Understanding OBD2 Scanners

By YOUCANIC on May 21, 2019

Understanding OBD2 Scanners

An On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) II scanner, allows you to read and clear Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC) on vehicles 1996 and newer. An OBD2 scanner does not fix your car problem. It allows you to get the fault code and turn off the check engine light and other dashboard lights. The warning light will turn back on if you don't fix the underlying problem. 

To help you choose the best OBD2 scanner, we divide scanners into three categories. 

  1. Level 1 - Basic Code Readers - Least Expensive
  2. Level 2 - Multi-system OBD2 Scanner - Best Value
  3. Level 3 - Professional OBD2 Scanners - Professional Level

We hope that after reading this article, you will have a better understanding of OBD2 scanners. When it comes to OBD-2 scanners, there is no one size fits all solution. A key component here is how much you are trying to spend on a scanner and whether you want it to work on only one make or many vehicle models.

When buying an OBD2 scanner ask yourself these questions: 

  1. What are you trying to diagnose?

    • Check Engine Light,

    • ABS Problems

    • Airbag / SRS Light

    • Transmission Problems

    • Program Modules

  2. What is your budget? 

  3. Do you need a scanner to work on one make (example BMW) or multiple makes? 

Level 1: OBD2 Scanners

choosing an obd2 scannerThese basic OBD2 scanners, (also known as code readers or generic OBD2 scanners), retrieve data from the Engine Control Unit (ECU).

You can retrieve Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC(also referred to as fault codes) that trigger the Check Engine Light and Service Engine Soon

Level 1 scanners don't access other modules besides Engine Control Unit (ECU) or provide any coding capabilities.

Simply plug into the OBD-2 port and read the code. They show you a fault code. A few scanners even tell you what the code means. Regardless of what description you get from the scanner, write down the code and do online research to understand what are common problems with your make.

Capabilities

Here is a list of what you can do with these scanners:

  1. Read Fault Codes from Engine Control Unit

  2. Determine why Check Engine Light is on. 

  3. Erase Check Engine Codes

  4. View Freeze Frame Data

  5. Display live sensor data from ECU

Limitations

  • Can not access other modules.

  • Can not read codes from ABS, SRS, transmission etc. 

  • Can not troubleshoot TPMS

  • No programming or coding

 

Most Level 1 scanner sells for under $100. Typically can only diagnose the Check Engine Light or Service Engine light.

Many of these scanners can display live sensor data that the Engine Control Unit controls. Level 1 OBD-2 scanners cost as little as $15. Every car owner must at a minimum have one of these cheap OBD2 scanners in the glove box.  

Popular Level 1 OBD-II Scanners

ANCEL AD310 Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Scanner Car Engine Fault Code Reader CAN Diagnostic Scan Tool - Black

 

ANCEL AD310 Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Scanner Car Engine Fault Code Reader CAN Diagnostic Scan Tool - Black

TT TOPDON TD300 OBD2 Scanner Code Reader with Engine Light Turn-Off

 

TT TOPDON TD300 OBD2 Scanner Code Reader with Engine Light Turn-Off

BAFX Products Bluetooth Diagnostic OBDII Reader

 

BAFX OBD2 Products Bluetooth Diagnostic OBDII Reader

BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBDII Scan Tool for iPhone, iPad & Android

 

BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBDII Scan Tool for iPhone, iPad & Android

Veepeak Mini WiFi OBD2 Scanner Compatible with iOS and Android, Car OBD II

 

Veepeak Mini WiFi OBD2 Scanner Compatible with iOS and Android, Car OBD II 

 

Level 2 Multi-System OBD2 Scanner (Best Value)

multi system obd ii scannerLevel 2 scanners (also referred to as a multi-system OBD2 scanner) are slightly more expensive but their main advantage is that they allow you to read and clear fault codes from many modules.

If you work on cars frequently or are trying to troubleshoot problems other than the check engine light, you need a multiple system OBD2 scanners.

These scanners not only can reset the check engine light but they can read and clear codes from various modules including Anti-Lock Brakes, Airbag system, Transmission, and Tire Pressure Monitoring System, etc.

A number of multi-system scanners only read and clear codes from the engine, transmission, abs and airbag modules.

While a full system OBD2 scanner will be able to read, clear and reset fault codes from almost all of the modules on the vehicle.

A full system OBD2 scanner is the way to go if you work on cars frequently. One trip to the dealer could save you enough money to buy one of these scanners. 

Even if you haven't used a full system OBD2 scanner before don't worry. They are very easy to use and function the same as the basic OBD2 code readers. The main difference is that they can access another system on your car, not just the ECU. 

One of the popular scanners in this category is the Launch Creader Multi System Scanner

Capabilities

  • Read/Erase Check Engine Codes

  • Read/Erase ABS Fault Codes

  • Read/Erase Airbag / SRS Codes

  • Troubleshoot transmission problems

  • View Sensor Live Data

Limitations

  • No Coding

  • No Programming

  • One-directional communication

Level 3: Professional Diagnostic Scanners

Professional diagnostic scanners provide similar functionality to the scanners used at your car dealerships. These are meant for mechanics that operate auto repair shops.

If you are a DIYer and can afford a professional diagnostic scanner, you may never need to go to the dealer or mechanic. Level 3 diagnostic scanner are expensive with the majority of the scanners ranging between $1000 and $3000.

Level 3 scanner offer bi-directional support and can diagnose all system and control units.

A complete system expert scanner is not limited to one make but works on most car brands including Honda, Toyota, BMW, VW, Mercedes, Porsche, Ford, Chevrolet, etc. Bi-directional supports allow you to activate, program and test sensors and system in your car. 

These are professional scanners and are more expensive. These professional OBD2 scanners are often used by auto mechanics and offer full system diagnostics.

We have included a few that are easy to use by mechanics and car owners who can afford one. Level 3 OBD2 scanner offer di-directional function which means that you can activate and test various sensors on the car.

Many car manufacturers require that certain modules can only be coded by the dealer. Professional scanners will not be able to code the replacement of certain modules if the coding can only be completed by the dealer. 

Popular Level 3 Scanners

Autel Maxisys MS908

 

Autel Maxisys MS908 : Car Diagnostic Scanner, Full System WIFI Diagnostic System with ECU Coding

LAUNCH X431 V

 

Launch X431 V+ : Android OBD2 Auto Car System Diagnostic Scanner Global Version with DBScarII Bluetooth Connector 

TT TOPDON Diagnostic Scanner + AB101 Battery Tester, ArtiPad I 12-inch Touch Screen Full System Diagnostic Tool with ECU Coding and Programming for Benz BMW VW Audi and Free 2-Year Online Update

 

TT TOPDON ArtiPad I 12-inch Touch Screen Full System Diagnostic Tool with ECU Coding and Programming for Benz BMW VW Audi and Free 2-Year Online Update

Autel DS808 Maxidas Bi-Directional Automotive OBD2 Scanner Diagnostic Tool Key Fob Programming, ECU Coding, Abs Bleeding Brake, Reset Functions

 

Autel DS808 Maxidas Bi-Directional Automotive OBD2 Scanner Diagnostic Tool Key Fob Programming, ECU Coding, Abs Bleeding Brake, Reset Functions

 

 

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