The automotive sector has undergone significant modernization in the last decade, with every auto vehicle computerized to facilitate new, advanced features. However, when a problem arises, such complex machinery makes repairing a tough job. This is where a car diagnostic tools come handy; but what is the best car diagnostic tool? Consumers are often caught up in this question.

Here, we have compiled a comprehensive guide of the best car diagnostic tool reviews. We analyzed leading brands and tools in the market to ascertain which products provide the maximum value for our consumers. Let’s begin!


Preview

Product

Software Updates

Display

Check Price

Autel MaxiDAS DS808K (Upgraded Version of...

Autel MaxiDAS DS808K

Yes

7 Inch LCD Touch Screen

LAUNCH OBD2 Scanner CRP129X Car Code Reader...

LAUNCH CRP129X

Yes

5-Inch Touchscreen With Side Buttons

Autel AP200 Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner Car Code...

Autel AP200

No

No

BlueDriver LSB2 Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scan Tool...

BlueDriver LSB2

Yes

No

ANCEL AD310 Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II...

ANCEL AD310 Classic

No

128 X 64 Pixel LCD

Autel MaxiSys Elite +MaxiTPMS TS601+...

Autel MaxiSys

Yes. - Free For Two Years

9.7 Inches HD Touch Screen

Innova 3160g Pro OBD2 Scanner / Car Code...

Innova 3160G

Yes – Free Updates

3.5 Inch LCD Screen

Autel MK808BT Wireless Bluetooth & Full...

Autel MaxiCOM MK808BT

1 Year Free Upgrades

7-Inch Touchscreen

FOXWELL Black NT624 PRO Automotive Obd2 Obdii...

FOXWELL NT624 PRO

Yes – Lifetime Free Internet Updates

4.3 Inch TFT LCD


Having engine trouble? Professional car diagnostic tools can help you get to the bottom of it and find the cause. They do this by working with the OBD (or on-board diagnostic system) of the car, working with the computer inside the car to tell you the state of various subsystems. 

These tools provide a full diagnostic scan, helping you find issues with build-up level in the combustion engine, ignition timing problems, fuel injector performance, engine rpm, camshaft and crankshaft positions, and much more.

How Do Diagnostic Car Readers Work?

A car diagnostic scan tool is an electronic device that is used to interface, diagnose, and in some cases, modify a vehicle’s control modules. The hand-held component is connected to the vehicle’s DLC (data link connector) to access the onboard diagnostics and live streams. Modern cars feature a complex web of built-in chips, microprocessors, and sensors that can communicate with the tool, allowing it to pinpoint where the problem lies with remarkable speed and precision.


Types Of Car Diagnostic Scanners

There are two types of professional car diagnostic tools – OBD 1 and OBD 2.

OBD 1

The first version of the 'onboard diagnostics’ was introduced in 1991 and offered basic diagnostic functionalities that included checking the emission system, monitoring engine performance and providing a warning in case of a problem.

OBD 1 scanners were made specific to the manufacturer, which meant that a scanner for a Ford would not work with a Honda vehicle. Additionally, an OBD 1 system could only work in cars manufactured before 1996. While useful for monitoring vehicle health, OBD 1 scanners were quickly replaced by better models such as the OBD 2.

OBD 2

OBD 2 was a significant upgrade that provided drivers with specific information and in-depth analysis for a wide range of cars and models. In this, the instruments are connected to the gadget to make interpretation easier for mechanics and vehicle owners.

The car auto diagnostic tool signals problems in letters – specifically, the format is as follows: letters first, followed by four numbers. The letters denote the area of the issue – for instance, 'B' signals body and 'P' signals powertrain. Similarly, the numbers are used to denote various errors, saving time required to identify the problem so users can get straight to repairing the issue.


Benefits of Car Diagnostic Scanners

There are various benefits of having prior knowledge of potential problems in your vehicle. For starters, you can save considerable time by identifying issues yourself rather than taking your car to the repair shop. Previously, car owners only visited technicians after a serious breakdown or malfunction.

Now, with the help of a car auto diagnostic tool, you can easily detect problems long before they cause severe damage to the vehicle. Even mechanics can infer detailed insights about the car and its previous history to understand the root cause of the problem; helping them give the best possible repair service.


