We can become so accustomed to expecting our cars to do what we want that it can be easy to forget how sophisticated the computers that power them are. The check engine light is a warning that something’s going wrong, but that alone won’t tell you anything about where to start with the problem. Whether you’re a would be mechanic who likes to resolve your own issues or a simple car owner who wants to prevent getting fleeced by a local mechanic, an automotive diagnostic scanner is one of the best tools you can keep in your vehicle.
This review guide will cover 10 of the best automotive diagnostic scanner models on the market. We’ll also provide you with some more general advice for tracking down the best model.
- 10 Best Automotive Diagnostic Scanners
- 1. BlueDriver LSB2 Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scanner
- 2. FOXWELL NT630 Plus OBD2 Automotive Scanner
- 3. Autel MS300 OBD2 Scanner Code Reader
- 4. BAFX Products OBDII Diagnostic Car Scanner
- 5. ANCEL AD310 Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Car Scanner
- 6. FIXD OBD2 Professional Bluetooth Scan Tool and Code Reader
- 7. Veepeak OBDCheck BLE OBD2 Bluetooth Scanner
- 8. NEXPEAK Universal Car OBDII Scanner
- 9. OBDLink MX+ OBD2 Bluetooth Scanner
- 10. LAUNCH OBD2 Automotive Scanner
- Automotive Diagnostic Scanner Buyer’s Guide
10 Best Automotive Diagnostic Scanners
1. BlueDriver LSB2 Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scanner
The BlueDriver LSB2 connects directly into the OBD2 port of your car and uses its Bluetooth capabilities to connect directly to the BlueDriver app on your phone. It combines the convenience of a plug-in scanner with the exhaustive functionality of a handheld automotive diagnostic scanner.The support for this code reader is some of the best around. The app is certified for use with both Apple and Android devices, and free updates are delivered regularly. The results produced by the Bluedriver Bluetooth code reader are sourced from a database of over a million fixes that have been verified by the ASE, and you can even access graphing of your vehicle computer's live data.
2. FOXWELL NT630 Plus OBD2 Automotive Scanner
If you've ever used the Window operating system, the interface of the Foxwell NT630 will feel familiar to you. This handheld automotive diagnostic scanner is one of the best budget models for amateur mechanics due to the bright and expressive screen. All the information you need is easy to access and simple to read, and the NT630 Plus will even automatically perform ABS bleeding for you after you perform maintenance on your brakes. And once you invest in the Foxwell, you'll have a tool you can trust to last a lifetime. This automotive diagnostic scanner comes with free upgrades for life.
3. Autel MS300 OBD2 Scanner Code Reader
The scanner Autel has produced is one of the cheapest automotive diagnostic tools around, and while it's far from the best choice for professionals or semi-professionals, it should meet the basic needs of more casual customers. As you might expect, the coverage here is more limited than in a more sophisticated automotive diagnostic scanner, but with this scanner, Autel does provide you with access to 7000 different codes as well as short descriptions to help you more accurately diagnose the issue with your vehicle. The standard OBD2 connector will work with most vehicles produced in the past two decades and the screen is bright and easy to read.
4. BAFX Products OBDII Diagnostic Car Scanner
If you want the convenience of a Bluetooth enabled automotive diagnostic scanner at a budget price, your best choice may be this diagnostic device from BAFX. It's designed to work with any vehicle in the USA after 1996 and is future proofed to take into consideration the latest protocol on the market. The one thing to keep in mind is that it's only compatible with Windows and Android devices, so Apple users will want to look elsewhere for their diagnostic needs. In addition to letting you pull and reset traditional computer codes, this Bluetooth OBD2 scanner can check your air/fuel ratio and pull up all of your emissions testing.
5. ANCEL AD310 Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Car Scanner
Ancel isn't exactly breaking new ground with their AD310 auto diagnostic scanner, but they really stick the landing by providing one of the best interfaces and all the standard features you'd expect for an automotive tool in this price range. The LCD screen display is bright and expressive and the menu neatly laid out to give you easy access to all the diagnostic information you could need. You don't need any technical knowledge to make use of this diagnostic code, as even an inexperienced user can learn how to check and reset the coding on their automotive computer in a simple matter of minutes.
6. FIXD OBD2 Professional Bluetooth Scan Tool and Code Reader
This model from FIXD may be a bit more expensive than the models built for the casual customer, but it's a professional automatic diagnostic scanner that can suit the needs of more serious mechanics. It doesn't just read and reset your check engine code. It provides you with results in clear English that can make you feel like a pro even if you're still learning the language of automotive repair and maintenance. It can even provide you with estimated repair costs upfront so you'll never be blindsided by upcoming costs to your vehicle. It can also provide you with live data in real time so you can quickly address an issue before it becomes compounded.
7. Veepeak OBDCheck BLE OBD2 Bluetooth Scanner
If you're searching for the best diagnostic tool that can provide you with continuous coverage of your car's performance and you aren't willing to spend a fortune, you need the Veepeak OBDCheck. It runs on the reliable Bluetooth 4.0 protocol and coordinates with a highly intuitive app that works for both Android and iOS devices. That means that you'll always know what's up with your car's performance without having to perform periodic checks. The OBDCheck can reset your check engine codes and provide you with all the information you need to make an educated analysis of any issues on the horizon, and it provides real time live data for your peace of mind.
