Imagine you’re driving through a busy highway and your “Check Engine Light” suddenly repeatedly blinks like an ominous beacon of bad news. You’re instantly troubled. What’s going on? The car is still running well and sat in idle just fine a moment ago.
Is it an electrical fault? A false alarm? It will probably turn itself off at some point, right? It does, and you’re momentarily relieved.
And then the blinking comes back, sort of at random each time.
As the dawn of new-age cars, where everything is high-tech begins, you might be frustrated or even slightly intimidated by the complexity of some of today’s modern car engines, but don’t be. While much older vehicles involved specialized tools for a multitude of specific purposes, trips to the town’s resident mechanic was the norm.
Today, you can now avoid plenty of dodgy guesswork to figure out what was actually wrong with your car’s engine. Modern cars can now tell you all about what’s making them tick, thanks to the OBD-II. OBD simply stands for On-Board Diagnostics.
It is a sophisticated, high-speed diagnostic system with a lot of self-checks to keep your car running in top ideal conditions for as long as possible. This is much more convenient than it was decades ago, when taking the old family car down to the garage for that regular annual tune-up was the thing.
Today, an OBD tool will come up with a list of active fault codes (aka the things wrong with your vehicle) and what they mean.
For example, a typical OBD-II scanner will read a fault quote like”P0300: Cylinder Misfire Detected.” And if your current scanner model only shows a fault code, you can look up the explanation online yourself. This narrows down your possible options and you can now know where to begin troubleshooting for your car trouble.
Say you get a check-engine light, also referred to as a MIL (malfunction-indicator lamp) warning. To find out what’s possibly ailing your engine, simply attach an OBD-II scanner tool to the car’s port.
Start the car, and then activate the scanning function. Sometimes a specific engine fault is too tough to pinpoint, or more information is needed for you to decide how to proceed with fixing it.
More high-functioning sophisticated tools can show you the state of your car’s multiple sensors at the time of the warning, and they can display that time stamp’s live data. These extra bits of clues can be a tremendous help in determining exactly when a specific type of fault is happening, and what else is going on with your car.
This further narrows down your possible choices and basic automotive problem-solving become essentially easier.
If you end up dumbfound, or a repair is simply too big to take on by yourself, the OBD-II tool will still be helpful when you take your car to the repair shop for professional solutions. Your car mechanic, like a seasoned doctor, can now analyze the specific symptoms and make a starting point for your car’s diagnosis.
These are the most common reasons on why investing in these OBD-II tools will eventually save you money, but there are others too. Finding out why your “Check Engine Light” is on may help you save gas, car repair fees, and avoid more problems down the road.
OBD scanners can range in cost from about 20 dollars to several hundred dollars, depending on the type of scanner, functions, and accessories that may be included. A higher price range doesn’t necessarily safeguard quality or technical features, so be sure to be meticulous at looking at the details of your prospects to make sure that it’s worth the extra money that it will cost you.
Analyze carefully and plan your budget for an item like an OBD scanner. Consider the factors on how often you expect to use it, and how much in-depth information you would expect it to report. Simpler and cheaper devices will provide you with a code with a generic description that you can either consult with your mechanic or look up online yourself.
More expensive models will include more detailed information and technical specifics about the diagnosed fault codes.
We’ve scoured a vast selection of websites to give you the most recommended and highly-rated OBD-II scanners for 2019+.
For this comprehensive list, we’ve decided to give you several types of OBD-II devices at different price points to help you out.
Check them out below….
1. BlueDriver OBD2 Bluetooth Professional OBDII Scan Tool
This bluetooth OBD-II code reader is a great choice for an affordable high-quality and reliable wireless scan tool.
The BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBDII Scan Tool for iPhone, iPad & Android by Lemur Vehicle Monitors is a highly-functional professional scanner which offers one of the best wireless on-board diagnostics for your vehicle at its price range.
This bluetooth scanner does not scrimp on all the capabilities found in medium range scan tools and takes advantage of the functional benefits of your smartphone or tablet.
Device compatibility isn’t an issue for this little giant because the BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBD-II Scan Tool is licensed and certified for both Apple and Android devices.
