- Understanding OBD2 Scanners - DIY Auto Repair
Understanding OBD2 Scanners - DIY Auto Repair
By diagnosing car problems yourself (such as the check engine light), you can save hundreds of dollars or even thousands in just a couple of years. With so many diagnostic scanners on the market, understanding what they do in order to choose the best OBD2 scanner for DIY auto repair, is a real challenge for car owners.
In this article, we will explain different OBD2 scanners and show you what some of the best OBD2 scanners for 2017 are. All the scanners listed here work on all popular car makes including Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Chevrolet etc as long as the car is 1996 and newer.
As you probably have already found out, OBD2 scanners can cost from as little as $15 all the way up to over several thousand dollars. Our staff has reviewed many OBD2 scanners. We wanted to share our own experience of OBD2 scanners to help you choose the best OBD2 scanner to get you started with your DIY auto repair.
What is the best OBD2 scanner
To make it easy for you to find the best OBD2 scanner we have divided them into three categories.
Level 1: Basic OBD2 Code Readers
Cost as little as $15 USD. Can read and clear check engine codes on 1996 and newer vehicles. Most Bluetooth Scanners for iPhone / Android belong in this category with the exception of Carly and BlueDriver.
Level 2: Multi-system OBD2 scanners
- If you are looking to read and clear codes from multiple systems on your car you will need a multi-system scanner. Such scanners can read and clear codes from ECU, ABS, Airbag/SRS and transmission. These OBD2 scanners start at about $100 and go up to $800 USD.
- Professional level OBD2 scanners are an alternative to the manufacturer scanners. They are capable of reading and clearing fault codes from almost all systems including A/C and seat controls. They are also able to test components and troubleshoot problems.
Read the description of each category to find the best OBD2 scanner for your needs.
We will start with the most basic and cheapest OBD2 scanners. These scanners are simply Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) code readers. They are also the cheapest OBD2 scanners because they don't provide any in-depth troubleshooting. We will end with the most advanced full system OBD2 scanners that provide similar troubleshooting OBD-II scanners that you see at the dealers.
For each category, we will make recommendations based on our hands-on experience, research and current OBD2 scanners that are popular.
Average Price Range: $15-$50
These basic OBD2 code readers allow you to read, clear codes and reset the check engine light. These are handheld units that you plug into the OBD2 port. They show you a fault code (also known as Diagnostic Trouble Code) and in some cases tell you what the code means.
These scanners cost as little as $15. Yes, that's not a typo. Some basic OBD2 scanners cost as much as $100. As a DIYer, you don't need a $100 OBD2 scanner to read and erase engine fault codes. To clear the Check Engine Light a $20 OBD2 scanner works just as well. The most expensive OBD2 scanner may show you live oxygen sensor data, intake air temperature, and a few other parameters. As a DIYer, you will hardly ever look at that.
With that said here are our top picks for this category.
Cheapest OBD2 Scanner: Autel MaxiScan MS300
- This is one of the most popular OBD2 scanners. Probably because it is the cheapest OBD2 scanners on the market. We wound not recommend the Autel MaxiScan MS300 for a couple of reasons. Based on our hands-on experience we noticed two issues with this scanner.
- The scanner failed to reset the Check Engine Light on several occasions. It required that we repeated the procedure to clear fault codes at least twice.
- The device doesn't show a description of the error code. It only shows you the code number, for example, P0301. Not a major drawback because you can do an online search as to what that fault code means. It is nice to see a quick description of the fault code right away.
- There are better alternatives to Autel MaxiScan MS300 model.
Best OBD2 Scanner: MS309 OBDII Car Diagnostic Tool ($20-$30)
- If you are looking for one of the cheapest and best OBD2 scanners a good choice would be Autel MS309. Not only is it an affordable OBD2 scanner that is easy to use but also offers several amazing features such as:
- Read and Clear Fault Codes including Check Engine Codes.
- Retrieves generic (P0, P2, P3 and U0), manufacturer specific (P1, P3 and U1) codes and pending codes.
