Nowadays, with almost every visit to your car mechanic, you will notice that one of the very first things he does is plug in a tool into your car. These tools are called OBD2 scanners and are one of the fastest and safest ways to diagnose a potential issue within the vehicle. With their increasing popularity, there are more and more models that are becoming less complex to use and far more affordable. Because of that, the best OBD2 scanners nowadays have to cater both to mechanics and everyday people and have to be easy to connect to your car and even easier to use.
In this guide, we’re going to review and compare some of the top scanners for this year and see how they stack up against each other. Furthermore, we will dive deeper into the topic of OBD2 scanners and their individual features in order to better prepare you on how to choose the right model for you and your car.
Top OBD2 Scanners Comparison
BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBD2 Scan Tool
The BlueDriver Pro OBD2 scan tool is one of the most common scanners out there mainly due to its unique characteristics and ease of use. Apart from its price, it contrasts the rest of the simple wireless code readers by having advanced diagnostics capabilities and a level of insight that most other models won’t give you. All that is viewable from a device of your choice, since the BlueDriver connects with smartphones and tablets via Bluetooth.
While traditional budget scan tools will give you just the basic information regarding a check engine light DTC, the BlueDriver will also provide you with status reports on ABS, Climate control, and Airbag DTCs. On top of that, you get enhanced diagnostics tools for almost all brands sold in the USA. Still, make sure that your car model and year of production support this OBD scanner. Luckily, their 24/7 support team is quite responsive and easy to work it.
As a whole, the BlueDriver eliminates the need for cables, hard-to-navigate interfaces, and limited functionality by simple giving all that information to you on your mobile device. In its app, you can also view live data graphs of your car. These graphs and other data can be also stored and even exported. You also get some advanced options like misfire checkups and an I/M readiness check to determine whether the vehicle is fit to pass an emissions test. One last feature that I want to mention is the freeze-frame function which allows you to see and store a certain section of a live data event.
While it is more expensive than traditional plug-in code readers, the BlueDriver obd2 scanner is everything you need to monitor your car’s health without having to go to your mechanic.
- Detailed diagnostics capabilities
- Repair reports
- Gives you information about the DTC
- Can save and export files
- Live data graphs
- Works with a lot of car brands and models
- Emissions test check
- A bit expensive
- No desktop application
Ancel AD310 Classic Universal OBD2 Scanner
If you’re looking for a scanner that will work on its own without the need for an external device like a tablet or a smartphone, the Ancel AD310 is one of your safest bets. It is very cheap and works flawlessly for an OBD scanner tool.
The functionality of this scanner is almost maxed out for devices at this price point. It can give you live data streams, read free frame data, perform battery and O2 sensor tests, onboard tests, and check I\M readiness to see if the car will pass the emissions tests. With your enhanced code definition function you can not only read the codes but also erase various engine, ABS, SAS, SRS, and transmission codes. For all of your error codes, you have a library that allows you to look up the specific DTC and see what exactly it means and where the issue might be stemming from.
On the technical side of things, this scanner comes with a 2.8-inch colored display which is easily visible even in bright conditions. It also doesn’t have a battery inside since it gets its power directly from the OBD2 port on your vehicle. The buttons at the front aren’t complicated and are also lit in the dark when the scanner is working.
Another thing that I really like about this scanner is that it supports 8 languages including English, Spanish, Russian, and more. It also works with most 1996 US-based car models, as well as EU and Asian cars after the year 2000. As a whole, the Ancel AD310 supports all five OBD2 protocols, meaning it works with almost all casts and light trucks produced after 1996. For its price, there is little to no competition when it comes to reading codes of your car and removing error lights from your dash.
- Easy to use interface
- Excellent value for your money
- Has basic and advanced diagnostics
- DTC lookup library
- Performs all sorts of tests on your car
- Has an easy-to-read display
- Has to be plugged in your car to work
- Built quality isn’t stellar
Autel AutoLink AL319 OBD2 Scanner
Along with Ancel and Foxwell, Autel is one of the leading automotive brands when it comes to car scanners. Their AutoLink AL319 OBD2 scanner is one of the best bangs for your buck you can get this year thanks to its layered functionality and endless practicality.
