The easiest way to troubleshoot and diagnose a problem in your car is by performing a quick check with an 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!
But there are MANY tools on the market... ranging from simple code readers to full-fledged diagnosis and programming tools.
So it totally depends on the kind of use you plan for the tool. To help you out, I've put together a little questionnaire that will give you a personalized recommendation based in your particular needs.
Check it out:
Get a personalized recommendation (in less than 30 seconds!)
OBD2 Scanner Comparison Chart
Last update on 2018-12-15 at 08:35 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
OBD2 Diagnosis Tools Reviewed
1. TOAD (TOTAL OBD & ECU Auto Diagnostics)
When it comes to OBD2 scanners, there are a lot of devices on the market that appear to be the same. Many units come with a lot of the same features and benefits, which can make it difficult to pick one out. However, when you are looking at the TOAD, you will be pleasantly surprised by what it can do.
So why is the TOAD so much better than the competition?
Well, it’s because it comes with so many advanced features that you will be overwhelmed by its capabilities. While other OBD2 scanners are only designed to pick up on the most common error messages and relay them to you, the TOAD takes things a step further and enables you to adjust your vehicle’s computer to suit your needs.
Who is This For?
Overall, the TOAD is built for car enthusiasts who want the most control over their vehicle. It’s a professional-grade tool, meaning that it’s perfect for high-end mechanics as well as regular consumers.
So, if you’re interested in optimizing your car as much as possible, you will need the TOAD to make it happen.
If you’re just looking for a quick and easy way to diagnose the most basic problems with your vehicle, you probably won’t use half of the features that come with this device.
As such, if you just want to do like, some checks every few months, nothing fancy, I don't recommend this unit to you.
Finally, consumers who want to stay one step ahead of their mechanic will appreciate the comprehensiveness of the TOAD.
When something does go wrong, you can take it to the shop and tell them exactly what you need. This way, you won’t be upsold on unnecessary parts and procedures that will jack up the price. I'm an ex-mechanic, trust me on this one 😉
Click or Tap to see a list of features
- Clear Check Engine Light: once you’ve fixed the problem, you can reset it through this system
- Pass Emissions: if you have to worry about this test, TOAD will prep your car to ensure compliance
- Diagnose OBD I and II Engines: older cars use the OBD I system, which most modern scanners don’t include
- Works With Multiple Protocols: such as CAN bus, ISO-9141, and ELM 327, among others
- Supports OBD Across Nations: from Japan to Australia to the US, it doesn’t matter in what region your car originated
- Monitor Real-Time Data: turn your car on and see how it’s performing, LIVE
- Analyze Fault Codes: this is what most scanners do, and it’s all they do
- ECU Chip Adjustment: “hack” your car’s internal systems to make it perform better (i.e., improved fuel efficiency and emissions)
- Database of 15,000 Codes: much more than other scanners have. This includes brand specific and generic codes
- Record and Playback Data: so you can compare your car’s performance over time
- Catch Problems Before They Happen: TOAD’s software will enable you to monitor your system to see what could go wrong
- Track and Manage Multiple Vehicles: such as your spouse’s car
- Audio Alerts: if something is outside standard parameters
- Determine Repairs Needed: use the software to see what kinds of fixes your vehicle needs most
- Automatic Configuration: no matter what system your car has, TOAD will sync with it automatically
TOAD is a comprehensive software system that downloads onto your laptop. Since there is so much data and programming that goes into it, TOAD won’t work on a small mobile device.
While you don’t get a Bluetooth connection in the base package, you can upgrade. I highly recommend doing so for your own convenience so that you don’t have to mess with wires.
Also, it will enable you to do checks in a more comfortable position since you aren’t limited by cord length.
What you get:
- TOAD Software + Membership (for upgrades and support)
- Connecting Wire for Your Car
- User Manual (for identifying car codes)
- Bluetooth Connector (optional)
- Bluetooth + Cable
- Comprehensive diagnostic tool
- Works on all makes and models
- Shows you what your normal parameters should be
- Alerts you when things are not right
- Helps you determine which repairs you need
- Fast and accurate results
- Scan your car in real time
- Get software updates for life
- Access to technical sheets for reference
- Risk-free purchase
- Not meant for people who don’t know anything about cars
- Requires a laptop to use it correctly
- Connection cords are kind of short (Just get the Bluetooth version if this would be a real problem for you)
Hopefully, by now you can see why I love TOAD so much. You should check it out here to see more reasons why it’s such an excellent buy for your vehicle.
Think about it like this: you will eventually be driving a new car, but you’ll never have to replace TOAD.
