all vehicles and even clear them out with the push of a button on most vehicles (GM, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, and Honda). Unlike other auto scanners which only give you an error code, the 3150f also provides a brief explanation of what the code is which is super helpful. Innova also has a reputation for finding error codes that other tools including Bluetooth dongles simply miss.
I finally got a chance the Innova out on my wife’s Mazda 3 which has been flashing an airbag light for a couple weeks. Connecting the Innova to the OBD2 port via the included long cord (the end has a light to help find the car’s port) was simple and information about the car was quickly downloaded to the screen. I just had to tell it whether the car was a manual or automatic and it was ready to go.
With literally 2 button pushes, the code and a short explanation of what the code was (“air bag driver circuit short”). Now I know exactly what and where to troubleshoot. Further diagnosis can be made online at various sites, such as CarTreatments.com, which go over error codes in greater detail. The 3150f will save diagnostic information for the last 3 vehicles it was used on so you can reference it at a later time.
The 3.5” color LCD screen is nice and bright and makes use of colors very well to highlight certain things for quickly getting the info you want. A handy feature is a large database of oil light reset instructions for most vehicles so you don’t have to get online to Google every time after you change your oil.
Updating the tool’s software is also easy. Simply connect the included USB cable to your computer and download the update through Innova’s website. Also included with the tool is access to the Repair Solutions app which can further help with diagnostics. Simply download the app to your iPhone or Android phone and connect to the Innova via Bluetooth. While nice, the app isn’t very useful in my mind.
Some users prefer the icon based navigation like what the Autel below uses instead of the simpler text based Innova experience. In my opinion, the Innova is much faster to use once you get used to it. It just feels a bit zippier.
Also like other brands, clearing codes for some Asian cars is not supported (as was the case on the Mazda 3 I tested this on). Retrieving codes works well for pretty much any OBD2 vehicle.
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The BlueDriver Bluetooth OBD2 scan tool is head and shoulders above others. Designed in Canada (made in China), it’s compatible with iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, you don’t have to worry about it not working with your smartphone or tablet (unless you use a Windows phone).
While costing more than other Bluetooth scanners, you also get the free BlueDriver app which doesn’t require any subscription fees
and includes five free reports. After that, you can purchase additional sets of five reports for 99 cents. (update – the free app now allows you to run unlimited reports for free)
What differentiates this app from others is the Repair Report which takes an error codes, interprets them, and actually shows you possible causes and potential fixes. This takes it above and beyond the standard “read code” and “erase code” features of basic code readers.
Also, since you’re using your smart phone’s screen to view data, the screen resolution will be much higher than any stand-alone scan tool with an integrated screen.
The Smog Check feature is quite useful and can give you a good estimate of whether the vehicle will pass or fail a smog test. Other common features will read error codes, monitor engine performance, clear CELs, and even read/clear enhanced codes for the ABS, SRS, and other supplemental systems for most major car manufacturers. The small dongle is easy to plug in and remove.
One small annoyance is the fact that the VIN number has to be manually entered. At this price point, you’d think it would be read automatically. Some users have reported issues with getting the dongle to pair with their phone, but once done, the connection was solid.
The BlueDriver is one of those tools that’s easy enough to use for a home mechanic but has features that professionals would appreciate.
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We’ve become big fans of Autel scanners (and their customer service) and this model is one of the best bang for your buck diagnostic tools out there. This makes it one of our favorites for a fully featured auto scan tool.
In addition to being able to clear out normal OBD2 fault codes, it will read/clear ABS and SRS (airbag) codes quite well although not for every make.
No scanner is perfect when it comes to ABS or SRS codes, but the AL619 seems a bit more consistent than others, especially when you make sure to update the software immediately after receiving the unit.
In addition, the Autel automatically pulls in your VIN, displays monitor and I/M readiness (emissions), shows real-time diagnostic data, and even allows printing of data through a PC (sorry not much Mac support here). The full color monitor is clear and the buttons are simply to use.
While some may prefer a touchscreen like some other more expensive models, buttons, in my opinion are a lot more functional for a scan tool. Especially when you’re in the middle of a repair and fingers covered in oil/grease.
A lot of users have noted that they couldn’t get the AL619 to read ABS or SRS codes out of the box, but in most cases, a free firmware update took care of the issue.
The update may take an hour or two but it’s only a one time process. Autel support is top notch so you won’t be on your own if there’s ever an issue with your new OBD2 scanner.
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Another Autel scan tool on our list, the Autel AL319 is one of the easiest auto scanners you’ll find. It doesn’t have the wide range of functions that one of its big brothers (the AL619) has, but it only has three buttons, so the operation is a simple as it gets.
Read and clear codes with ease on a bright color screen. At this price point, it’s a nice surprise that a short definition of an error code is provided so you don’t need to manually go online and look up each code.
A useful feature is the one-click I/M (Inspection & Maintenance) Readiness Key which gives you a good idea if your vehicle will pass a smog check. By far the biggest negative of the AL319 is the short cord.
If you plan on needing to use a scan tool during driving for real time monitoring, you should probably look elsewhere. The cord is literally long enough to barely sit on your thigh in most cases.
Other than that, the Autel AL319 is a great value and super simple to use which is probably why it’s so popular with DIY mechanics.