At first look, this is a simple code reader that can connect with almost all modern cars and give you the DTCs their computers are giving. Apart from giving you the basic code, it also gives a simple definition in 4 different languages. It also has a built-in speaker that lets you know what the errors are along with some other useful audio features. At the front, there are also LED indicators for the different functions and notifications the scanner has. Once you’ve identified the DTC, you can clear and erase the car’s error codes (engine, SRS, ABS, transmission, and others).
Additionally, the AL319 has VIN-checkups which are vehicle-specific, I/M readiness checkups, and live data streams. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support DTC look-ups.
The reason I’ve ranked this before the Ancel scanner is because it lacks some of the tests the Ancel scanner does. For instance, there is no O2 sensor test here. The Autel also lacks a bit of the advanced functionality of the AD310. Still, they are both priced very comparatively and it ultimately boils down towards which brand you trust more with their product quality. Unlike the Autel, however, you get free lifetime software updates with your Autel scanner.
- Lifetime free updates
- Very easy to use
- Works on almost all car models after 1996
- One-click I/M readiness test
- Live data stream
- Doesn’t support DTC look-ups
- No O2 sensor tests
- No compound tests option
Foxwell NT301 OBD2 Scanner
There is no goign around the fact that, at this price, there is little to no competition for the Foxwell NT301. While it is practically a DIY scanner, it has some of the advanced functions of some professional scanners.
This scanner gives you a one-click I/M readiness status, can locate faulty O2 sensors, and can also give you access to your vehicle’s DTCs. Once you establish the error, you can clear the check engine or any other MIL (malfunction indicator light). It can also give you ride data streams of your vehicle’s performance and extract its VIN number for you. You can view your data as graphs and also log and export/print it. The compatibility of the NT301 is also quite large with it being able to work with all five OBD2 protocols including all heavy-duty SUVs, trucks, and even some large diesel trucks.
Another thing that sets the NT301 apart from the other scanners in this price range is its button layout and notification lights. At the front, you have buttons for all of the important functions such as the I/M readiness check, Erase, and Read-up when it comes to certain DTCs. You also have arrows to navigate the menus, as well as a back button and an enter button. While the scanner is powered from your car’s DLC, it can be turned off if you aren’t using it at the moment. There are three LED indicator lights between the button and the screen which give you a quick glimpse of what’s going on with the system you’re checking. The screen is a 2.8-inch one that has enough real estate to display you the vital information without making it hard to read.
As a whole, there is nothing that this scanner will leave you needing, especially if you’re getting it for personal use on your own vehicle. While it is a bit more expensive than some Autel and Ancel models, it is definitely worth its price tag.
- Advanced functionality
- Great bang for your buck
- Good for beginners and advanced mechanics
- A lot of buttons make it easy to use
- Large and detailed display
- 3 LED indicators
- One-click I/M readiness status
- A bit more expensive than some other similar OBD2 scanners
- Requires to be plugged in to work
Bafx Products OBD2 Car Scanner
One scanner that has been making splashes in the budget category is the Bafx Products OBD2 diagnostic interface. Just like the BlueDriver, this is a plug-in diagnostic interface that connects via Bluetooth with your device. Unlike the BlueDriver, however, this one works with laptops.
The functionality here is fairly limited to turning off check engine lights and monitor certain vehicle information in real-time. Unfortunately, the scanner does read codes from the ABS, SRS, TPMS, or Oil Change systems. You can check O2 sensors and make sure that you can pass emission tests with different data on the air/fuel ratios. To use it, you only have to plug it in your car’s OBD port and sync your device with it via Bluetooth. It also works with laptops, which is something other similarly priced OBD2 scanners don’t do.
The scanner works with all 5 OBD2 protocols including the J1850 and CAN protocols, making it highly compatible with almost all car models after 1996. It is also compatible with all foreign brands and car models.
One of the biggest disadvantages of this scanner tool (and the reason I am ranking it so low) is the fact that it isn’t compatible with iOS devices. As of June 2021, it only works with Android and Windows devices. The brand does make another OBD reader which works with all devices over Wi-Fi. Still, there is a 2-year warranty and a decent return policy in case you don’t like anything about this scanner.
