Best OBD2 Scanner for the Money [Reviews and Comparison]
The easiest way to troubleshoot and diagnose a problem is by performing a quick check with a OBD2 scan tool.
The dreadful check engine light is on? ABS light on? Just plug the best obd2 scanner and in a matter of minutes, you'll know where the problem is!
So without wasting any more time, here's my review of my favorite 5 scan and diagnosys tools.
A few of them are every-day multi-purpose tools, like the Innova 3160e or the 3100i. Others like the Autel Maxisys are only for the serious, professional technician in need for a Jarvis that can do everything. Let's get into it.
OBD2 Scanner Comparison Chart
|Innova 3100||Yes||No||Battery/Alternator test, freeze frame|
|BlueDriver Bluetooth||Yes||Yes||Bluetooth, Android and Iphone Compatible, Live Data, Freeze Frame|
|Actron CP9580A||Yes||No||Graph live data stream, freeze frame, trilingual.|
|Innova 3160e||Yes||Yes||Stream and record real-time Live Data, Oil and Battery Reset|
|Autel Maxisys Elite||Yes||Yes||ECU Code and Programming, Key Coding, bi-directional operations|
On this Scan Tool comparison chart you can check the features of this OBD2 Scanners.
If you don’t know what an OBD2 scan tool is, that’s ok. Most people who aren’t experienced home mechanics or part of the automotive DIY crowd don’t know either.
What you may not know is that even if you aren’t into doing all of your own car maintenance or even basic car maintenance, having a good OBD2 scan tool can save you a lot of money, especially if you have a late model or older used car.
So what is an OBD2 scan tool? It is very simple.
OBD is an acronym for On-Board Diagnostics, and the 2 in the designation stands for 2nd generation scan tool. In the 1980s, the U.S.
Federal Government made it mandatory for all automobiles to come standard with an onboard diagnostics system connected to a car’s computer so that owners would be aware right away if there was a problem with their automobile due to warning lights on their dashboard.
In the past this meant going to a shop and paying a fee to get your codes read, but today that is no longer necessary due to advances in automotive accessory technology
In no particular order, here are the best OBD2 scanners for the money on the market today. Some are feature packed and more expensive, while others are more economical and basic in function. Take a look, and we’ll let you know which one we recommend as the best overall option later on.
OBD2 Scanner Reviews
1. INNOVA 3100
In terms of OBD2 scanning tools, Innova has been the industry leader in terms of resilience and efficiency.
Rarely will you hear a technician or mechanic complain about problems with an Innova Scan product, and they are very popular among the automotive DIY crowd, too.
The 3100 is the latest model in their extremely successful (over 1 million units sold) Model 3000 line, and it is one of the best models on the market.
Primarily, the 3100 makes a good choice for home OBD2 scanning tool users because more technicians and mechanics are familiar with Innova’s diagnostic software and many use these tools themselves around the shop.
This makes correcting the issues behind your trouble codes much simpler for everyone involved, and you can have your vehicle back up to 100% and on the road sooner rather than later.
Car DIY people can also contact Innova at their California headquarters 7 days a week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and get help from their ASE certified technicians regarding trouble codes or potential fixes for issues associated with specific trouble codes. Innova also offers optional access to their RepairSolutions service online.
If the 3100 is connected to an internet capable computer, you can instantly search your vehicle's trouble code for potential fixes in Innova’s database.
Furthermore, you can even estimate cost of parts and repairs in your area, as well as the level of difficulty for the repair in case it is something you feel prepared to tackle yourself.
Additionally, the 3100 offers tremendous value for the money, and is less expensive than many similar featured models from other manufacturers.
It reads and clears most manufacturer and generic OBD and ABS trouble codes for Ford, GM, Chrysler, and Toyota vehicles 1996 or newer, the memory has a battery backup for offline code recall, and it has an auto-refresh feature that keeps data current every 30 seconds when it is connected.
In short, it is a very effective and efficient model at a good price without going overboard on the built-in features.
I’d recommend this model for anyone who is looking for a no frills model that will give them solid trouble code readings and reset the alerts once the code has been retrieved and the problem diagnosed.