8. NEXPEAK Universal Car OBDII Scanner
Even if you've never worked with a diagnostic tool before, you'll have no trouble learning the ins and outs of this model by Nexpeak. The full color screen provides you with a clear and easy to understand view of your entire vehicle's health, and it provides a wealth of different features that go beyond all the standards. These features extend past simple check engine analysis to provide you with the ability to analyze battery failure and reset your battery as necessary and automatically scan your car's VIN. And the freeze frame data provided by this device offers you more incisive context for why codes are popping up in your car's computer. If you want an affordable maintenance device, you'd be hard pressed to find a better model.
9. OBDLink MX+ OBD2 Bluetooth Scanner
The OBDLink may not have the most original name, but it boasts the widest analysis of codes available in a wireless scanner. That's a huge boon if you're trying to search for the root of a problem and looking at an esoteric issue specific to a unique make or model. And it's great for archiving issues. Not only does it work with both iOS and Android devices, but it's also compatible with Windows machines. And the fact that it can connect directly to the cloud means that you can keep records of your car's performance. That's an especially useful trait for fleet or commercial vehicles. The compatibility of this device is practically unmatched.
10. LAUNCH OBD2 Automotive Scanner
The value offered by the Launch OBD2 scanner is exceptional. You can get this device for barely more than $20, and while the interface itself is utilitarian, it makes use of a color screen that's easy to navigate and built on strong fundamentals. It doesn't just provide you with codes. It helps you interpret them. And it's an especially feature rich gadget. Live data and freeze frame information allows you to examine the full history of your vehicle and pinpoint the root of any issues you're dealing with, and it's available in seven different languages, so you should be content with the services offered regardless of where in the world you are.
Automotive Diagnostic Scanner Buyer’s Guide
A code reader can provide you with all the data you need to more accurately identify the issues with your car, and it’s a great choice even if you aren’t the most technically proficient customer around. But we want our readers to understand the features and capabilities that they can expect from an automatic diagnostic scanner so they can track down the best. Below, we’ll provide the coverage you need so you can understand the functions and features and find an automotive diagnostic scanner that supports your needs.
Code Reader Type
When you’re looking for an automotive diagnostic scanner, there are two main options to choose from.
A handheld model is a perfectly standalone device with its own LCD screen display and a dedicated control terminal built in. They typically look like a heavy duty remote control and come with a user interface built right in so the customer can handle everything they need right through the device. This makes them a great choice if you’re looking for a professional automotive diagnostic scanner. This type of automotive diagnostic scanner is often used by mechanics because everything is handled on a single device, and they often deliver a lot more functions and features to the customers than a plug-in model.
That said, plug-in Bluetooth enabled OBD scanners come with their own advantages, the most obvious of which is convenience. Since they connect directly to the OBD port on your car, they can provide constant coverage of your car’s health. They’re the best choice if you have a single car that you want to track in real time, and most come with live data and notifications that let you know ahead of time when your engine is having issues. Notifications deliver error codes directly to your phone, but they aren’t the best choice if you need coverage for multiple cars at the same time.
OBD stands for on-board diagnostics. If yo’re shopping for a diagnostic device, there are fortunately standards that the computers for most cars follow. First developed as a ways of monitoring emissions in the United States, the consistency of the OBD protocol also ensures that cars from most manufacturers are going to support the same coding standards. For customers, that means it’s easy to find the diagnostic scanner that suits your needs.
If you live in the United States, parsing the right coding protocol is easy for the customer. Any car released in the United States in 1996 or after is going to be compatible with diagnostic tools that support the OBD2 format. Even if you live overseas or bought a rare imported car, you’ll probably be okay with this format. Canada adopted the OBD2 protocol in 1998, and most European and major Asian manufacturers started incorporating this standardized coding in the early 2000s. The latest adopters are India and Thailand in 2013, but if you’re driving a car bought in the past quarter century, you’ll probably be fine with an OBD2 diagnostic tool.
OB2 was preceded by the OBD1 system, although implementation is a little spottier. Most cars bought in the United States from 1992 to1996 offer support for a compatible OBD1 scanner, but that’s not always the case. You’ll want to check the mod to make sure that your device supports these functions. You’ll want to examine your car’s user manual before you choose a scanner for your needs. If you have an import car, check for the JOBD or EOBD designation. These stand for Japanese Onboard Diagnostics or European Onboard Diagnostics, and customers can rest easy knowing any one of these vehicles supports the functions of an OBD2 device.
Making sure that your device is compatible with your car is the first order of business, but if you’re looking at a Bluetooth model or one that connects directly to your computer, you’ll also want to make sure that it’s compatible with your operating system. Most Bluetooth enabled plug-in readers are compatible with both Android and iOS phones, but a few will only work with Android phones. The ability to connect readers to your computer directly can be a huge boon if you’re serious about checking in on error codes, because it allows you to store in depth analysis for the most important diagnostic information.
