Written By
Published Oct. 14, 2021

With the influx of new technologies, modern vehicles are packed with a number of onboard diagnostic systems. While that means better problem solving, the old days of just reading engine fault codes are gone. Thankfully, today’s OBD2 scanners can help determine much more about the overall health of cars. These scanners offer the owner access to the various systems and major components inside the car to detect issues. There are many OBD2 scanners available, so which is ideal for your vehicle? Here are what we consider the best OBD2 scanners on the market.

Best OBD2 Scanner Reviews & Recommendations

Our best overall OBD2 pick comes from Ancel. It not only diagnoses the engine, it’s also able to read just about every diagnostic trouble code your vehicle can generate. It also uses live data to monitor things like clutch engagement, fluid temperature, and pressure across the transmission system. Additionally, you’ll be able to crank through every ODB2 function you would expect from a great scanner. So, naturally, it can read and clear error codes and silence warning lights, but it can also perform smog tests and oxygen-sensor tests so you know what you’re in for the next time you take your vehicle in for testing.

It works on 46 automotive brands, including most 1996-and-newer domestics and 2002 and newer as well as European vehicles and 2005-and-newer Asian cars. The main downside is that you’ll typically have to perform a software update in order to use it, and the instructions on the screen as a first-time user might be complex.

Specs
  • Brand Ancel
  • Model FX2000
  • Weight 1.59 pounds
PROS

Wide vehicle coverage

Registers live data with the ability to record and graph live data streams

Displays oxygen sensor test results to check fuel efficiency and vehicle emissions

Lifetime upgrade online via PC

CONS

Not easy to navigate

May require a software update to use

Connectivity issues

The impressive Autel MS309 is the perfect car diagnostic device for those on a budget. It’s one of the best options if you need to quickly run your vehicle’s diagnostic. This OBD2 scanner performs functions such as viewing a freeze frame of a specific moment to determine the cause of engine knocks. The MS309 also does smog checks, discovers vehicle information, and clears codes that are faulty.

The scanner is compatible with most newer European, U.S., and Asian cars but if you prefer operating with sleek devices that use today’s technology in graphics, you may think twice as Autel is a bit traditional. It has a small screen that can make reading it difficult.

Specs
  • Brand Autel
  • Model MS309
  • Weight 9.3 ounces
PROS

Easy to control

Ergonomic design offers solid grip

Displays DTC definition on the screen Views freeze-frame data

CONS

Small screen size

Some models are faulty and do not last long

Premium Pick

Our best premium OBD2 pick comes from ‎Innova. The coolest function of this model is the bidirectional feature that allows the unit to ping the vehicle and send commands to test certain functions. Just like the scanners at the dealership, you can even make adjustments to the vehicle. With an adapter, you can diagnose vehicles made before 1996. Naturally, it also does all the normal scans you would expect, and it even pings tire-pressure monitoring systems in newer vehicles, if equipped.

This model links to the RepairSolutions2 app, which is populated with technical service bulletins, recalls, and more to help you fix what ails your vehicle, however,it is a bit pricier than some other options. Watch for connectivity issues that can affect usability. Also, the bidirectional feature may not work on every vehicle depending on make, model, and year. Finally, the unit uses a mini-USB connection, which is less common these days. So if the cable is missing, either from shipment or once you take delivery, replacements can cost you up to $10 on top of the already expensive unit.

Specs
  • Brand Innova
  • Model 5610
  • Weight 1.26 pounds
PROS

Bidirectional feature

Scans TPMS functions

Populated with parts, TSBs, recalls, and more through the RepairSolutions2 app

CONS

Pricey unit compared to some

Uses older mini-USB connection Some

Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity issues

Each of the options on our list delivers a different take on the ODB2 scanning process. BlueDriver simplified things with a small plug-in unit that only weighs 2 ounces. It links to your smartphone via an Apple or Android app, which means you can have a dynamic look at what’s going on under the hood.