- Quick operation with free on-call ASE tech support for understanding trouble codes
- User friendly interface that is familiar to many auto repair technicians
- Innova’s sterling reputation for efficient and reliable service
- High quality materials give a sturdy scanning tool that will give many years of faithful service.
- Updatable via firmware flash from a PC
- Code history can be accidentally reset when connected to a PC
- Sometimes resets codes in the vehicle before user has copied them down or researched them
- Does not include codes from factory for Nissan or Mazda vehicles.
2. BlueDriver Bluetooth
This particular OBD2 scanner is the go-to choice for numerous mechanics and technicians in the U.S., and was developed from the ground up by professional automotive engineers.
It is officially certified and licensed for both Android and Apple devices, and the BlueDriver Sensor app can quickly be downloaded from Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store.
The chief benefit of this model is that it integrates the many capabilities of high end OBD2 scanning tool with your smart device, allowing for code updates, saving and exporting data, and interactive graphs displaying live data.
The BlueDriver also connects directly to Repair Reports, a vehicle-specific database with over 4.3 million fixes organized by trouble code.
Best of all, all fixes on Repair Report have been verified by certified automotive technicians, so you know you are getting the best possible information right away.
Connection to your car’s OBD port and pairing with your device is a breeze, and the user interface has multiple presets for viewing data that give you a precise overall image of your vehicle’s current level of functionality and potential maintenance needs or possible fixes that could improve overall performance.
One drawback to this model though is the in-app purchases: not all functions of the BlueDriver are free with purchase, and you may need to pay for additional modules to use certain functions of the scanning tool.
I’d recommend this for anyone who wants an OBD2 scanning tool that can read and rest trouble codes with the potential to be used for performance enhancement or tweaking later down the road.
- Easy to set up and extremely simple to use
- Wireless bluetooth connectivity means no messy tangles between your reader and display
- Provides comprehensive repair and data reports without the need for a computer
- Compatible with both Android and Apple devices
- Additional paid content for full functionality, such as TPMS diagnostic information
- Wireless range can be limited by vehicles interior
3. Actron CP9580A
As an all in one option, it is hard to beat Actron’s CP9580A scanning tool. What sets it apart from most other tools is that it has the ability to display live data feeds while your car is running, making it ideal for performance customization and tweaking.
Displayed data can also be recorded for later analysis, and even printed to share with technicians when you take your vehicle in for repairs. In terms of trouble codes for OBD2 and ABS systems, this model has one of the most comprehensive code scanning databases right out of the box.
Foreign and domestic vehicles sold in North America after 1996 are all included right out of the box, making it probably the best out of the box code-scanners available in terms of the variety of vehicle compatibility for onboard diagnostic systems.
You will still need to flash its memory with a Windows computer from time to time to keep it up to date, but as standalone OBD2 scanning tools go, this one is definitely going to offer the most bang for your buck.
It also gives you access to a vast database of 4.3 million possible fixes for manufacturer and generic trouble codes using CodeConnect.
Unlike other models, CodeConnect information is available right on the unit itself, making the need for a computer and internet to check fixes for trouble codes unnecessary so long as you keep the batteries fresh and regularly update the unit online.
Another unique feature is the AutoID, which pulls your VIN# and model information right from the vehicle’s computer, making feedback and data for your car more accurate and reliable.
One of my favorite features though is the Component Locator, which actually uses trouble codes to help you find the part in your vehicle that is malfunctioning with specific onscreen instructions.
I’d recommend this model for owners who want a standalone tool that does not require a computer to complete diagnosis and read live data for their vehicle.
It is definitely a premium product but given its extensive vehicle compatibility and additional built-in diagnosis and troubleshooting tools, the cost definitely carries a lot more value than most handheld scanning tools.
- Extensive compatibility with OBD2 and CAN vehicles manufactured after 1996
- Completely customizable live data feeds for performance analysis and tweaking.
- CodeConnect troubleshooting database makes getting vehicle problems fixed significantly faster
- Battery powered via 2 AAA batteries, allowing you to test and diagnose vehicles even if they will not power up or start.
- Unit databases can be updated via USB using a Windows computer.