Choosing a Car Diagnostic Tool Scanner

What factors should you consider when looking for a car diagnostic scanner? When looking for a professional car diagnostic tool, here are a few features or qualities you want to look for in particular:

Compatibility

Ensuring that you’re buying a tool that works with the specific vehicles you’re looking to diagnose is essential. Depending on region, make, year, and more, different cars have different OBD systems, so buy your diagnostic tool accordingly. Thankfully, Amazon and other online retailers offer the ability to check on their website if your make and model will work or not.

Data handling

These are digital tools, which means they need to be able to handle data well. Quick downloads and data backup mean that you can keep the diagnostic tool updated and quickly save any diagnostic data that you need to later rely on or show to your mechanic. Having the digital memory space to save all that data is important, too.

Function

How you plan on using the OBD scanner directly influences the model you should buy. You have to ask yourself – 'what functions do I really need?’ If you only plan to check whether your vehicle is in good shape, then a mid-tier version would be suitable. However, if you are a mechanic or are planning to work on advanced settings, then you should opt for a higher-end model.

Software Updates

As newer car models become more advanced and sophisticated, diagnostic tools have also evolved to meet the need. What if you buy a newer model, only to find out that the OBD scanner is not compatible This is why the latest car diagnostic tools feature software updates. Users need to check whether the scanner receives periodic software updates for newer models. While some brands offer free updates for a limited time, you can also pay to have your scanner updated afterward.

Brand Reliability

The best car auto diagnostic tool is one that is reliable and long-lasting. While reliability can be subjective, some OBD scanner manufacturers have garnered acclaim for producing high-quality models that are highly reliable. Examples include Autel, Ancel, and Bluedriver. Not only are these tools durable and accurate, but the manufacturers also offer exceptional after-sales service in case you run into a problem.

Ease of Use

In general, car diagnostic scanners come with a detailed manual to help you learn its functionality and features. Still, users must focus on the design of the tool to guarantee maximum ease of use. Options such as well-arranged buttons, an intuitive user interface, and an open menu layout can go a long way to ensure that you don’t have to stress yourself to find specific options.

Extra Features

The features vary from model to model; obviously, higher-end car diagnostic tool online will have more advanced options compared to a cost-effective model. Here are some essential features that are a must-have if you want to detect problems in your vehicle. These include:

  • Freeze Data
    It is an important feature as it stores the engine’s operating condition data at the moment an emission-related fault occurs. This is when the 'check engine light' comes on.
  • SRS and ABS functionality
    SRS (supplemental restraint system) – commonly referred to as Airbag capability and ABS (anti-lock braking system) – are important safety elements of a vehicle. Your OBD scanner should be able to analyze if everything is alright with these crucial functions.
  • Connectivity
    Do you want a Bluetooth car diagnostic tool? Or one that connects with Wi-Fi? The level of connectivity you desire influences what the best car diagnostic tool for you is
  • Real-Time Data.
    Real-time information allows you to check how your car is performing even while you’re driving.

OBD Compliance

OBD was formed as a result of the emission control program launched by the US government that required vehicles to become more efficient. When looking for the ideal OBD scanner, make sure to go through the manual and check if it is compliant with the regulations.

Price & Warranty

Price is a significant purchasing factor, which is why it is vital to gauge the scanner’s price based on its quality and your requirements. If you’re planning to use the OBD scanner in your workshop, then a more expensive option – with advanced features – will be more suited to your needs.

But the price isn't the only standard for quality; sometimes, a cheaper option might surprise you, whereas you might find an expensive model lacking in features. Same goes for warranty; while a warranty is necessary in case of a problem in the future, the duration depends on how much are you going to use it and other factors.


9 Best Car Diagnostic Tools Reviewed

We conducted an extensive car diagnostic tool review to come up with leading ODB scanners available in the market. Here are the 9 best car diagnostic tools that we have shortlisted:

1. Autel MaxiDAS DS808K

Our Top Pick

Supports Which Protocol

OBD2

Vehicle Compatibility

80 US, Asian and European makes after 1996

Software Updates

Yes

Display

7 Inch LCD Touch Screen

Battery Type

Lithium Polymer

Warranty

Yes – 1 Year Warranty

This full code reading and diagnostic kit comes as a tablet that can be quickly connected to the car’s onboard computer. This is the most expensive kit on the market using a powerful and quick quad-core processor, powered by Lithium Polymer Batteries, and weighing about 15.5 lbs.