Hit the Check Price button to see the updated prices straight at the manufacturer's website. They usually run juicy discounts and promos (and they sell it cheaper than on Amazon 😉 )
2. Innova 3160g
Although car manufacturers were smart enough to come up with a standardized diagnostic system for all modern vehicles, many OBD2 scanner companies don’t operate the same way.
By that, I mean that there can be a lot of variation among scanner models, even those made by the same brand.
Fortunately, this unit from Innova is one of the better options out there. First, it comes with a large, easy-to-read screen. This is a vast improvement over most other scanners, which can be difficult to see, even in ideal conditions.
Secondly, it can reset most of the lights and warning systems for your vehicle.
While not all makes and models are 100% compatible, you should be able to take care of oil, battery, check engine, ABS, and airbag lights on your dash.
This allows you to avoid going to the mechanic for such a simple fix.
Finally, I like that you can live-stream your data from the device. This is much better than most other units as it enables you to compare information over time. Also, if you know your mechanic well, you can send this report to him directly to get feedback and insight.
As a bonus, you get lifetime upgrades and customer support, which means that this one device will never become obsolete.
- Durable casing
- Large 3.5-inch screen
- Backlit for easier visuals
- Bluetooth capable
- Works on any OBD2 vehicle
- Reset lights on your dashboard
- Record real-time data for later review
- Shows codes with details
- Compact and easy to carry
- Works on most Asian and European models
- Runs on three AA batteries (included)ABS and airbag codes included
- Lifetime software updates
- Excellent customer support
- One-year subscription to Repair Solutions app
- Optional OBD I coverage
- Some errors may be erroneous, depending on your vehicle
- May not provide all scan solutions for every make and model
- Customer support limited to US consumers
3. 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.
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.
4. 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
5. Innova 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
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.
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.
Bluetooth Scanners - Top 3 Picks
When OBD2 scanners first came out, they were a bit unreliable and unwieldy, particularly for your average consumer. However, as with most gadgets, the technology has vastly improved over the years, and now you can scan your car as easily as sending a text (almost).
To make things for convenient for yourself, I recommend buying a model that has Bluetooth. This way you don’t have to fumble around with the connector and the cord, and you aren’t limited by the length of the cable. Overall, you get a simpler method, and you can diagnose from a more comfortable position.
1. TOAD (TOTAL OBD & ECU Auto Diagnostics)
Let’s just put it this way: if you were a professional auto mechanic, I would highly recommend buying the TOAD system. It does so much in one program that you will swear that the thing can drive your car for you.
Even if you’re not a professional, TOAD will turn you into one after you get the hang of the software. This is by far the most ultimate diagnostic tool on the market. Some reasons that I love it so much are:
It has more codes than any other scanner
It’s compatible with all makes and models (even international ones)
You can adjust and control your car’s ECU system (the brain)
The system is easy enough to use for anyone, not just professionals
Overall, I have to say that TOAD will turn you into an automotive expert.
2. Bluedriver Bluetooth
For the most part, OBD2 scanners are proprietary devices that you have to connect to your car manually.
However, if you want more convenience (beyond Bluetooth), then you’ll appreciate the simplicity of the Bluedriver Scanner.
What makes this unit special is that it connects to an app on your phone. This means that you can diagnose your car wherever you are (as long as you’re in range).
Since we all carry our smartphones with us, you won’t be out of the loop.
The other cool thing about this scanner is that you can leave it plugged in. This way, you’ll always know what’s going on, and you can check all kinds of systems, including brakes, battery, and smog.
3. ScanTool OBDLink LX
Much like the Bluedriver, this scanner is designed to both be plugged in all the time as well as sync to your smartphone. Unfortunately, iOS users won’t be able to utilize this system, so that can be a deal breaker for a lot of people.
Assuming that you have Windows or Android, however, you will appreciate how easy it is to use this system.
As you probably noticed, I said Windows. Yes, this software can be installed on your computer so that you don’t always have to check it on a smaller screen.
Overall, this scanner has a lot of the same features as other ones we’ve seen, so feel free to diagnose your vehicle whenever and wherever you want, and then save your data so that you can compare notes later.
Units For Professional Applications - Top 3 Picks
So far, we’ve been looking at OBD2 scanners that are designed with the average consumer in mind. However, considering that these tools were built for mechanics in the first place, we should pay attention to some models that are made for them.
So, if you’re a professional, then you will want to see what these devices have to offer.
So how do you know when a scanner is built for experts, not just your average Joe? Well, the first indication is whether or not it can connect to the ECU system.
Professionals need to be able to adjust the vehicle’s computer to optimize its performance, particularly when you install or upgrade a component in the engine.