- Very cheap
- Easy to use
- Works with laptops and mobile devices
- Connects quickly
- Gives you live data of your car’s sensors
- Can perform O2 sensors checks
- Can remove CIL
- Doesn’t work with iOS devices
- No direct I/M readiness check
- Doesn’t identify any complex errors
- Can’t check DTCs in most of the car’s systems
Autel MaxiCOM MK808BT OBD2 Scan Tool
In a list full of fairly cheap OBD2 scanners I wanted to include a premium tool that is mostly used by professionals but is also perfect for garage enthusiasts that want all the features at the tip of their fingers (literally). The Autel MaxiCOM MK808BT OBD2 is a tablet-like scan tool that has all the bells and whistles packed in a highly-functional form factor that is easy to use. Unfortunately for all those enthusiasts that I mentioned earlier, this scanner costs as much as all the other here combined and then some. Let’s ignore the price for a moment and try to summarize its features and functions…
It would be beyond obvious to say that this scanner can handle all the light tasks, so I will focus on the heavyweight programming options it offers you. First of all, it can perform resets on all sorts of systems in your car including Oil, EPB, SAS, and more. It can also do DPF servicing, diagnose ABS brake bleeding, and perform detailed tests on your battery’s health. Just like most cheaper scanners, it can also read TPMS data to see if you have issues with your tire pressure system.
It goes without saying that it is highly compatible with all of the car brands in the world. It can read all OBD2 protocols and also has an auto-VIN detection system that will read your car’s make, year, and model information as soon as you plug it in. Speaking of plugging in, the scanner comes with a dongle that you have to plug into your car’s OBD port which will then wirelessly transfer information to the main unit. Any information you view can be extracted, stored, and uploaded to other devices.
All of that comes at a heavy price, though, which is also one of its biggest disadvantages. Still, getting this Autel scanner ensures that there will be no stone unturned when you try to diagnose or check your car’s systems. That price also gives you premium build quality and durable construction that will ensure it stays safe even if you drop it in your garage.
- Has professional-grade functions
- All-in-one interface
- Tablet-like performance
- Very portable
- Durable construction
- IMMO anti-theft matching feature
- Data Manager
- Extremely expensive
- Battery doesn’t last very long
OBD2 Scanners Buyer’s Guide
OBD2 scanners are becoming more and more common within the automotive world to a point where many car owners opt for having them in their own garage. While this is convenient for removing common errors and diagnosing your car on your own, there are still quite a lot of things that you need to take into account when buying one. More importantly, it is best if you learn all the basics in order to fully understand whether you will benefit from having such a tool for your car. To do that, we must first answer a few important questions…
What is an OBD2 scanner?
Onboard diagnostics 2, or OBD2 for short, is a diagnostics protocol and helps scanners connect and communicate with your car to reveal its current status. That system is used in all modern cars after the year 1996 and is universal for all car manufacturers and models. It also works on light trucks. The way the protocol transfers information from the car to the scanning device you’re using can be either wired or wireless with wireless models operating either through a wi-fi connection or through Bluetooth. The OBD scanner works by getting plugged to your car or connecting wirelessly through a dongle. Once it is plugged, it will read the car’s diagnostic trouble codes and get them back to you on the device you’re using or the scanner’s display. Once you have those trouble codes, some scanners will give you detailed information about the error or simply give you the code. All that depends on the type of scanner but more on that later!
You might ask yourself why is this called OBD2 and was there ever an OBD protocol, and to that question, the answer is – yes. Older scanners that were used in cars before 1996 were using the first OBD protocol which was hard to use since every car manufacturer (and sometimes even specific models) came with their own OBD interface making things unnecessarily complicated. OBD scanners were also notoriously bad at giving you a little bit of extra information regarding the error code that your car was giving. OBD2 scanners, on the other hand, give you the error code and some follow-up guidance on how to pinpoint the exact problem. Some advanced scanners even suggest repair steps and possible fixes.
Types of Scanners
While most people think that OBD2 scanners are universal, there are indeed more than just 1 type. In fact, we can divide OBD2 scanners into three different groups based on their price, functionality, and ease of use:
- Basic code readers
- DIY scanners
- Professional scanners
Basic Code Readers
These are the cheapest scanners offered on the market and are sold in all auto parts stores. They are great for removing simple errors from your car. The most common issues that are erased with these readers are check engine lights. If you’ve worked on your car’s doors and you’ve unplugged the side airbags, your car will throw an airbag error once you reconnect them. Those basic scanners can clean such errors from your dash. All these codes are called DTCs (diagnostic trouble codes) and serve to let you know that something is wrong with the car in most cases.
