Onboard Diagnostics have made identifying problems with our cars much easier over the years.
OBD2 scanners have been taking the mystery out of check engine lights in every passenger car, truck, van, and SUV since 1996.
There are so many different kinds of scanners on the market it can be hard to determine what kind we need. We’ll go over the basics of OBD2 scanners, the different types, and some specific models.
Chances are you’ll find the right one for you!
The most common OBD2 scanner is the basic code reader.
These are the low-cost scanners you can find in any auto parts store or even hardware or home improvement stores.
When you take your car to a parts store for a free check engine light scan, this is usually the type of scanner they use.
OBD2 operates on Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC) which is what triggers the car to let you know something is wrong.
Basic scanners usually just tell you the DTC on a small screen when plugged into the diagnostic port. This code is a letter followed by four digits which tells you specifically what needs to be addressed.
Looking up the code online is the easiest way to decipher it if the scanner doesn’t specify what it means.
After you have the DTC, these simple tools can be used to clear the code and get that annoying check engine light off of your dashboard.
There are also wireless options for basic scanners that give you a lot more information than a traditional, corded scanner.
The next step up is DIY scanners.
These more advanced, feature rich scanners give you more information about your car for a higher price.
Some are just a dongle that you leave in the diagnostic port of a car that links up to an app on your phone. The scanner reads the car and sends the information to your mobile device or computer.
Others are like a traditional, corded, handheld scanner with more information.
These can give you live data of what’s going on in your car right now.
It can repeat what your gauges tell you; give you average speed, average mpg, fuel usage, and other specific information.
Of course, they can also do everything a basic scanner can do like read DTC’s and clear codes.
If you’re a professional or if you just want to get really serious about retrieving data from your vehicle, a professional grade OBD2 scanner is what you need.
These perform any function you could possibly need in a scanner.
They offer advanced features like ECU programming, sophisticated software, and ECU adaptations.
They include a huge variety of connectors to make them truly universal. Some of them can even diagnose heavy commercial vehicles.
A big selling point of these over lesser scanners is the ability to save data.
You can use that saved data to graph the performance of your car in different metrics and categories.
If you’re a serious car tuner, a professional mechanic, or just a hardcore enthusiast, these powerful units are for you.
Comparing Different Kinds of Scanners
We’ve talked about a vast range of diagnostic equipment. Let’s break down some of the pros and cons of the different types of scanners.
|Basic Code Reader|
Easily reads and clears DTC’s
Connects with devices you probably already have like smartphones and tablets
|Not as feature rich as higher cost scanners
Can have trouble connecting with third party apps
Often not much warranty or support
|Dedicated mobile apps make wireless connectivity easy|
Lots of bang for the buck
Contains most of the features that most home mechanics need
|Some are more expensive versions of basic scanners that can do basically the same things
Hard to shop for with so much variety in the same price range
Not powerful enough for professional use
|The most powerful and versatile diagnostic equipment on the market|
Great warranties and customer support
Some can be used for diagnosing equipment other than passenger vehicles
Many features that you’re paying for would go unused by most mechanics
Large hardware can be cumbersome
The market is so saturated with different kinds of scanners. Shopping for them can make your head spin!
Take a look at the facts, take a look at the best obd2 diagnostic equipments on this list, and buy the scanner that’s right for you!