A 7-inch touchscreen with its own backlighting makes the options and features easy to see at all times, with its own auto-brightness adjusting features to make it even more convenient. The tablet-based tool, connectors, and more all come in a handy suitcase, as well, so it’s easy to transport and carry around with you.

It can help diagnose most cars from a range of manufacturers, covering both Asian and European models, with the help of a handy AutoVIN feature that can help identify car make and model quickly. Other scanners may require you to find and enter the VIN manually, so the MaxiDAS can help cut one step out of the process entirely.

Besides reading and analysing trouble codes from the OBD system, it provides a much deeper diagnosis thanks to its advanced scanning technology. You can even create test reports and performance graphs with relative ease thanks to an intuitive user-interface that keeps your options readable and understandable.

What’s more, it offers the ability to reset and fix codes. Using this tool, you can cycle the ABS system, calibrate the weight sensor, bleed the ABS pump, reset transmission CVIs and much more, helping you address many of the problems that the diagnostics tool finds. The tool has reasonable memory capacity for saved reports and downloaded updates but can be enhanced even further thanks to the MicroSD slot that allows you to add up to 32 gigs of extra data with compatible cards.

This device connects to a Cloud-based data manager. This means that diagnostic reports, records on your specific vehicle, notes for the technician and more can be exported and uploaded, so they can be downloaded and reproduced on other devices with relative ease. The remote support is a handy feature, too. If you experience any bugs or issues, the device itself can help you connect to the Autel team and they can remotely control your device to troubleshoot it and help correct any issues.

Any bug fixes or updates that are released for the MaxiDAS are completely free for a year, helping you keep its diagnostic database up-to-date by simply connecting the device to the Wifi every time you get a prompt for an update. If you regularly deal with vehicle diagnostics, then the Autel MaxiDAS is a sophisticated, comprehensive tool that’s both professional and easy to use. If you’re able to take the costs, it’s hard to beat in terms of quality, functionality, and service.

Pros

  • Comprehensive diagnostic tool able to determine and fix multiple issues with your vehicle
  • Great user interface helped by smart lighting system
  • Efficient Cloud-based data management, back-up, update and report generating features
  • Compatible with a large range of European and Asian car models.

Cons



2. LAUNCH CRP129X

Best Car Diagnostic Tool Auto Scanner

Supports Which Protocol

OBD 2

Vehicle Compatibility

57 car brands supported. From 1996 onwards.

Software Updates?

Yes

Display

5-inch touchscreen with side buttons

Battery Type

400 mAh – rechargeable

Warranty

1 year limited warranty

As a brand dedicated to the maintenance and diagnosis of car systems, Launch is one of the trusted names when it comes to the best car diagnostic tool auto scanners. The CRP 129X is an upgrade on the previous CRP 129, with this model featuring advanced options and superior functionality. It has a 5-inch high definition touch screen, complemented with separate navigation keys and hotkeys to allow for smooth navigation.

This OBD scanner allows you to analyze your entire vehicle, including the engine, transmission, ABS, and SRS systems. Its advanced design allows data to be represented in rich graphs that are presented in real-time, thanks to freeze data technology. It also allows users to reset the warning MIL light, with all OBD2 functions such as the EVAP test or O2 sensor test. What’s more, the results and analysis can not only be stored but also shared and printed for later use.

Equipped with advanced reset ability, the CRP 129X can reset five key metrics, including oil, SAS calibration, and TPMS. Such features make it one of the leading OBD scanning tools in the market. Complete with OBD 2 compatibility, Wi-Fi enabled updates and nine language support, this model by Launch offers comprehensive vehicle diagnosis and maintenance that can save you expensive repairs in the long run.

Pros

  • Advanced features (AutoVIN, Auto Inspection)
  • Extensive reset capabilities
  • Automatic lifetime updates
  • Support for 9 languages

Cons

  • Hard to use; some users faced issues in understanding, and the user manual didn’t help as much

3. Autel AP200

Best iPlugin Car Diagnostic Tool

Supports Which Protocol

OBD 2

Vehicle Compatibility

OBD 2 compliant vehicles. From 1996 onwards.

Software Updates?

No

Display

No

Battery Type

N/A

Warranty

Yes. 12-month limited warranty

Autel’s AP200 is a small interface adapter that is used to attach the car’s diagnostic connector (DLC) with a smartphone device that runs on Android or iOS. User is required to plug in the Bluetooth connector and download the Maxi AP200 application on their smartphones.