Whether you are an android or iPhone user, the BlueDriver Sensor and the accompanying free installable BlueDriver App are designed to seamlessly and exclusively work with your mobile device to perform the following tasks for you: Read and Clear Codes, Repair Reports, Freeze Frame, Smog Check, Mode 6 or Advanced Test Results, and Live Data Reporting, among others.
For its price, this Bluetooth scanner would definitely give you more for your money by having a free app which is compatible with both Apple and Android devices. It is also able to work with vehicles from 1996 onward, and those special with CAN protocols.
Both the app and the device are easy and convenient to setup, as well as receiving its on-board diagnostics reporting in every use.
2. BAFX Products Bluetooth 34t5 OBD-II Scan Tool
This one is another bluetooth scanning tool that fits almost any budget. BAFX Products 34t5 Bluetooth OBDII Scan Tool works with most OBD-II apps for Android, but is unfortunately not compatible with Apple devices, setting it at a major drawback compared to our previous contender.
However, it still loads quickly and offers a wide array of diagnostic features, as well as management functions that lets you systematically troubleshoot, diagnose, and help you solve engine problems.
This Bluetooth scanner is also a great contender for your vehicle’s OBD needs, especially for beginners.
The BAFX Products 34t5 Bluetooth OBDII Scan Tool for Android Devices offers a cheaper scanning tool alternative for many car owners out there who don’t need much of the fancy perks of the higher-end brands.
For a cheaper price, you’re equipped with guaranteed features like vehicle compatibility with models manufactured and sold from 1996 onwards, and compatibility with vehicles designed on CAN protocols.
This little device also ranks high in durability, stable mobile device connection, lightning-fast data reporting, and top-notch technical support. Other major features also include the OBD-II Check Engine Light Code Reading, CEL Resetting, Sensor Reading, and Emission Testing.
3. ScanTool 425801 OBDLink SX USB
If you don’t like the idea of bluetooth scanners, perhaps the ScanTool 425801 OBDLink SX USB is for you.
Many prefer the two previous models for their wireless advantage, but if you want the solid reliability of a hard-wired connection to your car, then this USB model will appeal to you.
Aside from being one of the relatively fewer Windows-compatible scanners, ScanTool 425801 OBDLink boasts of special functions that are not common in other ODB-II scanners.
This scan tool contains a specialized function that informs the driver on various fuel-saving mechanisms and settings.
Over the course of your car’s road-life, the trickle-down effects of these fuel-saving techniques that are customized for your car, will save you a lot of hard-earned cash.
In addition, its wide compatibility with mobile devices allows earns itself a trump card over other OBD-II scan tool competitors by being one of the few able to do the work of many others.
The interface itself is also user-friendly and doesn’t take much of getting used to. It is convenient for users who don’t like cluttered and too-full nuances on their handheld device.
For example, the live data feed system of this scanner gives you real-time updates, while the screen displays relevant information for each step taken at troubleshooting, giving the technician useful tips on which parts to tinker with.
4. Autel AutoLink AL319 OBD II & CAN Scan Tool
It would be a crime not to include the Autel AL319 in any OBD-II scanner tool reviews. This scanner is a step above its competitors in the handheld game with its clear screen display.
This small powerhouse scanner enables the user to communicate with vehicle information without using a PC or a mobile device as an intermediary.
It also supports functionality with larger CAN vehicles and buses compared to some of the previous models. To sum up it all up, Autel’s AutoLink is great for beginners in light of its price.
A few of the other features that cement its advantages over comparable scanner models at its price point include its compatibility with a wider array of vehicles (both domestic and international).
This means it works on almost all of the 1996 and newer vehicles (both OBD-II and CAN), a definite plus if your car model is relatively few.
The multilingual menu and DTC definitions for the English, Spanish and French language are also a major plus.
It’s database and other troubleshooting management functions can be updated and upgraded over the internet, giving you better, faster, and more accurate diagnostics.
5. Foxwell NT301
The Foxwell NT301 is a multi-functional scanner with an LCD display screen. You can read and erase codes and also retrieve a data feed information from the Engine Control Unit (ECU).
The ECU what is what triggers the Check Engine Light to blink when your vehicle is experiencing a problem. The Foxwell NT301 scanner is both an OBD-II and EOBD scanner.
This tool covers all of the most popular vehicle protocols, making it compatible and easy to work with for virtually any vehicle manufactured from 1996 until the present.