The great thing about OBD is how standardized it is, but the error codes themselves can be hard to comprehend by someone new to the field. Fortunately, many diagnostic scanners come with detailed information on what each code means so the customer doesn’t need to understand the deeper meaning. That said, having a knowledge of these error codes can help the customer parse the information at a glance. An error code is generally preceded by a letter that tells you the functions being disrupted along with a series of numbers that provide you with more specific data. Here’s what readers need to know about the basics of error codes.
- A code with a B preceding the numbers indicates a problem with the vehicle body. These are often safety functions related to the seat belts or airbags, but it can also relate to comfort features associated with components like power seating controls.
- A code that displays a C at the beginning is registering an issue with the chassis. If you have a problem with the ABS SRS system, are dealing with misaligned wheel axes, or need to adjust your steering or brake fluids, it will register as a C code.
- A code that starts with a P refers to an issue with the powertrain functions. These are the most common errors and covers the engine, ignition, fuel systems, and drivetrain.
- A U code relates to most issues that don’t fall into the three other categories and is understandably a grab bag category for failing functions. Unfortunately, these are more complicated issues. Unless readers are especially well versed in mechanical issues, they’ll need to take their car to a dealership when their car displays a U code.
- If the first number following the letter is a 0, that means the issue is a global one, and the standards will be uniform regardless of who manufactured your vehicle.
- If the number following the letter is a 1, that’s unique to the model of your car and isn’t used by most manufacturers.
- If the number following the letter is a 2 or 3, it may be a generic code, but chances are that it’s specific to the manufacturer. It may be consistent across multiple models produced by the same manufacturer, but readers may want to go online to research the specifics of what it means for their car.
As the section about makes clear, a full diagnostic of a car can be complicated. While many of the codes you’ll find are consistent across any make or model, there are a lot of codes that are specific to a manufacturer or even a model. And how much information you get from your diagnostic scanner can vary wildly depending on the model.
Most diagnostic readers under $50 are going to provide you with the code itself along with perhaps a basic interpretation of what that code means. A professional automotive diagnostic scanner will draw from databases with millions of data points produced by officially certified mechanics to can offer you incredibly detailed information on what they mean. These are some of the most critical features for serious mechanics, but they can be dangerous for more casual consumers.
This is a situation where making assumptions can be dangerous. If you reset oil codes based off a single data point, you may be fine, but you may also be neglecting a larger issue. Modern vehicles are incredibly complicated, and the diagnostic information you receive isn’t a replacement for the skills of an experienced mechanic. If you aren’t an experienced mechanic, we recommend you not reset engine codes, because any given diagnostic issue isn’t always clear cut. These codes can be a great place to start when analyzing an issue, but they often won’t tell you the whole story. We advise you to only reset your codes if you’re 100% confident that the issue has been resolved.
If you’re looking at a device that supports Bluetooth, you can rely on the resolution of your phone. But if you choose to invest in a handheld model, the display is going to be very important. Whether you’re looking to reset your codes or make use of a variety of diagnostic features, a great interface is essential. The best models find the perfect balance between providing you with a wealth of information and also creating a UI that’s simple to navigate the various functions and features available. That’s especially important with a professional automotive diagnostic scanner that’s built to provide you with freeze frame data and other granular information about the car’s performance?
Is a color screen necessary? No. In fact, many experienced mechanics looking for a professional automotive diagnostic scanner might find it to be a distraction. But if you’re working with a scanner for the first time, your best choice may be pursuing a display that uses a format you’re comfortable with. Some models are designed off of the existing Windows interface, and these are one of the best choices if you’re looking for a tool that will feel comfortable right out of the box.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Car Diagnostic Scanner is Best?
Whether you’re a mechanic or an average consumer, your needs are going to be different, but there’s no scanner on the market that matches the versatility of the OBDLink MX. It’s compatible with so many third party apps and so many operating systems that it should suit just about anyone’s needs, and the amount of codes in its database are truly staggering. It also offers a wealth of quality of life functions like cloud uploading and a BatterySaver sleep mode.
What is the Best Snap-On Diagnostic Scanner?
A snap-on diagnostic scanner is a savvy choice if you want to stay ahead of the curve with maintenance, but there are a number of models to choose from. At HotRate, we’re partial to the Fixd scanner. It offers the full range of features a casual consumer might demand. Casual consumers will love the in depth information it provides for each error code along with features like the reset battery function, but more serious mechanics can treat it like a professional automotive diagnostic scanner. And the optional subscription service means you’ll always be up to date with the latest factory changes for your vehicle.
What is the Best VW Diagnostic Tool?
The great thing about a diagnostic scanner is that the features built in are available in most makes and models of cars. If your device is OBD2 compatible, you can count on it to work with any model produced during or after 1996. That means that any of the models on our list will suit your needs admirably.
Consumers often see a diagnostic device as a convenient way to reset the pesky check engine light on their car, but a good device offers significantly more than that. The most basic scanners provide you with all the tools you need to perform early analysis of diagnostic problems, but the best models provide you with comprehensive data about your vehicle’s performance. How many features you need really comes down to how serious you are about tracking the life of your vehicle, but we’re confident you can find a model that suits your needs in our guide.