LAST UPDATED: April 18, 2019
Best Car Health Monitors: Our Top Picks to Diagnose Your Car
Diagnose your car without the hassle of seeing a mechanic with an OBD-II scanner
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON April 18, 2019
The warning lights on your dashboard let you know if something is wrong with your vehicle. Unfortunately, they can be pretty vague and will likely require a trip to the mechanic to determine the cause of the problem. The good news is that you can purchase the same type of health monitor that mechanics use to diagnose issues. Check out the best ones in the buying guide below.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Car Health Monitor
- Be in the know. Never be left guessing when it comes to dash lights. Even the least knowledgeable car owner can diagnose most issues at hand.
- Never be overcharged. When you look up the issues your vehicle may have according to your OBD scanner, you’ll know exactly what needs to be fixed and how much it should cost.
- Easy to use. Considering how much information the best OBD-II code readers can give you, it’s incredible that the only thing you need to do is plug it in.
- Save a trip. Some auto stores offer a health monitoring service—a few even offer it for free. But if you don’t have one near you or just don’t want to go to the store anytime there’s an issue, using one at home can be even more convenient.
Types of Car Health Monitor
OBD is short for OnBoard Diagnostics. The system has been utilized in the average vehicle for decades. The first iteration (OBD1) was replaced in the early 1990s, which is why OBD-II tools are much more common.
By 1996, every vehicle manufactured officially adopted the newer OnBoard Diagnostic system. OBD-II is a massive improvement over its predecessor, offering much more accurate information. As these systems improved diagnostic capabilities, their codes became more complex. So today, that's why there is such a wide variety of diagnostic machines.
The most common type of OBD-II device is a scanner that plugs into your vehicle and displays information on a built-in screen. These range from low price options, which can show any Check Engine code, to the premium price range, which have the ability to show a much larger variety of codes.
Wireless OBD-II scanners—also referred to as Bluetooth or WiFi scanners in their descriptions—are small health diagnosis devices that stay plugged into the OBD port and send diagnostic information to your phone or computer.
Innova offers a wide range of plug-in car diagnostic tools, with each one offering useful features and the best OBD-II scanners. The company’s headquarters reside in Irvine, California. While Innova’s 3100j is our top pick, the company has the largest selection of car health monitor devices to meet anyone’s mechanical needs and budgetary restrictions, from the affordable 3030h to the premium 3160g.
Foxwell has been a leader in the automotive industry for more than a decade. It offers several different types of diagnostic tools, all of which have been hailed as reliable and innovative. The NT630 is one of the best OBDII scanners in the premium price range.
Located in Mountain View, California, Nonda is notable for making some of the best OBD-II Bluetooth adapters and best wireless OBD-II scanners. The ZUS is very popular due to its accessibility across multiple mobile platforms and a predictive algorithm that lets you know about potential issues before they happen.
Despite being a small startup company, Foseal has made a name for itself in recent years with its reliable and easy-to-use products. Its OBDII Scan Tool is often considered the best OBD-II scanner for iPhones.
Car Health Monitor Pricing
- $25 and below: The most basic monitors are small (usually Bluetooth-enabled) devices that require third-party health monitor apps or websites to diagnose your vehicle.
- $40-$80: Some of the best OBD-II scanners for the money, in this price range you’ll typically see a plug-in device with a built-in screen and the ability to read Check Engine codes.
- $100 and over: The higher price range of these car health monitors offer more features—the ability to read any dash light and full analyses to help plan mechanic costs.
Check Engine Codes
Every OBD-II scanner can monitor Check Engine codes. The cheaper a product, the less they can do with the codes. Base model scanners can read a Check Engine light code and tell you what is triggering it. More advanced monitoring devices can detect the issue and clear or reset the code. The most expensive models typically explain specific repair needs and estimated costs.
Other Dash Lights
Some OBD-II scanners can only monitor Check Engine lights. More advanced devices can read any dash light your car may have. This includes ABS (or brake) lights, seatbelt lights, airbag lights, and battery maintenance lights.
Whether your diagnostic tool is a Bluetooth-enabled monitor or a plug-in device, a lot of companies offer the ability to keep track of your vehicle's history of repairs. Data logs can show you trends, predict future issues, and keep track of the money spent fixing issues over the years.
