(Updated on October 17, 2022)
Today’s vehicles are heavily reliant upon data transmission to facilitate proper operation. Data is relayed between numerous engine related sensors, and an engine’s operating computer, known as the ECM (engine control module). This integrated communications system is known as a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics network.
In the present, properly diagnosing driveability and functionality related vehicle issues now requires a technician to access this communications network. Doing so allows one to read diagnostic trouble codes, and analyze a vast array of operational data, in a bid to uncover any underlying issues.
Tapping into this network requires the use of a specialized OBD2 scan tool. A device of this nature is plugged into an under-dash communications port, thereby providing one with an interface through which to view pertinent data.
It may sound complicated but today’s OBD2 scanners are easy to use, affordable, and can often pay for themselves after their first use. Read on to see which scan tools we recommend for the home mechanic and which two professional models are just as good as Snap-On diagnostic tools costing thousands more.
See Also: Ask a Mechanic Online
Top 9 Car Scan Tools for Home Mechanics
The Autel MaxiCOM MK808 scan tool is a highly versatile option for anyone who often finds themselves working on a wide variety of vehicles. This scanner is compatible for use with over 80 individual vehicle makes, and features an easy to navigate user interface, which places a host of useful functions at one’s fingertips.
Aside from its ability to read live streaming data and diagnostic trouble codes, the Autel MK808 is also capable of performing more than 25 individual service procedures. Some of the most notable of these procedures include TPMS and oil light resets, as well as immobilizer key programming.
Some consumers have expressed concern over the pricing of regular updates, in order to facilitate compliance with a wider range of vehicles. However, this is far from unique to the Autel MK808, as most every scanner requires periodic updates, which require an additional purchase.
If you are currently in search of a highly capable OBD2 scan tool that is offered at a reasonable price, then the Launch CRP123X scan tool should be worthy of your consideration. This diagnostic scanner is compatible with over 10,000 individual vehicle models and is capable of reading a wide range of information, including diagnostic trouble codes.
You’ll be able to access the engine, transmission, SRS, and ABS systems, as well as read and erase common diagnostic trouble codes. Other features include live data graphs, quick vehicle information check via VIN number, and the ability to turn off your check engine light or other warning lights that appear in your instrument cluster.
Consumers can also purchase with confidence, knowing that the Launch scanners are backed by a 5-year limited warranty. This warranty includes access to professional guidance, should a question regarding unit operation arise.
While the Launch CRP123X might not be as feature or function rich as the Autel above or professional grade scan tools, it is certainly hard to beat for the price. When you want to step up from a basic code reader but have no need for the advanced features a pro model may offer, the CRP123X will prove to be more than capable in most situations.
The Autel ML629 OBD2 scanner (updated version of the popular ML619) is ideal for those that wish to gain access to any vital information which surrounds the onset of a newly illuminated check engine light. This scanner is capable of reading diagnostic trouble codes, as well as a significant amount of live data.
Many DIY mechanics will also find favor in the ML629 scanner’s ability to read transmission, ABS, and SRS related data. This further increases the unit’s versatility and value, making it a broad stroke solution to uncovering what ails your vehicle.
While the Autel ML629 does not possess the same depth of features as many premium-priced scan tools, it certainly does qualify as one of the most comprehensive base level scanners on the market.
This scanner is compatible with 46 individual vehicle makes, and is capable of accessing engine, transmission, ABS, and SRS data.
Those who purchase the Ancel FX2000 will gain full access to lifetime unit updates, thereby sparing additional expenditure at a later date. This can save consumers hundreds of dollars throughout one’s period of ownership.
Some consumers state that Ancel can be quite difficult to reach, should questions or concerns arise. However, contact information is provided on the company’s website.
The BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBDII scan tool is ideal for use by those that wish to locate a compact solution to vehicle diagnostics. This unit features Bluetooth connectivity, which allows it to effortlessly pair to any smartphone or tablet. The BlueDriver is compatible with both Apple and Android devices.
