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Our entire lives are run through — and directed by — our smartphones, so it only makes sense that your car’s diagnostics would live there, too. Thanks to Bluetooth technology, wireless OBD2 scanners can now pair directly with your phone to detail your car’s health.
As OBD2 scanner tech has progressed, the devices have evolved, functionality has improved, and prices have dropped greatly from the $1,500-$3,000 units of old. App-connected dongles can open the entry point because the uninitiated are more likely to consider the idea of seeing their car’s information on a phone compared to something that still looks like a specialty mechanic’s device. It doesn’t hurt that the power of smartphone processing and graphics allow for added features and prettier graphics, too.
Given those reasons, The Drive wanted to get a few of these devices in hand to check them out for ourselves. First up, we’re testing the OBDLink MX+, one of the most reviewed and highly rated offerings on Amazon. At the time of writing, the MX+ is listed for $119.95 but is on sale for $99.95. OBD Solutions sent a unit to us to test for free.
OBDLink’s price is low when compared to professional Bluetooth tablet-style OBD scanners such as the Autel Scanner MaxiCOM MK808 or the Ancel DS700 Bi-Directional Scan Tool or even pro-level corded models like the Innova CarScan Pro 5610 Bi-Directional Scan Tool, but when considering the range an average first-time OBD buyer would consider, $100 is a bit high compared to other offerings. A basic Ancel diagnostic tool, for example, only costs about $40. The MX+ does have a bevy of features, but many people won’t need all the frills and add-ons, which makes this a more premium product.
After toying with this device using my nearly 20-year-old Acura (Ed. Note: I now feel very old.) and an iPhone 6S+, I can say it’s a solid tool that is easy to use and boasts a lot of capability, but there are cheaper options you might want to consider.
Unboxing and Initial Impression of the OBDLink MX+
The OBDLink MX+ wireless OBD2 scanner arrived in a small plastic-wrapped container about the size of a small watch box. The cardboard is covered in a soft-touch matte black material, and the box opens from the front with a magnetic flap keeping it down. Inside the flap, OBDLink greets you with a nice thank you message and the email address for the company’s support line. A warranty card noting three years and “100 percent satisfaction guaranteed” sits on top of the small user manual, which sits on top of the small zipper case that holds the product.
The case is no ultra-protective OtterBox-type thing; it’s a case akin to what is often used to hold over-ear headphones. Its shape likely comes from a slightly pliable piece of harder plastic embedded within the soft-touch skin, and a specifically cut foam insert that lives inside one half of the case houses the scanner. This case would be perfectly fine for keeping inside your glove compartment, but because the additional cardboard packaging is also small and stays closed, I’d probably keep it in there as well for added protection.
About the size of the plug at the end of the cord on a normal wired OBD2 scanner, the scanner’s exterior shell is made of hard black plastic, so it’s visually unremarkable. The face of the scanner features four different alert lights, including Power, OBD, Host, and BT for Bluetooth. There’s also a tiny button that is used for pairing and resetting the device.
Using the OBDLink MX+
- Good: No monthly fee, goes beyond a typical set of tools and diagnostics, fairly intuitive, quick, wireless, can be left plugged in, works with numerous devices, supports manufacturer add-ons, third-party app support, tiny for easy storage
- Bad: Certain competitors offer in-depth repair help, can find similar (but not all) options on cheaper devices, app design found elsewhere, button and body feels cheap, stays on in sleep mode when left plugged in, no USB port, no support phone number
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After downloading the free OBDLink app, the dongle plugged into my 2003 Acura RSX, and it paired and connected to my iPhone quickly and easily. I actually didn’t read the instructions, did it wrong, and I was still able to link it up. Once it was paired, I didn’t have any issues with dropped connections or poor readings. The only thing that might slip people up is the fact that certain features like many of the basic diagnostics cannot be used when the car is running, while others like the live data charts require the car to be running. So, if you’re switching back and forth, you might accidentally lose the connection by turning the car completely off instead of returning the ignition to the on position.