Since the LSB2 works via smartphone app, you’ll get regular, free updates as new information is added to the system. While some other scanners need to be connected via USB or Bluetooth to get the latest software update, you can just update your app via the app store. The most common downside is that Bluetooth loses connection occasionally. It also does not always read live diagnostic data, and some features are only available in North America.

Spec
  • Brand BlueDriver
  • Model LSB2
  • Weight 2.08 ounces
PROS

Sleek lightweight body design with no cords

Data is shown via smartphone in either graph, digital displays, or gauges

Advanced test results (such as misfire counts)

Technical service bulletins and more

CONS

Connectivity issues mean live data may not be available

Advanced features on the scanner only work in vehicles in North America

Most Versatile

The Launch scan tool is an interesting take on the OBD2 scanner. While some other products can be used via your phone, this one is actually built off of Android mobile technology. It runs on the Android 7.0 system and displays through an easy-to-read 5-inch LCD screen. You can perform updates via Wi-Fi to make sure your system is up to date, and it will scan four systems including the engine, transmission, airbags, and ABS.

You get a five-year warranty on the product in case you run into quality problems. Language support includes English, Spanish, German, French, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese. There are some downsides to this particular scanner. Make sure you are getting the U.S. version, as the international version isn’t guaranteed to work on your vehicle. Also, the connecting cable is a bit short, making it challenging to use in cramped environments.

Specs
  • Brand Launch
  • Model CRP129X
  • Weight 2.86 pounds
PROS

Wide array of in-vehicle diagnostic functions

Free lifetime updates

Easy to use 5-inch HD touchscreen

CONS

Ensure you get the U.S. version

Connecting cable is too short

How We Selected the Best OBD2 Scanner

We researched dozens of OBD2 scanners to help you find the right option for your vehicle, weighing owner assessments against our own expertise, including years of experience wrenching and diagnosing issues in our own garages and driveways. We also prioritized well-known, high-quality OBD2 brands. 

Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing on all of these products yet, we’ve looked at consumer testimonials and data, tutorials, and general discussions on social media and in forums. We also consider price and specification in the context of the segment. And, of course, we rely on our institutional knowledge of the automotive landscape to weed out weak products.

Buying Guide/What to Look for

Wrenching in your garage is a time-honored tradition. When things go well, fixing something yourself is an incredibly rewarding experience. As a do-it-yourselfer, however, you are at a disadvantage compared to dealership tech. The ability to quickly and accurately diagnose issues is critical to living a DIY life.

There are many good OBD2 scanners offered at a variety of price points. Our guide spells out various types of scanners and other considerations to look for to help you find the best scanner for your vehicle. 

What to Consider When Buying OBD2 Scanners

Types of OBD2 Scanners

Scanners come in all shapes and sizes. Most units are either handheld or wireless and while some basic products just read codes, others do a lot more. Your needs may vary depending on a variety of factors, so let’s get into the ODB2 basics. 

OBD2 code readers

If you want the bare minimum, you can get an inexpensive OBD2 scanner code reader. OBD2 code readers can display basic diagnostic trouble codes, which trigger your vehicle to display the presence of a fault. The information is in the form of a four-digit code, and you’ll have to hop on Google to find out what it actually means. Some of these units are able to clear the code as well, which is helpful. 

DIY scanners

Moving up the scale are the majority of the scanners from our “best of” list. These scanners can have their own screen or come as a dongle that links to your smartphone. They are actually pre-populated with information about vehicle-specific codes, plus customizable access to both live and pre-recorded data about your vehicle’s health. They can also do the basics such as clear codes, and some are bidirectional and can actually tweak and tune elements of your vehicle’s system that are linked to the onboard computer. 

Professional scan tools

At the top of the ODB2 food chain are the professional scanners. These tools, which usually cost thousands of dollars, provide all you need from a scanner. They also have advanced functional features such as ECU programming, ECU adaptations, and sophisticated adaptations. Professional scan tools typically have several connectors that make them effective across a variety of vehicle makes and models. The main selling point of these scanners is their ability to save diagnosis data. This data can be used for long-term maintenance and tuning to help resolve problems and retain vehicle history records. 