This unit allows users to access a host of DTC and live data-related information, as well as several different function-specific menus. Additionally, the BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro grants users access to Repair Reports, which are generated by repair industry pros.
Some consumers report that the BlueDriver features limited capabilities when used in conjunction with diesel-powered trucks. However, no such issues have been reported in relation to use with standard gasoline-powered vehicles.
If you are in search of a basic, yet extremely helpful scan tool at an unbeatable price, then the Autel AL319 is sure to satisfy. This scan tool allows users to assess diagnostic trouble codes and check readiness monitors, all at a price that is less than that associated with a conventional oil change.
The Autel AutoLink also features a 2.5-foot cable, which allows users to tap into and view vital system information, without being forced to remain in the driver’s seat. Additionally, this unit utilizes a simple interface, which can be easily navigated by even the most inexperienced of users.
If you are in search of a scan tool that offers a comprehensive list of functions, then there might be better available options than the AL319. However, if simplicity is more your style and you want to keep costs low, then you’re looking at a unit that is difficult to beat.
A simple code reader utilizing future technology is the best way to describe the OBDCheck BLE. It works on both iOS and Android devices; as long as your phone can download and run the simple app, this scanner will work for you.
The Veepeak OBDCheck BLE allows you to read any engine codes on a vehicle with OBD2. You can read codes, view live data, freeze frame the data, and run a few basic maintenance functions. These functions include resetting your check engine light and preparing your vehicle for a smog test.
The best part of this scan tool is the price. It’s a fraction of the cost of other scan tools, and in the end, if you know what you’re doing, it does more than enough.
Finally, this OBD2 Bluetooth scanner comes with a 1-year warranty, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever need to replace it.
Best Professional Car Diagnostic Tools
If you are more than just a casual tinkerer and would classify yourself as an automotive repair professional, then the Autel Maxisys MS906BT should be worthy of a second look. This professional-grade scan tool features 31 individual service functions and is compatible with over 80 US domestic, European, and Asian makes/models.
This professional Autel model is broad in its range of features and functions, which include transmission adaptation, injector coding, DPF regeneration, turbo calibration, and ECU coding, to name a few. The scanner also allows for the testing of bi-directional components, such as fuel pumps, headlamps, and windshield wipers.
As with any high-end professional-grade scan tool, learning and understanding the Autel MS906BT’s vast number of features and functions in their entirety can take some time. However, Autel offers full customer support for all of its products, should such a need arise.
The XTOOL D9 is a powerful, yet surprisingly affordable professional-grade scan tool. Build quality is rugged and purpose-built for an active shop environment. The modern user interface runs Android 10 and has many features you would expect in a standard tablet, including a camera, screenshot capability, and Wi-Fi connectivity.
The tablet connects to the smaller diagnostic terminal via Bluetooth or USB. Software updates from the manufacturer are free for 3 years. Shipping is free worldwide.
The vehicle’s VIN can often be detected automatically, and the scanner shows a graph overview of all modules in the vehicle. Green indicates successful communication, gray is not supported/no response, and red means one or more faults were detected in that module.
When the scanner finds a fault, the XTOOL D9 gives you a quick link that will automatically open Google Chrome and search for help with the code. This feature makes diag quick and easy, even if you’re unfamiliar with that particular vehicle.
The XTOOL D9 offers advanced features such as key reprogramming, immobilizer diagnostics, gearbox matching, and ABS actuation for bleeding brakes. This scanner can also reset airbag and TPMS codes. You are able to trigger factory self test functions, actuate various injectors and solenoids, and toggle the fuel pump on and off.
One of the most important features for vehicle diagnostics is live data. The XTOOL D9 gives you access to real time live data. This data can be recorded and saved for later viewing, so you can record while you go for a test drive. Live data is available for all supported engine parameters, and options will vary per vehicle.
Even if you are not a professional mechanic, you will find the XTOOL D9 surprisingly intuitive to use. Most vehicles connect via a standard OBD-II port, although there are plenty of manufacturer-specific connectors for Mercedes, Honda, Mazda, GM, Fiat, and more. Protocols for CAN FD, Diagnostics over Internet Protocol (DoIP), and bi-directional control are supported.