Compatible with all major vehicle manufacturers, its distinct DIY functionalities make it the best plugin car diagnostic tool. Don’t judge it due to its size, as the little adapter can read system ECU information and conduct a diagnosis of various systems such as fuel, transmission, ABS, SRS, EPB, etc.

The Bluetooth connection casts a wide 33-feet perimeter that allows users to read DTC and locate problem areas while carrying their smartphones with them. The freeze-data allows for real-time updates on the car performance with crucial information being represented graphically.

It is designed to provide you quick access to maintenance systems, allowing you the ability to perform reset diagnosis on oil, EPB, BMS, SAS, and TPMS, to name a few. The Autel A 200 is OBD 2 compliant and allows access to all 10 OBD modes. Once the fault has been resolved, you can also turn off the MIL light conveniently.

Pros

  • Fast 'one-second' Bluetooth connection
  • Comprehensive diagnosis abilities
  • Economical size
  • Relatively lower price point

Cons

  • Only one free model allowed – users have to pay for advanced diagnosis in other vehicles

4. BlueDriver LSB2

Best Android Car Diagnostic Tool

Supports Which Protocol

OBD 2

Vehicle Compatibility

OBD 2 compliant vehicles

Software Updates?

Yes

Display

No

Battery Type

No

Warranty

1-year parts warranty

As one of the most popular car diagnostic tools, the BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro turns your smartphone into a powerful OBD scanner. It allows you to scan, diagnose, and possibly repair your vehicle. Everything you require to operate is included in the package, which means that users only have to plug the tool in their OBD 2 ports and pair it with their smartphones or tablet.

Its ability to connect using Bluetooth makes it the best Android car diagnostic tool, but it is also certified for use with iPhones. Designed to save you time and money, this professional tool scans your vehicle to return trouble codes and provides a list of possible causes accompanied by suggested fixes that have been identified by certified S-ASE mechanics.

Various key features distinguish the BlueDriver LSB2 such as free application updates, interactive data display, and unlimited repair reports backed by a vast 5 million reported fixes database. The scanner can read into complex trouble codes that surround the vehicle, including ABS, SRS, and transmission systems. For people who are not willing to spend a lot on their OBD scanner device, this represents an ideal option.

Pros

  • Easy to use interface
  • Huge trouble code database
  • Easy to carry around

Cons

  • Doesn’t support advanced reset features
  • The freeze time of 5 seconds is too long for live data

5. ANCEL AD310 Classic

Best Budget Car Diagnostic Tool

Supports Which Protocol

OBD 2

Vehicle Compatibility

OBD 2 compliant vehicles, manufactured after 1996

Software Updates?

No

Display

128 x 64 pixel LCD

Battery Type

N/A

Warranty

3 years warranty

Featuring a classic design and a robust LCD screen, the Ancel AD310 is a straightforward yet effective OBD scanner. It is much more than a basic code reader designed to help you determine the root cause behind the 'check engine' light. This model allows users to conduct a monitor readiness test, view real-time freeze frame data and a lot more features that are typically only available in higher-end models.

From KWP2000 to J1850 VPW and CAN to ISO9141, the Ancel AD310 supports all OBD protocols – this makes it an ideal fit for every vehicle make and model that has been manufactured after 1996. Priced at an astonishingly affordable rate, the advanced features of this OBD scanner make it the best budget car diagnostic tool for DIY enthusiasts.

Pros

  • Amazing price to value ratio
  • Standalone – doesn’t require an additional application
  • Simple design
  • Multiple language support

Cons

  • The limited options may concern some users
  • Some users have reported that it does not work with certain models

6. Autel MaxiSys

Full Of Features

Supports Which Protocol

OBD 2

Vehicle Compatibility

OBD compliant cars, manufactured after 1996.

Software Updates?

Yes. Free for two years.

Display

9.7 inches HD touch screen

Battery Type

Yes

Warranty

1-year warranty

Autel is one of the most trusted brands when it comes to producing OBD 2 scanners – and this model is no different. Packed with features and advanced scanning options, this is the best professional car diagnostic tool kit that we came across during our car diagnostic scan tool reviews.

As the name implies, the Autel MaxiSys Elite is a higher-end OBD scanner that not only allows you to diagnose commonplace trouble codes in your vehicle but also provides advanced programming capabilities. The design resembles a tablet, and with a full 9.7-inch screen, you may want to use both your hands when using this device. Connectivity can be established through multiple connectors, but Autel allows users to go wireless and use it with Wi-Fi.