- Views freeze frame data.
- Display monitor and I/M readiness status (emissions).
- Retrieves vehicle information such as VIN.
- Supports all 1996 and newer vehicles.
OBDII Bluetooth Scanners for iPhone / Android
Price Range: $20-$140
A Bluetooth OBDII scanner allows you to diagnose car problems similar to the basic OBD2 scanners we mentioned above. The main advantage of the Bluetooth OBDII scanners is that you can plug the adapter into the OBD2 port and keep it plugged in all time since it is cordless. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth (even though some models connect via Wi-Fi).
While Bluetooth OBD2 scanners are capable of showing your live sensor data, engine RPMs, 0-60 mph times, etc. As far as car diagnosis goes, the $10-$30 units are only able to read, clear engine fault code and reset the check engine light.
To use an OBDII Bluetooth adapter, you will need to install an app on your phone. You can download apps such as Torque for Android or DashCommand for iPhone.
The most popular Bluetooth adapter is the ELM327 Bluetooth Adapter. When paired with the Torque Pro app, not only does it allow you to read and clear fault codes from the ECU but it also can tell you if the car is ready for emission test.
OBD2 Bluetooth adapters are evolving quickly into multi-system scanners. For example, the BlueDriver and Carly OBD2 scanners are more powerful than the generic Bluetooth scanners.
Cheapest/Best OBD2 Bluetooth Scanner for Android: BAFX Bluetooth Scanner Tool
- Read, clear fault codes. Reset Check Engine Light.
- We like BAFS products because they use the genuine ELM327 microprocessor. You will find OBD2 Bluetooth adapters for as little as $10, but the problem with these cheap OBD2 scanners is that they often are clones of the ELM327 Bluetooth adapter.
Best OBD2 Bluetooth Scanner for iPhone: BlueDriver Bluetooth OBDII Scan Tool
- Read, clear and reset fault codes from the Engine Control Unit (ECU). Reset Check engine light.
- It can read and clear ABS, Airbag, and Transmission fault codes. This is the biggest advantage of the BlueDriver. The only drawback here is that it can diagnose these systems only on Ford GM, Chrysler, and Toyota cars.
- The BlueDriver Bluetooth adapter is a little more expensive, but it is also more powerful. It comes with its software that you can install on your Android or iPhone. Not only does it provide fault code description. It also shows possible causes.
- You can email the fault codes to yourself or your mechanic.
What to avoid:
- Avoid cloned ELM327 Bluetooth adapters. The cloned Bluetooth adapters that we have used have issues communicating with the ECU. All ELM327 Bluetooth adapters that are version 1.5 are fake as the company that makes the ELM327 never produced this version. They may work fine on certain cars but not in all makes.
Average Price Range: $150-$300
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 diagnose problems with the Anti-Lock Brakes, Airbag system, Transmission and Tire Pressure Monitoring System.
A full system OBD2 scanner will be able to read, clear and reset fault codes on multiple systems and stream live data, but they can not perform any coding or activate actuators. 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.
Editor's Choice of Multi-System OBD2 Diagnostic Scanners
Here is the list of Top 3 best OBD2 scanners with ABS and SRS plus automatic transmission support. These scanners provide coverage for European, Japanese and domestic cars. The OBD2 scanners listed here also provide live data. We believe that these are some of the best OBD2 scanners for DIY auto repair. They range in price from $150-$300.
- Universal Foxwell NT624
Provides in-depth vehicle troubleshooting of most systems. It works on American, Asian and European vehicles. Operates on all cars from 1996 to present.
- Airbag / SRS
- Automatic Transmission
- Instrument Cluster
- Climate Control
- Power Steering
- Engine / ECU / Check Engine Light
Works on cars, SUVs, trucks, and minivans.
- Autel MD802
Provides coverage for four vehicle systems:
- Launch Creader
Provides coverage for four vehicle systems:
- Engine / ECU
Average Price Range: $1000-$4000
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 you probably don't need to spend thousands of dollars on a professional diagnostic scanner.