The Launch X431 V+ diagnostic tool should be ideal for those who work in a shop environment and require the use of far more than the basic scan tool. This scanner services 150+ brands, and over 10,000 individual vehicle models. The Launch X431 V+ also offers over 30 popular service functions, including key programming, ECU coding, injector coding, and TPMS reset.
Additional modules can also be purchased for the Launch X431 V+, which provides further compatibility with an even longer list of vehicle makes and models. This scanner is even compatible for use on medium/heavy trucks, with the purchase of the correct module.
A certain number of consumers have expressed concern over software update related issues in the past. These complaints have centered around the device not being supported for a subsequent update, though these issues appear to have been remedied as of late.
OBD2 Scanner Buying Guide
Why Getting an OBD2 Scan Tool is a Good Idea
There are numerous benefits associated with owning an OBD2 scan tool. The use of such a scan tool allows motorists and DIY mechanics to take matters into their own hands, by taking stock of any number of underlying mechanical or electrical issues associated with their vehicles.
In many cases, OBD2 scanners actually can save their users money. Without a scan tool, one is at the mercy of their local repair shop, when attempting to remedy and repair various issues with their vehicle.
This can equate to a rather large expenditure, as most shops bill a minimum of 30 minutes labor time for diagnostics, on top of any fees associated with the actual repair to come.
With a scan tool in hand, one can read any diagnostic trouble codes that have been recently stored by their vehicle, and in many cases, can also view pertinent sensor-related data. This often uncovers the root cause of various issues, many of which can be easily repaired at home by those with a little mechanical aptitude.
OBD2 scan tools can also be conveniently stored away in a vehicle’s glove box when not in use. This means that you will always have diagnostic capabilities at your fingertips, should vehicle issues arise.
OBD2 Scanner vs Code Reader
A certain level of confusion tends to exist, in regards to the differences between an OBD2 scanner and a code reader. Many feel that such devices are the same when in reality, there are a number of differences between the two.
An OBD2 scanner is a multi-function automotive diagnostic device. A scanner of this type does much more than simply read active diagnostic trouble codes.
Many such devices allow users to monitor live-streaming data from a vehicle’s numerous sensors. One can quickly reference data associated with a vehicle’s 02 sensors, engine coolant temperature sensor, mass airflow sensor, and much more.
In certain cases, OBD2 scan tools also allow for complex diagnostic testing.
Compared to an OBD2 scanner, a code reader’s capabilities are quite limited. In the vast majority of cases, code readers are able to do little more than what their name implies, which is simply read any active or stored trouble codes.
However, code readers can typically be purchased at a fraction of the cost associated with the purchase of an OBD2 scanner.
Home Use vs Professional Use
While all OBD2 scanners are quite helpful when attempting to diagnose the root cause of vehicle-related issues, not all scanners are created equally. Scan tools are typically classified into two different categories, home use and professional.
Home Use Scan Tool
Home use scan tools are intended for the DIY mechanic who simply wishes to determine the root cause of vehicle issues as they arise. Scan tools of this variety typically allow one to read codes, assess live-streaming data, and perform limited system self-tests.
In general, a home-use scan tool will provide its users with an excellent starting point, from which to base their repair efforts.
Professional Scan Tool
Professional scan tools possess all of the same capabilities as a home use scan tool, along with many additional features and functions. In the vast majority of cases, these scan tools allow data graphing, provide access to trouble-trees, and possess component factory relearn capabilities.
Additionally, a number of scan tools within this category allow internet connectivity for further diagnostic assistance.
Do Automotive Scan Tools Work on ALL Cars?
OBD2 scan tools are compatible with all vehicles manufactured after January 1st, 1996. This is the date at which OBD2 manufacture compliance became mandatory.
However, a number of manufacturers voluntarily incorporated OBD2 technology into various vehicle models prior to this date. In fact, OBD2 data transmission first appeared in certain production vehicles as early as 1994.