Overall, it is one of the most cost-effective OBD-II scanners for its price-point range of under $100. NT301 works with vehicles of OBD-II and EOBD compatibility, meaning light-duty trucks, minivans, and even internationally sold hybrid cars.
However, it is crucial to keep in mind that it is a code reader for the CEL and is marketed only as such. If you’re looking to have other function lights on for your vehicles, such as the airbag, ABS, and traction control, it will still be unable to read and clear those codes.
For those functions’ readability, you will need to invest in buying a multi-system OBD-II scanner which is typically pricier than this one and would cost over $100.
Users who are fond of DIY repairs will surely appreciate the ingenuity of this scanner. Equipped with more advanced Live Sensor Data functions compared to the previous models, this scanner shows live sensors data in text and graph format.
It also allows you to hone in on any fishy or symptom-specific observable data parameters.
It is able to read freeze frame data and can show you specific engine function conditions like fuel trim, engine coolant temp, etc.
It also comes with a multilingual function, supported in several languages such as Spanish, Italian, Deutsch, English, and French.
If you are looking for a user-friendly and an easy-to-use OBD-II scanner, Foxwell NT301 is a great first choice.
While it may not be the cheapest OBD-II scanner in this list, it is one of the most sturdy and dependable OBD-II scanners out in the market.
It is also a perfect beginner choice for DIY enthusiasts who are looking forward to save money on their auto repair bills. In addition to that, it comes with a sleek 2- inch LCD and hot keypad.
While you can still purchase the cheaper OBD-II scanner models previously mentioned, the Foxwell NT301 is still a good contender.
It will only boil down to the degree of sensing difficulty that you purchase it for.
6. AUTEL AUTOLINK AL539
Another contender from lauded brand Autel, AutoLink AL539 has something that other OBD-II car diagnostics tools in its price range don’t possess: it diagnoses the health of your electrical connections using a built-in multimeter, allowing you to immediately diagnose electrical problems in your vehicle.
The AL539 is smaller and lighter body than the previous handheld Autel model in the list, weighing at a lightweight 10.6-ounces.
It also boasts of a unique pull-out specially-designed leg, allowing the device to stand on its own while your hands are busy with repairs. It also comes with a highly-functional as well as a generous 58-inch cable.
The bright display of the 2.8-inch color screen has customized icons assigned for major diagnostic functions, along with an eight-key interface in the handheld portion.
Its efficiency-readiness key has three designated lights that glow hues of red, yellow, or green (no faults) depending on the fault code diagnosis.
Positioned below the keypad interface are connectors for the multimeter detector’s in-package test cables, equipped to let you check continuity, current, and voltage.
A few seconds after booting up this handheld device, the AL539 quick go online with your vehicle, automatically displaying pertinent information like your car’s current engine speed, and coolant temperature among other items.
Once the diagnosed engine fault is solved, it immediately turns off the check-engine light warning on your dash.
The AL539 package includes a special padded case, a one-year warranty, and the accompanying PC software. If your vehicle is prone to having electrical problems, this is one of the best budget OBD scanning tools to get.
7. KIWITATA OBD2 Scan Tool
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly OBD-II car diagnostic tool and scanner, one of the choices that you might want to consider is this one handheld tool by Kiwitata.
While its is lacking compared to the rest in some aspects of its user-interface, it does a stellar job of analyzing and translating OBD-II codes.
Capable of collecting essential and basic fault codes such as functions regarding the fuel system, misfire, ac system, among others.
The Kiwitata features live visual on the graphing of your code data, as well as a rather huge data-storing capability.
Once you get a check engine light, plug it with the designated engine port, and it will not only deliver the malfunctioning code, but it will also translate exactly in plain technical terms exactly what that code means.
It is also equipped with the ability to read Freeze Frame function data. Whether you own a vehicle brand with an American, European, or Asian tag, the Kiwitata OBD-II Scan Tool will be able to accommodate your vehicle’s engine diagnostics needs.
Although it’s not one of the brands in the list of top-of-the-line tools designed with professional mechanics in mind, it is a handy device to have on you if you’re just a casual vehicle owner looking for the most basic essentials. Besides, for its price range, it is a solid and worthy buy.