- Not Apple/Mac OS compatible for updates
- Some users have complained about connectivity issues with Windows 8 and later computers
- CodeConnect information only available in English
4. Innova 3160e
Those seeking a top of the line OBD2 scanning tool need look now further than Innova’s 3160e.
The 3160e has one of the best compatibility ratings of any handheld scanner, and can read live data feeds in addition to read/reset capabilities for trouble codes on just about any vehicle sold in the U.S. after 1996, and it even reads codes for many older vehicles with older OBD1 systems.
It is also capable of diagnosing trouble codes for SRS (airbag) systems and ABS systems on most vehicles as well, which is a serious benefit to owners of older high end import car makes such as Audi, BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Acura.
The large color display is easy to read, and can display up to 26 data points simultaneously, as well as live graphs that can help you accurately evaluate your vehicle’s efficiency and performance.
You can also record live data and play it back later to a computer or for an automotive repair technician who will be repairing or maintaining your vehicle.
Connecting your 3160e to a computer also gives you the ability to troubleshoot vehicle problems and trouble codes via the internet using Innova’s RepairSolutions database.
RepairSolutions not only gives you potential fixes for your vehicle’s problems, but also allows you to estimate the cost of maintenance and repairs for your specific trouble codes within the U.S. using its vast database resources.
Best of all, it will even give you an estimate of how skilled you need to be in order to perform the repair yourself, making this model an ideal choice for DIY mechanics who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, but may not have the resources in their home garage to make all repairs to their car.
Additionally, you can also call Innova headquarters in Irvine, CA for customer support 7 days a week between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Their ASE certified tech support staff are more than capable of walking you through any procedures or scans you wish to make using your 3160e, and they are also highly qualified to give you troubleshooting advice to resolve your trouble codes, too.
I would recommend the 3160e for car DIY people who want professional diagnostic scanning tool features in a compact, value-priced package.
The display is also easier on the eyes, so if you are an older or vision impaired car repair and maintenance enthusiast, this is probably the best choice for you in terms of an all-in-one OBD2 scanning tools that have easy to read displays.
- Quick and easy diagnostic code reading and onboard computer scanning for cars, trucks, SUVs, and even hybrids
- Compatible with ABS and SRS systems for diagnosis and troubleshooting your braking and airbag systems
- Trouble code reset features makes trips into the repair shop to reset codes a thing of the past
- Stream and record live data from your car to evaluate performance and efficiency and guide your upgrade/maintenance decisions
- Unit is fully updatable via USB on a Windows based computer
- Exceptional customer tech support via telephone and RepairSolutions online database.
- Cannot be updated using Apple/Mac OS computers
- Includes emissions testing standards for US and Canada only
- Backwards compatibility to older OBD1 diagnostics is very limited
5. Autel Maxisys Elite
If this code reader cannot help you troubleshoot diagnostic codes on your car’s onboard diagnostic system, you need a new car. Seriously.
This Wifi capable, self-updating, Bluetooth wireless dongle, multi connector port tablet is compatible with every conceivable make and model of car, truck, van, SUV, dune buggy, and go-kart made after 1996 (there may be just a hint of hyperbole there, but this scanning has the most comprehensive compatibility money can buy).
It even connects directly to technicians at Autel’s customer service department via internet and can stream live data regarding your engine’s performance and efficiency.
Additionally, it is built like a main battle tank to withstand even the roughest handling, and the vibrant color touch screen display makes diagnosis and analysis a breeze.
I’d give more information about the specifics of what this scan tool can do, but it literally does everything that can be done using an OBD2 scanning tool.
Every. Single. Thing.
ABS, SRS airbag systems, oil and battery functions, transmission data, you name it and this system can read it. It also more than likely has capabilities even automotive performance professionals haven’t imagined a portable scanner could do, and then some more.
If Apple built iPads exclusively for car diagnosis and troubleshooting, it would look and function like Autel’s Maxisys Elite.
Obviously, all of this capability and connectivity does not come cheap. It is inordinately expensive to purchase, and I would only recommend it to those willing to spend significant sums of money to buy the best of the best, or for a professional repair shop that guarantees the ability to service literally every make and model of car imaginable.