Also, pros need the ability to scan and reset all safety systems on the car, including ABS, airbags, battery, and any other engine light that may come on. So, if you’re looking at a scanner that can’t do these things, keep on looking.
1. Autel Maxisys Elite Diagnostic Tool
With most scanners, they are a small handheld device with a tiny screen. In this case, however, you get a rugged tablet, meaning that you have many more capabilities. The fact that you can open and operate multiple apps shows that this is far above most other consumer models on the market.
Some highlights of this diagnostic tool include wifi, Bluetooth connectivity, and advanced ECU coding and programming. This is the most upgraded version of this device that Autel Maxisys has, so it’s built for professionals who want some additional perks. This means that it covers more vehicles and allows you to do more comprehensive analysis without complicating anything.
2. Autel Maxisys MS908
When compared to the Elite model, the MS908 is the more basic of the two. It still comes with a rugged shell and a large touchscreen interface, but it doesn’t have quite as many codes, and it’s not quite as powerful.
Nonetheless, the MS908 tablet can still be a valuable tool for any mechanic.
Although it doesn’t come with advanced ECU programming, it does make your job easier by letting you manage your clients in an easy-to-use back of house system.
It comes with a plethora of codes for over 80 makes and models (including international), and it has much more functionality than most other scanners on the market.
3. TOAD (TOTAL OBD & ECU Auto Diagnostics)
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to let you know that the TOAD system is not contained within a proprietary device.
This means that you have to download the software onto a computer to make it work. However, you should already have one for your business, and the amount of features and benefits you get with this system is insane.
I won’t go into too much detail (because there is way too much to say), but I will say that this is by far the ultimate scanning tool you can have in your garage.
Not only will you get access to the most extensive database of codes and vehicles that I’ve seen, but you’ll get lifetime upgrades as well as total control over the ECU.
Simply put, the TOAD puts all other OBD2 scanners to shame, and if you are looking for the best possible software, this is it.
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.
What does OBD2 stand for
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
Although all modern cars and trucks are technically OBD2 compatible, that doesn’t mean that all scanners can work for all vehicles. If you are connecting manually, then you will have to make sure that your system is compatible with the make and model of your car.
Fortunately, many modern scanners use Bluetooth technology to make things much easier for you. Now, you can simply sync to your car remotely and see what’s going on without having to find the connection port.
As I mentioned, not all makes and models are 100% compatible with every OBD2 scanner. This is because there are different protocols for each brand. There are five protocols in total.
European and most Asian Cars (as well as Chrysler) use ISO 9141 or KWP2000. GM cars and light trucks use the protocol SAE J1850 VPW. Ford models utilize SAE J1850 PWM protocols.
Finally, most vehicles built after 2008 use the CAN protocol, which is the most modern option.
Information and display
The primary purpose of OBD2 scanners is to tell you what your check engine light means. They were designed for monitoring emissions, but many of these devices can diagnose additional systems, such as your brakes or battery.
If you get a handheld scanner, it’s imperative that you have a model with a large enough display screen. Most units will show you an error code, which you will have to look up in your manual. In some cases, however, the tool may display a small blurb about the code so that you don’t have to look it up.
There are thousands of codes across brands, so it’s imperative that you match them correctly to understand what’s happening in your car.
Battery and Power
Many modern scanners utilize their own power, meaning that you have to put batteries inside for them to work. However, other models may draw from your vehicle’s battery, which can be a problem if you leave it plugged in for a long time.
Certain scanners are designed to stay plugged in while they transmit data to your reader, which could be a smartphone. Overall, you want to pick out a scanner that won’t die too quickly or drain your car’s battery too fast.
Battery and Power
When comparing devices, there are readers, and there are scan tools. Readers are there to tell you the code and nothing else. Scan tools can provide a lot more data so that you can understand what’s happening better.
You want to buy a device that provides as much detailed information as you need. If you are just looking to learn more about your car, then a reader may be sufficient. However, if you want to be able to do some repairs or adjustments yourself, then you need a more comprehensive system.
In this case, you may want to get a scanner that records the information you scan so that you can compare it later on. This is helpful as it will show you how your systems are working over time. This will also enable you to pinpoint potential issues before they happen.
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.
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. In any case, investing in tools is ALWAYS a smart decision.
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.
When comparing OBD2 Scanners, I can’t say enough good things about the TOAD system. Even if you’re new to the world of automotive mechanics, having such detailed and incredible software will allow you to make the most out of your car or truck.
Also, it has practically every code and protocol known to man, so you’ll never have to worry about it being incompatible with your vehicle.