8. TOPDON ABS/SRS CAN OBD2
The Topdon OBD2 car diagnostic tool measures t 9.8 inches x 5.4 inches x 3.8 inches. This makes it a lightweight and highly portable handheld diagnostics tool, and easy to store away in the glove compartment of your vehicle.
It comes with a multilingual option in the menu, allowing you to fully use the different functions in English, Spanish, and French. This is perfect for those living outside the US as well.
Equipped with a screen that is sufficiently adequate for its purpose, but not entirely remarkable compared to its competitors in the same price range.
That aside, it comes out as readable, and legible with its user-intuitive screens.
The Topdon shows its strengths in its ability to process a great number of vehicle metrics and diagnostic information.
It can collect, analyze and erase the cache of code data from several different engine systems, including OBDII, ABS, SRS, CAN, and EOBD; a feat that not many other brands consider.
Usually, engine systems readable in a scanner may include 3 of the above at most. It is also fully capable of storing data, as well as playing back diagnostic function data, and graphing fault code data in real time even as you drive.
Due to its ability to accommodate a vast array of types of systems, it can definitely be a useful investment for users with multiple-type vehicles, as well as used by professional mechanics in automotive repair shops.
It could also be used by owners that are leaning towards DIY repair to save money, and also for casual car owners.
9. Autel MaxiSYS MS906 Wifi Automotive Diagnostic Scanner
The Autel MaxiSYS MS906 is a next-level Automotive Diagnostic and Analysis System. It is the highest ranked customer-reviewed product for its high-cost price range on most automotive device selling platforms that we’ve found. And it’s for a good reason. Many, to be exact.
This scanner allows you to diagnose for a wide range of problems on vehicles from almost 90 manufacturers.
This includes both foreign and domestic companies, including Mercedes Benz, Audi, BMW, Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge.
The Autel MaxiSYS MS906 auto scanner allows you to go beyond just scanning and diagnosing the problems of your car.
You can reprogram keys provided that you get the necessary key code from your car dealer. It can also enable you to reset many standard system protocols.
Your check engine light and your ABS can then be customized according to your preferences. Say you want to reprogram your current ECU settings, even this feature is available for certain vehicle models.
The MaxiSYS MS906 comes with a magnificent 8.0” LED touch screen display that boasts of a 1024x768P resolution. It runs on an Android operating system and can readily link to the internet via WiFi connection to even expedite updates.
You can also connect it directly to your computer via USB port, and even comes with 32GB on-board memory card.
You’ll never have to worry about running out of storage space to save your diagnostic and live data feed information.
The Autel MaxiSYS MS906 comes with its own built in battery. Say goodbye to worrying about this scanner running out of juice. You also do not have to worry about plugging and draining your vehicle’s battery as you use it.
This battery powers the device, and also the 8 mega pixel rear camera that comes with it. Did we mention it comes with a flash light?
Ideal for taking pictures of your engine and uploading them to the web, this device is fully capable of connecting you to an online community of other Autel MaxiSYS owners, as well as professional Autel technicians. This is perfect for when you’re stuck in the middle of a hard fault.
They will all be able to help you sort any issues you may have with the system or technical problems with your vehicle.
Unlike the other scanner products on this list, this is the high-end tool is the most accurate of them all. In fact, the Autel MaxiSYS is the closest you’ll get to the diagnostic tools used by professional technicians at major manufacturers at present.
It comes within the accuracy of 85-100% of the work that their diagnostic machines do. The fact that the MaxiSYS operates on an android system allows for several levels of multi-tasking.
Run multiple tests at once with confidence in its results, and save time on your diagnostics.
Now that you’ve taken in a multitude of scanner types in different price ranges, it is important to reiterate and take note of the fact that not all vehicles support the reading of all sensors.
Readings supported can depend on what’s installed on the OBD-II system of your vehicle by the manufacturer themselves. Generally speaking, newer vehicles will provide more readings, as they come with relatively more specific functions than the older vehicle models.
Expensive code readers may not always be the most-suited for your vehicle. Always remember to check their specifics and compare them with your vehicle’s functionality and your own estimate of how technical you’d need your device to be.
Getting a simple yet reliable code reader that is functional and compatible with your car needs can still be your best option.