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It automatically reads the VIN number, make, and model on vehicles made since 2000, saving you time and preventing common user errors. Even if you’re not a mechanic yourself, this tool will tell you why your engine light is on, and could potentially prevent unscrupulous auto shops from taking advantage of you.
One of the most helpful features, aside from working as well as you’d get from an expensive auto shop, is that the readout is available in three different languages to accommodate those who don’t speak English as their native tongue. This model will read and clear ABS codes but not SRS.
The single biggest complaint you may have with the CP9670 is not with the device, but with the manual it comes with. The manual appears to have been written by someone who speaks a language other than English, so you may have to decipher the text as you go.
As with the previous version, you need to update the software online as soon as possible, especially if you have a newer model car that was released after the scanner was manufactured.
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Looking for a simple, inexpensive, easy to use OBD2 scanner? The Ancel AD310 is one of the most well designed basic car code readers you will find. It’s easy to hold, has a logical button layout, large screen for this pricepoint, good interface, and ok length cable. Codes are read quickly and definitions for fault codes are provided on screen.
While the AD310 is a very no-nonsense scanner and doesn’t have a color screen like the Autel below, it works very well and should be enough for most home mechanics. Many people actually prefer the simplicity of a black and white screen over color.
If you do a lot of work on your cars, the advanced features in either the Autel AL619 or Actron CP9670 would most likely be better options but even in that case, this Ancel AD310 would make for a great secondary or backup scanner. Available in orange, black, or red.
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If you want a more basic wireless scan tool than the BlueDriver but with WiFi connectivity, the Veepeak OBD2 scanner is your best bet. In addition to working with iOS and Android tablets and smartphones, the Veepeak will also work with Windows smartphones as well as PCs.
You will need to supply your own app that works with this dongle but the Apple iTunes store and Google Play have you covered. We personally recommend DashCommand for iOS and Torque Pro for Android.
The Veepeak Wifi auto scanner will read and clear trouble codes, turn off the check engine light, and view engine sensor readings and that’s about all. It will not allow you to diagnose your ABS or airbag system or provide troubleshooting guidance.
The Veepeak is an excellent OBD2 Wifi scanner that’s small, cheap, and reliable. This is the perfect scanner to take with you when shopping for a used car.
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Basics of Car Diagnostic Tools
Most garages and auto centers have something called an OBD2 scan tool available to them. This is a car code reader or diagnostic tool that allows you to communicate with the engine’s computer about what’s wrong and needs to be fixed.
This system has been in use for nearly all makes and models since 1996 to allow mechanics and shops to diagnose problems. For shops, these are very effective for quickly diagnosing a vehicle. See How to Use an OBD2 Scanner for more info.
The downside is that professional automotive scanners may cost several hundred dollars. This is a significant expense for the home mechanic, but it is an important one to make if you plan on fixing vehicles often.
There are a variety of options available for the home mechanic, from very basic vehicle code readers, to OBD2 Bluetooth adapters, to comprehensive OBD2 automotive scanners. The features will vary depending on price, so you should buy a scan tool that will provide you with the features you need at a price point you can afford.
What’s the difference between OBD1 vs OBD2?
The acronym “OBD” stands more on-board diagnostic system. The first version of this system (OBD1) offered the ability to troubleshoot diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs). It covered vehicles up to 1996 and each car manufacturer had their own codes and location to access these codes. It was not very user friendly and typically not used by the average home mechanic.
In 1996, OBD2 was created. Along with having a universal standard that worked across all makes and models, it was fast, easy to use, provided much more detailed fault codes, and numerous advanced diagnostic features that continue to improve as new models of OBD2 scan tools are introduced.
Which features do I need?
Not all scan tools are made the same. Some may only provide basic engine code and check engine light (CEL) functions, while others may provide freeze data, real-time data, SRS and ABS functionality, battery and alternator testing, and even comprehensive databases of recommended fixes.
Just remember, you get what you pay for, so if you’re planning on using a scan tool often for a variety of diagnostics, make sure you buy a scan tool with the features you plan on using. The top OBDII scanner for the money might be a $40 code reader for one person and a $200 scanner for another.
Your check engine light may simply be caused by a dirty fuel system where a $10 fuel injector cleaner could solve the issue or more complex where a faulty oxygen sensor is the culprit. The key to saving money is to do the initial troubleshooting (with a car scanner) yourself.
If your car is hard to start, don’t automatically assume it needs a new battery or starter. Your OBD2 tool could tell you that the battery simply needs to be hooked up to a battery charger overnight and be good as new.
Should I get a Bluetooth OBD2 scanner?
One of the best parts about Bluetooth scan tools is that with the right app on your tablet or smartphone (either the default BlueDriver app or Torque Pro), you have the ability of having more features, data points, and ways of presenting this data over a traditional handheld scan tool.
You’re not limited to a standard set of features and a small low-resolution screen. In addition, you’ll pay less and in the case of having a tablet, have a much larger screen to work with. Another benefit is that you can keep it connected at all times and collect and graph your data over time.
The biggest drawback is that you need to be more tech savvy than if you simply had a standard plugin diagnostic tool where you don’t have to worry connecting to other devices and making sure the software was configured properly.
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