Here are the main benefits of professional diagnostic scanners.
They 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.
Not only can they diagnose the Check Engine Light, but they can also read and clear fault codes from systems such as:
- Anti-Lock Brakes
- Traction Control
- Climate Control
- Entertainment, Navigation
- Stability Control
- Engine / ECU
The second advantage of the professional OBD2 scanners is that they can also activate sensors on your car to help you troubleshoot car problems. If you want to activate the blower fan motor you can do that. If you want to activate the door locks for testing you can do that.
Read our in-depth article on Best Professional Scan Tools for Mechanic.
Editor's Choice: Autel MS905 Automotive Diagnostic Scanner
OBD2 scanners can save you money by allowing you to troubleshoot car problems yourself, but choosing the best OBD2 scanner can be a challenge. To choose the best OBD2 scanner, you need to keep in mind your needs and budget.
To find the best OBD2 scanner, you need to ask yourself these two questions:
What am I trying to diagnose?
- Check engine light. Read, Clear Engine Codes
(Even a basic $15 OBD2 code reader can read, erase engine fault codes and reset the check engine light. Don't need to spend hundreds if this is all you are trying to achieve.)
- Emission Readiness Status
(Will help you find out if the car is ready to pass emission test.)
- ABS Anti-Lock Brakes
- Automatic Transmission
- Airbags / SRS / Restraint System
(Figure out why the airbag light is on)
- TPMS Tire Pressure Monitoring System
(Find out why the TPMS light is staying on.)
What is my budget?
- OBD2 Scanners in this range provide data from the Engine Control Unit (ECU). Which means they can read, clear fault codes and Check Engine Light.
- OBD2 Scanners in this price range can read and clear fault codes from the Engine Control Unit, ABS, SRS, Airbag, and transmission.
- Professional Diagnostic Scanners that provide in-depth troubleshooting of all vehicle systems. Similar functionality as the scanners used at car dealerships.
Keep these two points in mind as you choose the best scanner for your car.
We hope that after reading this article, you understand that it doesn't make sense to ask yourself "What's the best OBD2 scanner?" without trying to figure out what you are trying to accomplish.
For example, if you are looking for a good OBD2 scanner to read codes, and clear the check engine light all you need is a $20 scanner. In which case the winner is MS309 Scan Tool. It does that plus it shows you what the code means. You can also find out if the vehicle is ready for safety emissions test or if the buyer erased the check engine light before they sold the car to you.
On the other hand, if you plan on doing a lot of DIY auto repair or would like to troubleshoot more than just the check engine light, you need a more advanced scanner. You will need one that will allow you to diagnose ABS, airbag, transmission and engine problems. The best OBD2 diagnostic scanner to help you with DIY auto repair would be Launch Creader Diagnostic Scanner.
If you are an auto repair shop looking for a professional automotive diagnostic scanner a good starting point would be Autel DS708 Full System Scanner.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's the best OBD2 scanner for the money?
Autel MS309 is one of the best OBD2 scanners for the money. It will read fault codes (DTC) and clear them. Reset check engine light. Check if emission systems are ready. Display live sensor data.
What's the best OBD2 scanner with ABS?
Launch Creader Diagnostic Scanner is one of the best OBD2 scanners that provides ABS coverage. It also provides coverage for ABS and transmission. This scanner works on most cars manufactured from 1996 to present. Works on all car makes including Audi, BMW, Honda, Toyota, VW, BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Kia, Hyundai, etc.
What's the best OBD2 scanner for Torque App?
We have found that BAFX Elm327 Bluetooth Adapter works great with the Torque app.
What are some tips for buying an OBD2 scanner?
- You don't need to spend $100 on a diagnostic scanner if you are just trying to read, clear engine codes or reset check engine light. A cheap OBD2 scanner that only costs $20 USD will get this job done.
- If you are looking to buy a good OBD2 scanner with Engine, ABS, SRS/Airbag, Transmission troubleshooting capability, you will need to spend between $150-$250.