In summary, the basic code readers will give you the DTC but won’t provide any further explanation or any other type of information that could be helpful for you to fix the issue.
DIY scanners are typically slightly more expensive and stand somewhere in the middle between cheap basic scanners and professional models. They are also meant for the everyday person but have slightly better functionality and are a bit more complex to use. Unlike the basic code readers, those might have a display of their own eliminating the need for an external device to read the car’s codes.
These scanners will work either with a cable, a wireless dongle or through Bluetooth. They can either send the information from the car to a mobile device (tablet, phone, etc) or to a computer that is compatible to receive the signal. As I mentioned, they can also have their own screen and button interface to do various tasks.
Apart from the basic functionality such as giving you the DTC and allowing you to clear them, these scanners will also give you detailed information about the code’s meaning and how you can potentially fix it. All that depends a lot on the car and the scanner, though.
Professional OBD2 Scanners
These are the top-shelf scanners that are capable of advanced diagnostics and detailed technical adjustments and re-programming of the cars they are plugged in. They are used in professional mechanics shops and are used for various tasks such as basic diagnostics, advanced diagnostics, ECU remapping, complex software adjustments, gear programming, and more.
One other thing that professional scanners are known for is that they can store and manage their scanned data. That gives mechanics the option to keep information about your vehicle even after multiple checks over a long period of time. That data can be also used to create different graphs for your car’s performance over time. This feature is starting to bleed a bit into the cheaper scanners but is still a huge selling point here.
You can also obviously categorize scanners based on their connectivity (wired, wireless) or based on the device they are using or whether they are using one at all (PC-based, handheld, etc) but classifying them into basic code scanners, DIY scanners/readers, and professional scan tools works best to understand their purpose and separate them in different classes both use- and price-wise.
Now that we’ve discussed what OBD2 scanners are and the different types there are out there, let’s go over all of the important features that you should keep in mind when getting one for your garage.
OBD2 Scanners Features
While most basic OBD2 readers and scanners are fairly simple, there still are plenty of features that all add to the overall functionality and convenience of these tools. In order for you to make a better-educated choice, you need to know exactly what to look for in a model.
- DTC information
- I/M readiness check
- Display and buttons
- Graphs and storage
- Size & Build quality
The setup of most OBD scanners is fairly simple. Some of them will require software updates every now and then but that shouldn’t slow you down significantly. In reality, the whole process is a plug-and-play one depending on the type of connection the scanner has.
OBD2 scanners can read different communication protocols that are typically brand-specific. Some models will be able to read all of them but some won’t, which is extremely important if you want your OBD2 scanner to compatible with your car. To learn whether they are compatible, check if your car’s protocol is supported by the scanner. Every protocol uses a different pin from the connector. modern scanners tackle the compatibility issue by having their connectors cover all 16 pins in the car’s OBD ports. Here are the five protocols used by manufacturers today:
- ISO15765-4 (CAN-BUS): This is the newest and most widespread protocol for cars that are manufactured after 2008 in the USA. There are four additional variants of this protocol that mostly vary in bus speed and identifier length.
- ISO14230-4 (KWP2000): This is a common protocol found in cars made after 2003. It also has two variants.
- ISO9141-2: Used in cars made between 2000 and 2004 in Europe.
- SAE J1850 VPW: Used predominantly on GM vehicles.
- SAE J1850 PWN: This protocol is used mostly on Ford vehicles.
Additionally, there are manufacturer-specific protocols that are used for native diagnostics of their cars in order to fix more complex issues. Some examples for those are KW72, VWTP, KWP2000, and others.
When the scanner reads your car’s information, it will give you different layers of information depending on how complex its software is.
Most OBD2 scanners will only give you engine faults and the option to delete the check engine light. Some more expensive models, however, will give you the option to read errors from all of the car’s other systems such as ABS, ignition, battery, TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system), SAS, oil, and others. Having the option to see those systems’ sensors perform in real-time is also crucial to find the exact issue.