What to Look for When Buying an OBD2 Scanner

There are several key factors to consider when searching for the best OBD2 scanner to purchase, particularly brand, connectivity, functionality, and price. Whether you are a novice wrencher or a professional mechanic, it’s important to weigh all the options.

Brand

Like any other DIY or professional tool, the brand’s quality is of utmost importance. There are a number of reputable OBD2 scanner brands, including Autel USA, Actron, BAFX Products, Launch Tech, ScanTool, Innova, and Lemur Motors. Do your research and always read recent reviews to make sure you are buying from a reputable brand.

Connectivity and Functionality 

An OBD2 scanner can either be corded or connected via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Slow Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals can slow down your work, so choose carefully. However, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi scanners generally consume less power and can be updated wirelessly or through app store updates. Also, watch for corded scanners that don’t actually include the cord. 

You should choose a scanner with your car and your current and future needs in mind. If you are a DIY enthusiast on a budget, go for a scanner with basic features. Similarly, those working on a big project or professionals should opt for scanners with advanced features. 

Scanner Price

From basic code readers to scan tools and wired and wireless scanners, each comes with a different price tag. Conversely, factors that determine the price of a scanner are the features and warranty. That said, pick one that suits your budget. Wi-Fi-connected scanners, for instance, are pricier than Bluetooth adapters, which are pricier than wired versions. Buying apps for wireless scanners can also add to the costs.

Tips and Tricks

OBD2 scanners are undoubtedly beneficial onboard diagnostic devices that can save on automotive maintenance costs. Despite the various models with varying functionalities present, the general application is pretty simple. 

  • Ensure that your vehicle is turned off. You can then plug the scanner into the port, which is often under the driver’s side of the car’s dashboard.
  • Start the car and wait for the scanner to boot. If it doesn’t boot automatically, press the power button. 
  • Once the scanner is ready, feed all the requested data, which can include the car’s model, engine type, and VIN. Some scanners will read that automatically. 
  • Wait for the scanner to read the vehicle’s diagnostic system and provide the single or multiple trouble codes. 
  • You can note these codes or transfer them to your mobile phone or laptop using Bluetooth.
  • Using the scanner’s manual or the internet, check for the meanings of the trouble codes to fix your vehicle.
  •  Lastly, switch off the vehicle and carefully unplug the scanner.

FAQs

Q: What is the difference between OBD1 and OBD2 scanners?

OBD2 is basically just the second generation of the ODB world. It’s a more advanced technology and can provide better and more standardized vehicle protocols and system checks data. All OBD1 units required a corded connection, while newer OBD2 can be connected hands free via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. ODB2 has become the standard tech at this point, so unless you are working on a vehicle that’s older than a 1995 model, that’s likely what you’re using.

Q: Is wireless better for ODB2 scanners?

Not necessarily, but it’s certainly more convenient. Many like the reliability of wired scanners, because it means there is no lag or connectivity issues. Reviews of wireless scanners are full of people complaining that their scanners don’t connect or lose connection during a scan. Wireless scanners are usually more expensive, so shop carefully.

Q: Where do I plug in the OBD2 scanner?

The owner’s manual for your car should be able to direct you to the vehicle’s port that is typically located under the driver’s side of the dashboard. There is a universal 16-pin connection that ODB2 scanners will plug into, just be careful plugging them in and removing them so that you don’t bend a pin.

Q: What do I do with diagnostic trouble codes?

Basic code readers will just give you a four-digit code. Google the code along with “ODB2” and your make and model, and you’ll generally find what you are looking for. Once you have the issue in hand, you can Google what do about it.

Final Thoughts

The current market is saturated with OBD2 scanners. However, the Ancel OBD2 Scanner is our top choice for its enhanced four systems of diagnostic ability. The device can also graph, record, and replay live streams. It also has a wide vehicle coverage and an intuitive interface for easy handling. The impressive Autel MS309 came in as our budget choice. It’s one of the best options if you need to quickly survey your vehicle. This OBD2 scanner performs many functions despite its price.

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