The OBDLink app, which has 4.7 stars from 3,500 reviews on Apple’s app store and 4.1 stars from 9,896 ratings on the Google Play store, is clean and straightforward, but it’s a bit overwhelming. The main menu shows two vertical columns that include Settings, Diagnostics, Dashboard, Maps, Monitors, Logs, and Performance, and a Connect button sits at the bottom. But there’s so much more information available, and each menu seems to have dozens of additional options.
I ran three primary tests with the MX+. I wanted to check for codes and emissions issues, experience the real-time gauges and fuel economy, and see if I could find a way to clear an SRS light. Checking for codes was quick, as my check-engine light was not on, and when the car was scanned, no codes were found. All systems go. I then checked if the car was ready for emissions testing, a really nice feature, and everything looked fine.
When I tried to find a way to search for an SRS code, however, I couldn’t figure out if it was possible. I downloaded the optional Honda/Acura extras that are built into the MX+’s program, and nothing was showing up. After some digging, I found my way to the manufacturer-specific advanced diagnostics support PDF document that shows all of the vehicles that work with the scanner’s advanced diagnostics. This doc showed that the RSX is not supported, only the 2007-2019 MDX, 2016-2019 NSX, 2007-2019 RDX, 2009-2012 RL, 2014-2019 RLX, 2009-2014 TL, 2014-2019 TLX, 2009-2014 TSX, and 2010-2013 ZDX. You might want to check that document to see if your cars are supported before purchase.
For my final test, I started the car up, brought up the gauges on the app, and spent some time tooling around the block. With Bluetooth connections, these types of applications can get laggy, but the MX+ seemed quite responsive and didn’t freeze up. When I hit the gas, the mph reading immediately spiked, as did the rpm gauge. Engine temp increased as I spent more time in the car, and for the first time ever, I had a real-time fuel efficiency readout in my RSX. It was also cool to see the battery reading, which ensured that the RSX’s was still solid.
These types of features might seem unnecessary, but it’s fun for gearheads wanting to learn more about their cars. It can also be used when diagnosing issues, as you can collect data, store your readings, and download them as .csv files all within the app to use for comparison specs.
To be clear, there are dozens of extra features on the MX+ that I did not test. Things like live charts, quarter-mile, and zero-to-60-mph recorders, Dropbox and iCloud pairing, and more were out of the parameters of what I would usually be using an OBD2 scanner for, so I didn’t get that deep, but these features will be appreciated by certain people.
What’s Good About the MX+
During my research on the OBDLink MX+, I found that this device — and OBDLink’s range — has gone through a few changes. The MX+ was launched in 2018, and it was originally listed for $100, but it’s evolved with a few upgrades, increased functionality, and the addition of a protective case, and now it has a higher price. The result is a semi-premium product that’s also welcoming to new OBD2 scanner buyers.
This is the first time I’ve used and interacted with a Bluetooth OBD2 dongle, and I was impressed with how much this thing could do. Not only is it compatible with many types of devices, including certain Amazon Kindle Fire tablets, it’s also compatible with virtually all U.S. vehicles, 1996 and later. On top of that, there’s no subscription fee for any of the manufacturer-specific advanced diagnostic add-ons, something you might have seen in previous generations of scanners, and it’s possible to use the MX+ with tons of different third-party apps, such as FORScan, Torque, BimmerCode, Dashcommand, AlfaOBD, and Carista, although some of those do require payment. OBDLink points out that the MX+ has access to the GM-LAN and Ford-MSC networks for super in-depth diagnostics as well.
The complexity of features doesn’t cause anything to lag, either. Although I hadn’t personally used any other Bluetooth OBD dongles before the MX+, I’m aware that one of the most common complaints is delayed response time within the app and between the car and the displayed information. Not so with the MX+, as my experience with the device was a quick user-friendly interface, even with many pop-ups, and accurate real-time information.
The MX+’s dashboards are customizable, too, so each user can have fun tailoring the app to their preferences. Including a performance section within the app for an OBD2 scanner greatly increases its value, and I could see people having a blast tracking their progress on closed tracks. With certain add-ons and with certain vehicles, it could even add features such as unlocking and locking doors, remote start and creating head-up displays, which is pretty wild.
