Best OBD-II Scanners: Work Like a Real Detective

Batman knows: There are some gadgets that make life easier.

byHank O'Hop| UPDATED Oct 28, 2022 9:12 AM
Best OBD-II Scanners: Work Like a Real Detective
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If you own a car, you need an OBD-II scanner. The most basic function of these devices is to tap into your vehicle's onboard diagnostics system to read and clear engine trouble codes. Depending on the model you select, OBD-II scanners can also be used to read trouble codes from multiple vehicle systems, provide a real-time reading of the vehicle's running condition, and more to help you troubleshoot issues. If you're just starting out, it can be confusing to decide which scanner works for you. Even if you know which features you want, it can be equally as difficult to figure out which models are worth your money. I’m here to provide you with some insight that'll help you breeze right through your OBD-II scanner experience.

Best Overall

Innova OBD-II Scanner

Summary
This easy-to-use scan tool serves the serious DIYer and beginners well. It can outperform entry-level tools in diagnostic testing but retains an easy-to-use interface and can be paired with your Smartphone via app.
Pros
  • Reads ABS and transmission codes along with engine codes 
  • Can be paired with helpful app 
  • Runs tests on battery and alternator
  • User-friendly layout
Cons
  • Quality control issues are common 
  • Expensive for beginners
Best Value

Motopower OBD-II Scanner Code Reader

Summary
It's affordable, easy to use, and will scan what you need it to. This is the best choice for reading engine codes on a budget.
Pros
  • Affordable 
  • Easy to use 
  • Large backlit display reduces eye strain
Cons
  • Limited functionality 
  • Slow operation
Honorable Mention

Autel Scanner MaxiCom 2022 Bidirectional Diagnostic Tool

Summary
A pro-level tool that does it all. This tool runs comprehensive testing alongside reading engine codes and is an excellent choice at home or for a professional setting.
Pros
  • Comprehensive diagnostics functionality 
  • Easy to use 
  • Loaded with additional features 
  • Updatable software
Cons
  • Expensive 
  • Limited functionality on some popular models

Summary List

Our Methodology

The best OBD-II scanners are intended to serve the DIY crowd, and that was my focus as I chose my top picks. While there are professional-level offerings here, I didn’t solely consider that type of consumer. I put in the time and research to make sure my recommendations and advice help those who are new to fixing their cars and can help them ease into the discussion along with the more experienced enthusiasts and professionals. I made sure to read what pros use as well as what the average DIYer is looking for to ensure our list has something for everyone in need of an OBD-II scanner. 

Best OBD-II Scanner Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Manufacturer: Innova
  • Part number: 6100P
  • Connection type: Wired

Pros

  • Reads ABS and transmission codes as well
  • Can be paired with app
  • Runs tests on battery and alternator
  • User-friendly layout

Cons

  • Quality control issues common
  • Expensive for beginners

The Innova is the top pick because it'll serve both the beginner and more experienced wrenchers well. Along with reading engine trouble codes, this model can tap into multiple vehicle systems and provide a live reading of the run condition. It's also able to provide readings of transmission and ABS codes, which already sets it apart from entry-level units. Pairing it with the Repair Solutions 2 App reveals what codes mean as well as providing potential fixes.That function in combination with the simple interface makes for a user-friendly experience unmatched by much of the competition. Code severity levels, an oil light reset function, and battery and alternator test further prove this to be a must-have tool if you're doing any kind of work on modern cars.

This is a great device, but quality control issues are common. Devices showing up with missing pieces or appearing to be used are relatively common. The price might keep the average beginner from adding the Innova to their collection.

Specs

  • Manufacturer: Motopower
  • Part number: MP69033
  • Connection type: Wired

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Large backlit display

Cons

  • Limited functionality
  • Slow operation

Motopower’s scanner is an excellent choice for those who need a basic tool to read codes and don't want to spend a fortune. This device simply hooks up to the OBD port and provides the user with engine codes that cause the vehicle's check engine light to appear. It's also very easy to set up and use, and a large backlit display reduces eyestrain and can provide live data for a real-time reading on the run condition.

This device will not read ABS or transmission codes and is overall pretty limited in the number of functions it has to offer. Also, its operational speed is rather slow, which does cause some frustration.

Specs

  • Manufacturer: Autel
  • Part number: MK808
  • Connection type: Wired

Pros

  • Comprehensive diagnostics functionality
  • Easy to use
  • Loaded with additional features
  • Updatable software

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Limited functionality

Autel's MaxiCom scanner is one of the tools you should seek to add to your collection as your automotive repair skills evolve. This device will read and clear engine codes but can also tap into the vehicle's many systems to perform various diagnostics tests. It will read ABS, body, and transmission codes and can even be used to bleed the ABS. It's easy to use and is packed with additional features that make a big difference in a professional setting, such as checking emails. And because it's targeting pros, the scanner can be updated.

This is not priced in line with most DIYer scanners. Even though it's a cost-effective solution for a pro-level tool, it's still expensive. Also, it's important to verify that it will work with your particular car as its functions are limited for some popular models.

