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
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BY Bryan Long / LAST UPDATED 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.
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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 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.