The device also includes an 8-megapixel camera, alongside a flashlight and auto-focus function in case you want to take some pictures or even record a video. The Autel MaxiSys Elite also makes troubleshooting easier by displaying a short error description alongside the trouble code. The battery is undoubtedly long-lasting, with 8 hours of life on a single charge.

Made for advanced users, the device allows for ECU programming in select BMW and Mercedes vehicles. It also allows for active TPMS sensors and reading as well as diagnosing all TPMS related problems. Complete with multiple language support, the device is a must-have for professional auto workshop owners or trained car owners who like tinkering with their vehicle’s PCM.

Pros

  • Multiple connectivity options
  • Advanced programming and diagnosing ability
  • Intuitive navigation
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Some people may be concerned about the high price
  • Not designed for run-of-the-mill issues, the system offers little for low-end fixes

7. Innova 3160G

Easy To Use

Supports Which Protocol

OBD 2

Vehicle Compatibility

OBD 2 compliant vehicles, manufactured after 1996

Software Updates?

Yes – Free Updates

Display

3.5 inch LCD Screen

Battery Type

3 AA Batteries

Warranty

1-year warranty

This code reader and scanning tool is much cheaper than the Autel MaxiDAS, and much smaller, as well. It’s a handheld device that can easily be used in one hand, as opposed to having to be kept on your lap, with a 3.5” inch display and Bluetooth connectivity.

This diagnostic tool is compatible with a large range of US, European, and Asian models from 1996 onwards, including cars, hybrids, SUVs, and light trucks. Not only can it be used to read problem codes from the OBD system, but it’s also able to diagnose and help fix issues with ABS, SRS, to reset oil and battery maintenance, and even to test the charging system of the vehicle.

The Bluetooth functionality is one of the best features of this device, allowing you to stream data and trouble codes to other devices completely live, meaning it can be used with some of the best apps on the market that can help you identify problem codes and get more details on what’s wrong with your vehicle.

Despite the relatively small screen, the display is high-quality and intuitive, meaning that it’s not too difficult to find the feature you want and you won’t be fussing with accidental presses of the wrong thing. It presents more than error codes alone, with live data graphic that can help you see more details on performance than the average scanner usually allows you to do.

Innova has a reputation for creating some of the most comprehensive diagnostic tools on the market, and their database of vehicles and problems codes is always updating. As soon as you buy this device, you’re entitled to free software updates for the foreseeable. Combined with the fact this device is programmed to work with multiple OBD system protocols means that it’s effective at scanning a huge range of vehicles.

The device also comes with a free year-long trial of Innova’s Repair Solutions software package. This software helps provide even more information on what’s wrong with the vehicle, so you can use the problem codes provided by the tool to get more information on the issue and exactly what you can do about it.

Providing information like average costs and step-by-step instructions for a range of repairs, it’s a good tool to use alongside the Innova. While it might not have quite as many advanced features as more expensive kits like the Autel reviewed above, it provides a lot more information and functionality than your average scanner or problem code finder. With the added Bluetooth functionality that allows it to connect to a range of devices and apps, it’s easy to recommend the Innova 3160g to the average car owner who wants to more readily identify what is wrong with their vehicle.

Pros

  • Quick, efficient scanning and problem code production
  • Streams problem codes and vehicle data to other devices thanks to Bluetooth connectivity
  • Compatible with a huge range of vehicles
  • Highly portable and easy to use

Cons



8. Autel MaxiCOM MK808BT

Best Bluetooth Car Diagnostic Tool

Supports Which Protocol

OBD 2

Vehicle Compatibility

OBD 2 compliant vehicles, manufactured after 1996

Software Updates?

1 year free upgrades

Display

7-inch touchscreen

Battery Type

600 mAh battery

Warranty

1-year warranty

As another one of Autel’s entry in our car diagnostic tool reviews, this one is yet another excellent OBD scanner with advanced features such as wireless connectivity. Using a familiar Android OS, the scanner provides quick and agile Bluetooth connectivity – making it the best Bluetooth car diagnostic tool in the market. In addition, it also has Wi-Fi capability for connectivity, updates, and downloads.

The highlight of this model is its ability to provide detailed reports whenever you run a diagnosis, along with recommended fixes from certified mechanics. From your engine to your ABS system and brake pads to your emissions – with the Autel MaxiCOM MK808, you can detect every problem before it becomes a nuisance.