I/M readiness check
Knowing whether your car can pass your country’s emissions tests is important if you don’t want to waste time and money to go to the testing site. Furthermore, if you fail there, there might be sanctions. This is why most car owners like knowing whether their vehicle is still passing those emission standards. That is why almost all scanners have I/M readiness functions which will allow you to see your car’s status with the click of a button. Some scanners even take it a step further by giving you O2 information and other data on the fuel/air mixture and different sensors along the exhaust system.
Display and buttons
While some scanners use your tablet or mobile phone to display their information, scanners that use their own display and buttons are also quite common. Depending on who you ask, they are also easier to use even though you will have to get used to their proprietary software first. Still, with those OBD2 scanners, you won’t depend on an additional device and they cannot run out of battery since the majority of them are getting power from your car’s OBD port.
Looks for scanners that have a display larger than 2 inches and at least a couple of buttons. Models with special buttons for Erasing or I/M readiness, as well as LED indicators are even easier to use.
In terms of connectivity, you need to look at how the OBD scanner communicates with the device that gives you the information. There are a couple of ways that this can happen:
- The OBD2 scanner is a dongle that you insert into your car and it connects to an external device via Bluetooth
- The OBD2 scanner has a cable and a screen of its own needing nothing else to give you the car’s information
- The OBD2 scanner has two separate parts – a dongle that plugs into your car, and a tablet-like device that wirelessly receives the information from the dongle.
Personally, I like the Bluetooth plug-in OBD2 scanners since they can be used with laptops, phones, and tables with all sorts of operational systems (iOS, Android, Windows, etc).
Graphs and storage
This is rather important if you want to keep a record of your car’s performance over time. Real-time graphs will give you a better understanding of how your car’s sensors and systems are performing, while the option to be able to store and upload different reports will come in handy if you want to revisit a test you’ve done a few months ago. Still, these are features that are more common among the expensive scanners.
Size & Build quality
The size and build quality are only important if you plan to move a lot and bring the scanner along with you a lot. The bigger the scanner, the easier it is to read and use but also harder to transport and hold in one hand. Build quality is often neglected since the OBD2 scanners are mostly plugged and left into place and rarely leave the car so nothing major can happen to them. Still, some more expensive handheld models take durability seriously.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a difference between OBD1 and OBD2 scanners?
Yes, OBD1 (or simply OBD) scanners can only read cars that have been manufactured before 1996. They are very brand-specific and have different interfaces for different models. In other words, OBD scanners are very hard to use and you have to have the specific one that matches the brand and model of the vehicle. OBD2 scanners, on the other hand, are much more versatile and far more convenient. A simple OBD2 scanner can connect to most cars manufactured after 1996 and will not only give you the error code but will also elaborate on what exactly it means and how you can potentially fix it.
Is it worth buying an OBD2 scanner?
Depending on where you live, whether to buy an OBD2 scanner or not might be a good discussion to have. In reality, most car shops and mechanics will gladly give you theirs to use to read basic codes or remove a check engine light. That might even be free of charge. Still, if you don’t want to go to the mechanic every time you want to check something with your car or quickly fix something in your garage, then having an OBD2 scanner at your disposal is, without a doubt, a solid choice. After all, the main purpose of the cheaper scanners is to eliminate that exact need to run to the mechanic even for simple tasks that can be done from your home.
What is the best code reader for Ford cars?
While most OBD2 scanners work universally well on most car makes, there are certain models which are better for Ford cars. Some of those are the INNOVA 3145 Ford Digital OBD scanner. This one works for older Ford cars which are very common in the USA. If you’re looking for a scanner for newer Ford models, I suggest the Foxwell NT301 OBD2 Code Reader.
Which is better between Foxwell and Autel?
As with most other industries, there always are two brands at the top battling it out for that elusive first spot. In the case of OBD2 scanners that spot is closely disputed between the brands Foxwell and Autel. While Autel scanners are extremely good and practical, Foxwell is simply a slightly better bang for your buck no matter whether you need it for everyday or professional use.
Finding the best OBD2 scanner can be extremely easy if you have a few things narrowed down. First, make sure you know what you will be using the scanner for. Scanners are mostly separated based on their potential use with professionals being far more expensive and much more advanced in their functionality. If you need a scanner to quickly show you the status of your car and clean error codes, opt for a cheaper one that works wirelessly with all sorts of external devices.