- Compatibility: When it comes to an OBD scanner, it’s important to check if your specific vehicle is supported. Some scanners can only read certain manufacturer codes or can only work with certain model years. Luckily, almost every device has a list of applicable vehicles, so make sure you check that out before buying.
- IOS or Android: While wireless OBD-II scanners usually have Bluetooth capabilities, they don’t necessarily have health monitor apps for your specific phone. The description will tell you which operating systems they are compatible with.
- OBD-II: As mentioned, OBD-II is the standard for most vehicles. If your vehicle is older than 1996, has a diesel engine, or is all-electric, then many scanners will not work for you.
Best Car Health Monitor Reviews & Recommendations 2020
The BlueDriver OBD2 scan tool allows you to quickly diagnose your vehicle and figure out possible issues with the dash lights. It's a convenient unit you get to pair with an Apple and Android devices and enjoy the benefits of the intuitive phone app.
The scan tool is well-designed and easy to use. It's a modern device designed to connect to different vehicle models and provide accurate readings at any time. The main benefit of this unit is the ability to locate the problem and notify you about it. You'll be able to check the engine, ABS, airbag, and TPMS lights as well as other possible issues. The app will even give you a list of possible solutions to the problems you have. All of them are verified by professional mechanics, so you don't have to worry about making a mistake.
However, the unit sometimes moves really slowly. It takes quite some time for it to get the code readings, and it might freeze from time to time. Therefore, you'll have to be extra patient in these situations. Another minor inconvenience might be with the app. Some buyers complained about its overall design not being suitable for all phone models.
One of the top Bluetooth OBD-II scanners, the FIXD device uses a dedicated app to work. One useful feature the app offers is the ability to keep track of multiple vehicles. For example, you can monitor the health of any vehicle you or family members drive. It keeps a log of all the problems that are detected related to the car's health and even recommends maintenance based on your mileage.
When you're talking about Bluetooth-enabled monitors, it's pretty hard to beat how user friendly this device is. The FIXD sensor plugs into your car's OBD-II port and doesn’t require any batteries. The app can display all the information about a check engine code in real-time without being restricted by the smaller screen competitive models have.
With this being an expensive option, it isn't surprising that there are a few drawbacks. Like most OBD scanning devices, this one can only read and clear Check Engine codes. The lack of a screen can also be a turnoff if you don’t want to use your phone each time an issue comes up.
If you're looking for an OBD scanner without all the frills, Foxwell offers a compelling choice. The NT301 is excellent if you're looking for quick answers about a check engine light without the headache of visiting a mechanic.
This product has a lot to offer but misses a couple of highlights other top products have. Foxwell's NT301 has a three-inch color screen and includes lifetime free software updates. The device can clear codes, reset the monitors in your car, and even save records of your past codes without any need to connect to a computer.
Like many other scanners, this model only reads Check Engine lights. It is more convenient than wireless scanners when it comes to a quick diagnosis since it doesn't require any other device to run (like a phone). This device is also much more affordable than higher-end scanners but doesn't come with the online support, extra code capability, or optional subscription service these scanners offer.
If you're searching for an inexpensive OBD2 scanner, this one might be an excellent choice for you. It's a reliable unit suitable for all 1996 or newer vehicle models and connects to all Android phones. Therefore, you'll be able to use it on different vehicles and perform diagnostics with ease.
The scanner is ideal for DIY mechanics who want to read and clear minor issues on their vehicles. The unit locates problems rather quickly, allowing you to check the engine light and monitor different vehicle sensors. It's also very compact and easy to use. Thanks to the Bluetooth feature, you can connect it to your phone and use a phone app to operate the unit. Additionally, the two-year warranty is included in the package.
There are a couple of drawbacks to this product, though. First of all, it doesn't come with a manual that would help first-time buyers. Secondly, the unit is quite small and lightweight, so it requires careful handling. It might break easily if dropped or exposed to harsh weather.
This is a classic OBD2 scanner that offers fast issue detection. It's ideal for DIYers that want to save some money usually spent on mechanics. What's even more important, the unit is ideal for most vehicles made from 1996.
The scanner identifies problems with the engine light, reads a live data stream, performs an EVAP leak test, and retrieves vehicle information. It doesn't only show the code but also detailed information about it too. Therefore, you'll get all the information you need to resolve each particular issue.