The final advantage of the MX+ is true of all small Bluetooth dongles: It’s easy to keep in your car. If you keep a corded scanner in your car, it likely lives in the trunk or on the floor somewhere. And even though the MX+ supposedly uses low-draw power that allows the user to keep it plugged in at all times, I wouldn’t. There are zero issues with unplugging it and keeping it in the glovebox until it’s actually needed, and that’s still super convenient.
What’s Not Great About the MX+
My issues with the OBDLink MX+ are relatively minor and granular. In no way did any of the things I dislike interfere with what I was trying to do when using the device, but they’re small ticks that might influence your decision.
One of the strangest things I noticed is that I found the same design used for the OBDLink app in another third-party app called OBD Fusion. And when I say the same, I mean exactly the same. The fonts, the colors, the options, and the layout is identical. This is important because you can use the OBD Fusion app with other cheaper wireless OBD2 dongles.
OBD Fusion, which is listed for $9.99 at the time of this writing, works with another popular Amazon option, the Veepeak OBDCheck BLE, which is listed for $32.99 at the time of writing. Even combining the purchases to be roughly $50 with tax, that’s still about half the cost of the MX+. We haven’t tested the Veepeak yet, so we can’t say how well it works, how quick the processing is, or if it has every feature the OBDLink has, but it’s something to consider if you’re only using the device for its core functions.
Further, regarding the functionality of the MX+, service functions like an ABS bleed require additional third-party apps, it’s not included in the main OBDLink app, or if it is, I couldn’t find it. That’s not a huge problem, and it’s great that it’s possible, but it’s something to note.
My other complaints are personal preferences, but it’d be nice to have a USB port for a direct computer connection. I’d prefer it if the scanner completely shut off when the car was off rather than touting some super low-drain setting. I unplug it instead. It was also quite difficult to find a phone number for any questions or support, so I have it here for you: (623) 434-5506 is listed on the website for OBD Solutions, the parent company of OBDLink.
Our Verdict on the OBDLink MX+
The OBDLink MX+ is a great tool for people obsessed with knowing every little detail about their cars and using the most up-to-date technology to do so. It’s a little on the pricier side, but the MX+ is compatible with nearly all devices and a large range of vehicle manufacturers, something the cheap ones can’t really say.
The app it pairs with is quick and intuitive, the setup is simple, and the connection is stable. Additionally, real-time features like trip monitors or quarter-mile times with customizable gauges and dashboards add a layer of fun to a typically mundane device. The minor negatives shouldn’t persuade you away from this device, but those who use their OBD2 scanners while wrenching might not want to get their phones dirty.
FAQs About the OBDLink MX+
The Drive’s editors aren’t psychic, so to answer other frequently asked questions, we scrolled through Google’s “People also ask” box for anything that may be lingering in your heads.
Q. What is the difference between OBDLink LX and MX+?
A. OBDLink offers numerous options for Bluetooth OBD2 scanners. The MX+ is the top option, while the LX is less expensive and incompatible with iOS devices. The OBDLink LX scanner is listed for $59.95 at the time of this writing. There’s also a CX option that is made to pair with BimmerCode.
Q. How do I update my OBDLink?
A. You can update the firmware on your OBDLink MX+ through the app on your phone while the device is plugged into your vehicle. On the main screen of the app, click settings and look for the option for Firmware Updates about halfway down the screen. If you click that, you’ll be able to quickly download the newest version of the firmware. Dad Tech TV shows how the process goes in his video.
Q. How do I reset my OBDLink?
A. The OBDLink MX+ can be reset by pressing and holding the only button on the dongle for 15 seconds.
Q. The OBDLink is paired to Bluetooth but can’t connect to the car. What’s up?
A. Make sure your ignition is in the on position but not running. If the car is running or isn’t turned on, it won’t connect to the device.
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The Drive independently evaluates gear by putting products in the hands of subject-matter experts. The products we test may be purchased by The Drive, our staff, or provided for review by a manufacturer. No matter the source, our testing procedures and our assessments remain free from third-party influence.