- The most comprehensive portable diagnostic and analysis system available on the market today (reads ISO 9142-2, ISO 14230-2, ISO 15765-4, K/L lins, Flashing Code, SAE-J1850 VPW, SAE-J1850 PWM, CAN ISO 11898, Highspeed, Middlespeed, Lowspeed and Singlewire CAN, GM UART, UART Echo Byte Protocol, Honda Diag-H Protocol, TP 2.0, TP 1.6, SAE J1939, SAE J1708V)
- Tablet computer with front and rear facing cameras
- Built-in WiFi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity
- Port connectors for every make and model vehicle
- Rechargeable battery
- Retina touch screen display
- Ruggedized construction for exceptional durability and longevity.
- Includes padded hardshell carrying case
- Prohibitively expensive cost
- Includes features no one but a professional automotive repair technician would use
- Much larger and heavier than most OBD2 scanning tools
Extra: Best OBD2 Code Reader
To be clear, this is a code reader, not an OBD2 scanning tool. You plug it into your car’s diagnostic port, and it will tell you what trouble codes are currently coming up.
The same guys that make the ultimate best obd2 scanner and diagnosis tool (the Maxisys) also sell the simplest, cheapest OBD2 scan tool. It does only one single thing, but sometimes that's all you need.
That’s it. You will have to look up the codes online or using the included software that comes in the box. It is compatible with most vehicles sold in the US after 1996, and is both simple and reliable.
If you just want to know what is wrong with your car or why the check engine light is on without driving to the shop, this is your best choice.
It is one of the most compatible code readers on the market, and it works exceptionally well for what it is.
Just don’t expect it to diagnose ABS and SRS airbag issues or reset trouble codes for you. That’s not what this model is about.
This is probably best for the average car owner to keep in the garage to check up on trouble codes when they light up on the car, and who is most likely not going to complete their own repairs or maintenance.
- Compact, lightweight code reader
- Wide variety of vehicle compatibility
- Pulls diagnostic trouble codes for analysis
- VIN and vehicle information retrieval
- Does not offer live data feeds or OBD2 scanning capability
- Does not read ABS or SRS trouble codes
- Must be connected to a computer to review and research codes directly, otherwise you have to type them in yourself by reading the tiny LCD display.
OBD2 Diagnosys Tool Buyer's Guide
Why Owning an OBD Scanning Tool or Code Reader is a Good Idea
Whether you want to know why your car is displaying warning lights without having to pay someone else for a diagnostic, or you want to make sure that everything is operating at peak efficiency under the hood, having an OBD2 scan tool around the house is extremely affordable and has the potential to save you a lot of money in the long run.
Using your OBD2 scanner helps you maintain better fuel economy and functionality by reading your car’s real-time performance and efficiency data, all of which can be used to adjust your driving and maintenance schedule to maximize your savings in long term maintenance costs and fuel expenditures
What you need to be careful of when shopping is that you understand the difference between a scanning tool and a code reader before making a purchase.
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Code Readers Vs. OBD2 Scanning Tools
Code readers simply tell you which trouble codes are currently tripped in the onboard diagnostic system, whereas a scanning tool can tell you what repairs are likely needed, reset codes, check codes for ABS and SRS airbag systems, and even stream/record your car’s current performance systems data live as it runs.
Some cars require us to reset the oil light after we've performed an oil change. Simple code readers can't do that, for instance.
Scan tools may be a little pricier, but they offer a lot more information and are more useful in the right hands.
Code readers are better for the average consumer, but scanning tools are better for confident car DIY repair enthusiasts and professional automotive repair technicians.
Now that you know exactly what to look for, you can go through the reviews to find the right OBD2 scan tool for you.
Buy and OBD2 scanning tool has a lot of benefits, especially if you own an older car and are not a fan of making multiple trips to a mechanic every time the check engine light or warning light comes on while you are driving.
There is a lot to be said for the confidence and peace of mind you gain from being able to know exactly what has gone wrong with your car and knowing approximately what needs to be repaired and how much it should cost.
For my money, I think the Innova 3160e is the best OBD2 scanner available.
It reads the most codes, diagnoses and helps owners and technicians analyze and troubleshoot reported problems, and has the best customer support via the web or telephone.
Any questions? Leave a comment below and I'll be happy to help you as much as I can!