The scanner is easy to use. All you need to do is to plug the unit into the OBD2 port and turn the ignition on. Another great thing about this item is the fact it doesn't require charging. The unit powers up directly from the vehicle, so it will work every time you plug it in.
One of the main issues you might encounter along the way regards the app. It seems that sometimes it might malfunction or cause confusion when showing the readings. The second issue might be with the size of the display. It's quite small and has low-resolution letters that are difficult to read.
This is an inexpensive option suitable for those who are on a limited budget and want to do quick check-ups on their vehicles. The unit offers simple yet very useful code readings and proves to be very reliable. It's also suitable for a wide range of vehicles, including sedans, SUVs, and small trucks.
The scanner works to diagnose in seconds. It's straightforward and easy to use, and you don't even have to charge it because it's powered by the vehicle directly. Although small, the unit is quite powerful and able to give emission-related information, and also read and clear diagnostic trouble codes.
However, keep in mind that the unit might be unsuitable for some vehicle models. It seems that it fails to give accurate readings on some newer cars. Also, several users have complained about the screen being difficult to use. The buttons and the screen are small and make navigating through the menu a little tricky.
The Autel scanner is a plug-and-play device that allows for quick diagnoses. You can use it on different vehicle types and save a lot of time and money. With it, you'll get accurate readings so you can perform repairs all on your own.
The unit reads DTCs, displays live data, freeze frames, vehicle information, and much more. With a color display, a built-in speaker, and a LED indicator light, it's very intuitive and easy to use. No batteries are required. All you need to do is plug the unit in your vehicle, and let it do its thing. Also, the scanner is sturdy, durable, and comes with a one-year warranty.
The package doesn't come with a manual, though, so it might be hard to figure out how the scanner works. Also, it only has one button, which keeps you from scrolling through the options quickly.
This is a handy little device suitable for Android devices. It comes with an app to help you get all the necessary information and operate the unit with ease. It's also compatible with a wide range of vehicles, especially newly designed ones.
The device operates by Bluetooth connection. It's a super convenient way to detect issues your vehicle might have and get accurate readings. The connection is reliable and stable, allowing you to get the results up to four times faster than with regular scanners. Furthermore, the unit is protected against unauthorized access and has a battery saver feature. It comes in a pocket size and offers a long lifespan.
However, the scanner might be a little overpriced for those who are on a tight budget. It even requires some extra cash for additional features on the app. Also, the Bluetooth connection might cause some trouble. Sometimes it lags and doesn't remember the previously paired-up devices.
The Foxwell scanner gives you an option to perform some car repairs all on your own and save a lot of money. It reads and erases fault codes, shows live data, performs an EVAP test, and much more. With it, you can diagnose the issues of all kinds of vehicles, including SUVs and minivans.
The device has a simple yet convenient LCD screen and an audible indicator. It's easy to use and allows for quick readings. Even better, the scanner features a sturdy casing, and it's protected against dust and impact. It's very durable, and you'll definitely be able to use it for a while.
The thing that might bother you with this unit is the lack of instructions. The package doesn't include a manual, so first-time buyers might have difficulties figuring out how to connect and set up the device. Also, the startup time is long, and you'll have to wait for the unit to show the readings.
- The OBD plug in your vehicle is almost always located under the dashboard on the driver’s side.
- If your scanner translates a code, but you still don’t understand the issue, try to look up the details online.
- Make sure you know whether your OBD scanner can read the type of light your vehicle has. For example, if your device only reads Check Engine lights, and you have an ABS light on, you won’t get any diagnosis on that device.
Q: Does this scanner check the transmission?
A: Yes, as long as the issue throws a Check Engine light.
Q: Do I need to buy any additional plugs?
A: No, every OBD-II vehicle has the exact same OBD plug.
Q: Can these scanners be updated on a Mac?
A: Typically, these car health monitoring devices can only be updated on PCs. If they do work with Apple products, it will say so in the description.
OBD-II scanners are an excellent way to diagnose issues your vehicle may have. The best option overall is the BlueDriver LSB2 Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scan Tool because of its advanced features.
If you’re looking for a great value for your money, it’s tough to beat the FIXD OBD-II Gen II Active Car-Health Monitor's price.