Specs

  • Manufacturer: BlueDriver
  • Part number: LSB2
  • Connection type: Wireless/Bluetooth

Pros

  • Wireless design clears clutter
  • Easy to use app
  • Covers basic functions
  • Easy to store

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Limited functionality

The BlueDriver Pro Bluetooth scan tool is the perfect tool for the minimalist. There are no chords, no wasted devices, just a simple unit that makes use of your smartphone. The BlueDriver pro uses an app to give you engine codes, the means to clear them, and even a live data feed to check the vehicle's running condition. It's easy to set up, easy to use, and even easy to store.

As handy as this unit is, it's relatively limited in that it only reads engine codes. Despite that, it's priced in line with models that offer more useful functions to seasoned DIYers.

Specs

  • Manufacturer: Thinkcar
  • Part number: Thinkcar-01
  • Connection type: Wired/Wireless

Pros

  • High-quality construction
  • Comprehensive functionality
  • Can be run wirelessly
  • Can be updated

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Bulky

Thinktool's Pro Bi-directional scanner is aimed at professionals and serious DIYers. The overall robustness helps elevate its quality as you know it's something you can count on. It's also able to perform a long list of diagnostic tests alongside scanning and clearing trouble codes and is updatable to ensure you can continue to work as time progresses. It can even be run wired or wirelessly, allowing you to make use of that shop space.

The only thing keeping it from ranking higher on our list is the price. Quality does come at a cost, but this is far more than many will justify. You should also be aware that durability also comes at an expense, a bulky shell in this case.

Our Verdict

The Innova OBD-II Scanner is the best choice for the average consumer. It's not priced in the ranks of pro-level tools, but it'll still do more than the average entry-level scanner can. The  Motopower OBD-II Scanner Code Reader is an excellent choice for those who need a scanner without a long list of additional features. 

Things to Consider Before Buying an OBD-II Scanner

OBD-II scanners are amazing devices that can do a lot of things for mechanics. That doesn't mean the selection process needs to be overly complicated. Going over every last detail is warranted for high-level consumers and mechanics, but that's not the case for someone just needing to advance their workmanship in the home garage. If you're new to this, these tips will get you pointed in the right direction. 

Key Features

Vehicle Compatibility 

The first thing to make sure of is that any scanner you're considering will work with your vehicle. Not all are compatible with every vehicle or can even connect to them, and that's the first place to start. Take the time to make sure that the scanner will work for your car or any car you plan to buy in the future before you decide to buy it. This concern affects owners of luxury and many European cars, but it's always worth double-checking vehicle compatibility. 

Functions 

Some scanners just read engine codes. Others can read engine codes along with transmission and ABS codes. Then there are models that can read all of those as well as perform checks on the various components of a vehicle, allowing you to make sure anything attached to the electrical system is in good working order. You don't need a scanner that can do it all if you're just looking to perform basic repairs, and you can save some money by cutting the additional features. However, you can't afford to skip those functions if you're tackling more challenging projects or looking to do automotive repair work at a professional level. 

Connection Type

Most OBD-II scanners use a wired connection, which is great for a few reasons. The biggest advantage is that the tools can generally tap into the vehicle's power for operation, cutting out the dependence on additional batteries in some cases. If it's something you dislike or you prefer reading codes remotely, a wireless unit is something to look for. Some devices, such as the BlueDriver Pro OBD-II Bluetooth Car Diagnostic Scan Tool, can even send information to your smartphone, cutting out the need to run multiple devices as you investigate. 

Pricing 

OBD-II Scanners can cost as little as $20, and models around that price are perfect for beginners or folks who just need engine codes. Moving up to the $50-$150 price range is suggested as your skill level increases and more serious repairs become the norm. Moving up to the $500 to $1,000 range is for DIYers who repair every inch of their vehicles as well as professionals who are just starting out. And if you're a professional working on many different vehicles, it's worth spending even more for high-end units that'll get the job done. 

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Can you damage your car using an OBD-II scanner?

A: No, an OBD-II scanner won't damage your car. As long as a sound mechanical connection is made, an OBD-II scanner is completely safe for your vehicle.

Q: Will an OBD-II scanner drain the battery? 

A: In most cases, no. Though an OBD-II scanner draws power from the battery, the car must be turned on for it to work. You can drain the battery, but you can run the engine to prevent that from happening. 

Q: How do I connect my car to an OBD-II scanner? 

A: The OBD-II scanner comes with a connection specifically for OBD-II ports. All you have to do is plug it in. Some cars, however, require special connectors, and dedicated scanners or adapters must be used. 

Q: Does an OBD-II scanner void my warranty? 

A:  Running diagnostics tests through the OBD-II port with a scan tool likely won't void your warranty.

Q: What type of OBD scanner is my car?

A: If your car was built after Jan. 1, 1996, it's got an OBD-II port. If it was manufactured before that, it might have an OBD-I port or none at all.