The advanced key coding feature also allows users to protect their vehicle from theft. If you ever lose the key, the Autel MaxiCOM can reprogram a new one for you – rendering the old key code useless. Another highlight of this model is the unlimited access it provides for diagnostic tools and resources.

Utilizing the MaxiFix platform, the ODB scanner allows access to all the features and support provided by Autel. This means that whenever you get stuck, you can access the support to receive expert guidance. With advanced VIN-based scan and multi-lingual support, this is an ideal mid-range ODB solution.

Pros

  • Offers detailed reports
  • Highly responsive touchscreen
  • Allows advanced diagnosis

Cons

  • Some users reported connection issues with their vehicle
  • Offers limited functionality, considering the price point

9. FOXWELL NT624 PRO

Free Updates For Life

Supports Which Protocol

OBD 2

Vehicle Compatibility

OBD compliant cars, manufactured after 1996.

Software Updates?

Yes – Lifetime Free Internet Updates

Display

4.3 inch TFT LCD

Battery Type

Not Specified

Warranty

1-year warranty

Only slightly more expensive than the Innova scanner, the FOXWELL code scanner is another handheld device. With a large 3.4” inch display, it’s compatible with a large range of European, Asian, and US makes and models. What’s more, it’s a standalone scanner so you don’t need to connect it to any external devices to get all of the information and features that it’s capable of providing.

Besides reading manufacturer protocols and scanning for problem codes, this device is also able to more effectively diagnose other subsystems of the car more effectively than the average generic scanner, including braking and parking systems, your ABS, transmission, airbag, and the air conditioning systems. It can provide live data graphs as well as reports so you can see the performance of your car in real-time to help you identify how the issues detected are affecting your vehicle.

Unlike other diagnostic devices, FOXWELL does not force you to pay up or re-subscribe for software updates after a certain period of time. You have a lifetime of free updates, helping you keep the device functional as well as keeping its database up-to-date with the latest vehicle and code information. The only drawback is that to update it, you have to manually remove the SD card and insert it into a smartphone, tablet, or computer to download the update directly onto it.

For a professional tool, the FOXWELL NT624 PRO is built to be easily used by beginners, as well. This is helped not only by the high-quality, clear, backlit display, but also the large buttons and a user interface that keeps your options concise while presenting all the information you need to know.

Unlike the Autel, it can’t program the car, but it can read and reset codes for the engine, turn off dashboard lights, and is compatible with a huge range of manufacturer protocols, meaning it’s compatible with more vehicles than the average OBD device. Add to that the extremely compact design and it’s easy to simply carry with you or store in the glove compartment of your car, to use a quick and efficient diagnostics tool whenever you need to.

All this makes the FOXWELL NT624 a great device for pros who want a much more efficient diagnostics tool but also for learning technicians and car DIYers. It’s not the most comprehensive tool on the market, but offers a lot more functionality than the average scanner, and the standalone nature of it means that you don’t have to fuss with other devices in order to learn exactly what’s wrong with your car.

Pros

  • Scans for problem codes, as well as more information on several different subsystems
  • Compatible with the majority of vehicles with an OBD system
  • Clear display, large buttons, and beginner-friendly user interface

Cons



Car Scan Tool Functions

The latest OBD scanners are designed to detect even the smallest of errors and malfunctions and alert the user. Remember, there are hundreds of components in your vehicle that can breakdown. Here are some of the functions that you should expect in the best car diagnostic tool auto scanner:

  • Transmission Diagnostics
    From overheating to poor electrical connections, several problems can arise in a transmission system that may cause emissions to exceed the maximum allowable limit. An OBD system ensures that you know where the issue lies in your transmission.
  • ABS/SRS/Airbag Monitoring 
    ABS (anti-lock braking system) and SRS (supplemental restraint system, aka airbags) are two of the foremost safety features installed in every automobile. OBD ensures that they are always in an optimal, ready-to-use state.
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System
    As the only contact point with the ground, your tires must have enough air pressure to sustain the weight of the vehicle. OBD keeps a close check on this and notifies the user if there is low pressure or some other problem with the tires.
  • Oil Reset
    With an OBD system, users can check whether their car requires an oil change, an oil filter change or if the oil pressure needs to be checked. Additionally, some vehicles provide an 'oil change' warning despite changing the oil – you can reset the light using OBD.
  • Battery Testing
    An OBD system clearly highlights the battery health, voltage, and other information, such as capacity. This analysis is essential for determining battery life.
  • Online Programming
    Most modern vehicles are completely computerized, with automatic transmission and sensors replacing manual controls. With OBD, you can access certain areas of the powertrain control module (PCM) to program the vehicle.
  • Key Coding
    Key coding is an essential security feature that allows your car to respond exclusively to the signal sent out by your key. OBD will enable you to code or 'program' another key with the same code, in case you damage the old one or need an extra key, just in case.
  • Freeze Frame
    As mentioned above, freeze-framing is the communication of real-time engine data to the OBD scanner. In some cars, it may work while driving, allowing drivers to monitor their vehicle performance in live conditions.
  • Air Fuel Ration And Oxygen Sensors
    An Air Fuel sensor is an upgrade on the conventional sensors that measure the oxygen content of the exhaust. OBD analysis allows you to highlight problems that may cause an A/F sensor to work inefficiently, such as contamination or wire shortages.
  • Battery & Engine Performance, Oil Temp
    Engine performance, battery health, and oil temperature are some of the most basic, yet important, metrics used to determine whether the vehicle is running efficiently or not. With an OBD diagnosis, users can know exactly where the problem lies, if there is a problem in the first place.

The Difference: OBD I vs OBD II

The onboard diagnostic (OBD) system was first designed to turn on the malfunction light in auto vehicles. Later on, the system developed into OBD 1 and OBD 2. There are several key differences between the two systems:

  • While OBD 1 only supports cars made before 1995, OBD 2 is compatible with every vehicle manufactured in and after, 1996
  • OBD 1 system was different for every manufacturer whereas OBD 2 is more standardized – in other words, one scanner can work for different manufacturers
  • The functionality of OBD 1 was limited, as it would only show the 'check engine light' prompt. OBD 2 shows specific codes for a wide range of problems and is considered highly accurate
  • The outcome of OBD 1 was minimal as it only inferred results by comparing fuel consumption with the output.
  • In contrast, OBD 2 takes different factors into account and provides prompts and messages in an improved format

To say one tech is better than the other would be like comparing old cars to the new supercars of today. Simply put, OBD 2 is an improved, upgraded version of OBD 1 and has several advanced features that make it superior.

Hence, the only condition in which you may require an OBD 1 scanner is if you are servicing a car that was manufactured before 1996 or a European manufactured vehicle that was made before 2001 (for gasoline-powered vehicles) or 2003 (for diesel-powered vehicles).


Corded vs. Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi Scanners

In our car diagnostic scan tool reviews, we came across three different types of OBD models in terms of connectivity: corded, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi scanners.

Corded scanners make use of a wire that connects the scanner with your vehicle. While most scanners come with a wire attached, you may be required to buy the wire separately in some cases.

Of the two wireless options, there is little that differentiates them. Data transferred between the OBD scanner and the PCM is in small amounts, which means there are no concerns over the speed of transfer and battery usage.

It’s important to note that Apple’s iOS does not support non-MFi (Made For iPod) certified Bluetooth adapters. Additionally, Android phones face an issue with Wi-Fi adaptors.

Whenever an Android is connected to a device via Wi-Fi, it treats it as an internet modem. Since an OBS adapter is not an internet modem, you cannot use your mobile data to search OBD trouble codes. As such, you have to disconnect the OBD adapter every time you want to search for a device.


How To Use Automotive Scanners

While features and functionality may vary across different models, most OBD tools tend to be similar regarding how they are used.

While most of them are built on the plug-and-scan model, a growing number of OBD scanners interact using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology. Here are some steps to get you started:

  • Plug It Into The OBD2 Port
    If you’re looking for a regular reading, then you can do so by turning the car on, but not starting the engine. If you want to measure it in real-time, you might as well start the engine.
  • Read The Code
    Typical smartphone car diagnostic tools have a power button to start them up. While some begin an automatic scan, some variants require you to surf through the menu to start the scan.If there’s a problem, the tool will communicate through relevant codes. While some tools store these codes and allow options for interpreting them, you should save them for later use.
  • Interpretation
    Internet is replete with what the codes mean and how to fix the problem quickly. Some error codes may point to one problem, but the root cause maybe somewhere else. In such a case, it is advised to bring the vehicle (and the codes) to an experienced mechanic.

If you’re looking for a guide on how to use OBD car diagnostic scanners, here's an excellent tutorial from YouTube.


Common Issues & Fixes

While OBD devices do not have many issues, there are some cases where your scanner might not work properly.

One common issue is that the scanner does not turn on when connected with the vehicle. This may be related to a problem with the fuse box. Here’s a guide that shows how to fix an OBD port that is not working.

Sometimes, the vehicle doesn’t communicate properly with the scanner. This might be an internal issue related to sensors that are not sharing information with the car’s PCM. An easy fix is to re-route the sensors and try connecting it with the OBD scanner. Here’s a guide to show you how it’s done.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can All Car Scanners Read All Control Units?

There are two distinct types of OBD car diagnostic tools that exist. The first is relatively cheaper code readers, and the other is a relatively expensive OBD scanner. The cheaper version can only make their way around generic trouble codes and highlight them for you. For better understanding, details, and access to more specific trouble codes, users are advised to buy the former.

Where Is The OBD2 Connector Located?

The default position for a vehicle’s OBD 2 connector is under the left side of the steering wheel. For a right-hand drive, the OBD connector will be placed on the right side. For information related exclusively for your car model, check the manufacturer’s website.

What Is CAN-Bus?

CAN-bus is the communication route between all the control units in the car, as well as the connection to the OBD 2 scanner. A common issue with CAN-bus is that when the line picks up an error, it kills the entire connection. If one unit breaks, communication as the whole breaks down.

Do I Need Any Other Tools To Read The DTC Memory?

Generally, having a DTC scanner alone can work. For some older brands such as BMW, you might require additional adapters to decipher the DTC memory. One useful tip is to use the car battery for the scanner since a charger results in varying voltage that might lead to a lot of incorrect trouble codes.

Is It Worth Buying Expensive Car Diagnostic Scanners?

The best car diagnostic tool auto scanners can read through complex trouble codes, show live data and additional graphical data, though some of these functions may not be useful for the average owner. In the end, the decision to buy an expensive diagnostic scanner depends on how you plan on using it. For a professional workshop, a costly scanner is definitely worth it.

How Much Does It Cost To Update These Scanners?

Every manufacturer has a different way – and price – of offering updates; for instance, many brands provide free updates for a specific time after purchase. Just make sure that you buy a scanner with the latest software installed for the best diagnostic functions.

What Do I Have To Do If The Light Goes Out Before Performing A Car Diagnosis?

These situations are commonplace where a minor issue arises, such as a loose gas cap or a foul spark plug. In such cases, you shouldn’t worry at all. There might have been a minor issue that caused the light to come on. This is not related to a faulty OBD system in any way.

What Are The Most Popular Car Diagnostic Tool Brands? Does The Brand Matter When Buying Diagnostic Tools?

Some of the most popular OBD scanner brands include Autel, Ancel, Foxwell and BlueFire, to name a few. There are a lot of brands in the market, but the reliability and durability of some of the brands mentioned above make them a safe choice. So yes, the brand does matter when buying diagnostic tools.

Do I Need Special Training To Use An Automobile Diagnostic Tool?

If you are well-versed with auto repairs and have a standard OBD system, then you may not require specialized training as the message protocols are simple and the instructions are clear. Some scanners feature advanced programming that may require some practice for an inexperienced user.

Can I Damage My Vehicle With A Scan Diagnostic Tool?

Most OBD scanners are well tested to ensure that they work correctly, without harming the vehicle. The standard protocol to ensure maximum safety is to connect the OBD system with the car battery to avoid voltage fluctuations. This may damage the control units, although it rarely happens.


Conclusion

For our car diagnostic tool reviews, we analyzed several ODB scanners on multiple aspects, such as features, functionality, design, etc. While every scanner on our list is high-quality, the Autel MaxiDAS DS808K certainly stands out as the best car diagnostic tool. From oil reset to SRS support, this model covers 23 special service functions that make it a comprehensive solution for all ODB related problems.

Equipped with Auto-Vin technology, the model quickly identifies the make of your car and locates the relative error, as well as the right fix for the error – making repairs inexpensive and swift. If you want a truly professional tool that offers all the functionality that a mechanic could need, then the Autel diagnostic kit is the right solution for you. It’s a premium device, even though it comes at a premium price.

While it’s a little heavier than the others, the sheer added functionality and the Cloud-based data management system makes it a truly professional tool. If you’re looking to spend a little less, then both the FOXWELL and the Innova are good value for money options.

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