As an automotive technician, you must know how important the customers’ satisfaction is and that your auto repair shop cannot provide good services to your valuable customers without a reliable automotive diagnostic scanner. Such a good scanning tool can not only perform accurate diagnosis but also offer any special advanced service functions for a wide range of vehicles. It goes beyond identifying the source of the check engine light
Buying a diagnostic scanner lets you identify the cause of engine issues and empowers you to make important repairs. For home mechanics this is a great way to save money on your repair budget. It’s even more crucial for professional mechanics to be able to perform services like oil reset, DPF regeneration, SAS calibration, battery registration, ABS bleeding, bi-directional control, and even injector coding, key coding, or ECU programming. Professional automotive scanning tools can do all of this and more.
The problem for many is figuring out which diagnostic scanner to buy. Do you really need that $2,000 tool—and conversely, will a $100 device have the features you need? The answer for most is somewhere in the middle. You can get a full range of features from an automotive scan tool without spending a fortune to get it.
In this buying guide we’ll identify the key features you need to pay attention to when shopping for a car diagnostic tool, as well as reviewing some of the top models on the market in 2020. Whether you’re a DIY enthusiast or an automotive technician, knowing exactly what you’re looking for is the best first step.
Best Professional Automotive Diagnostic Scanner 2020
|Editor's Picks||Product Model||Our Rating|
|Best Overall||Launch X431 V+||9/10|
|Runner Up||Autel Maxisys Elite||7/10|
|Best Budget Buy||BlueDriver||9/10|
|Home Mechanics' Choice||Autel MK808BT||8/10|
|Perfect for Experienced DIY Guys||Foxwell NT624 Elite||7/10|
Bonus: If you are just looking for a cheap OBD2 car code reader, read my review of the Top Reliable but Affordable OBD2 Scanners for Car Owners 2020 HERE
Want to read more? Let’s go!!
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Professional Automotive Diagnostic Scanner 2020
- 2 Buying Guide for Automotive Diagnostic Tools
- 3 Best Professional Car Diagnostic Tools Review
- 4 The Final Thoughts
- 5 FAQs
Buying Guide for Automotive Diagnostic Tools
Benefits for DIYers
When the warning lights on your dash illuminate, they’re responding to trouble codes that have been generated by your engine’s computer. For the engine, these codes are grouped under a diagnostic protocol known as OBDII. Short for “on-board diagnostics”, the OBD system is standardized across vehicle manufacturers, allowing mechanics to more easily identify and repair engine problems.
The engine isn’t the only system that puts out these trouble codes, either. With the right code reader, you can troubleshoot errors in everything from your tire pressure to your airbags. These codes aren’t standardized, however, and can’t be read by all OBDII scan tools.
That’s where a professional scan tool comes into play, giving you access to error codes and other helpful data basic code readers won’t provide. Other benefits of a professional automotive scanner include:
Make Repairs Yourself Instead of Paying A Mechanic
Some vehicle issues require professional expertise, but others are simpler and can be easily (and cheaply) repaired at home. With a scan tool, you can identify the problem and its severity, gaining the knowledge you need to make small repairs yourself. Once those repairs are made, an automotive scan tool allows you to clear the error code and turn off the check engine light, too.
Preparing for State Emissions Tests
Much of the information included in OBD2 diagnostics is related to your vehicle’s smog emissions. With a professional automotive scanner, you can identify issues with the emission system before you go to the inspection, saving you both time and money.
Gain Insight Into Engine Health And Performance
Professional car scan tools read a range of parameters and data. Logging this information lets you identify trends and developing issues before they’re a big problem. When you do need to go to the mechanic, you’ll walk in knowing the exact issue you need to have fixed, giving you peace of mind that you’re not being ripped off.
Benefits for Auto Repair Shops
Automotive scanners don’t just read trouble codes and record module data. Professional models also allow you to interact with the engine, making necessary repairs and adjustments. If you’re a professional mechanic, there are a few key features you’ll need in a diagnostic tool:
- More services to offer to your customers. A scanner with coding and programming capability allows you to go beyond basic repairs. You can add services like making new key fobs or tuning the engine, things your customers would otherwise have needed to have done at a dealership.
- Expanded vehicle coverage can grow your customer base. Professional scan tools can diagnose and repair vehicles from dozens of manufacturers. The more cars and trucks you’re able to work on, the more potential customers you have nearby.
- Improve speed and efficiency. We all know time is money. Speed can be especially important in automotive repair, where customers are eager to get back on the road. Along with high processing speeds that read trouble codes quickly, many professional tools have intelligent features that automatically gather information from the engine. The inclusion of bi-directional control is another big time saver, identifying failing valves or solenoids so you can get right to repairs.
- Better accuracy. A diagnostic tool is useless if you can’t trust the information it gives you. Professional tools from trusted brands have been vetted by industry experts so you can count on the accuracy of their readings.
There are a lot of scan tools out there to choose from. So how do you find the best? There are four that we recommend for both product quality and customer service: Autel, Launch, Foxwell, and BlueDriver.
A relatively new contender in the automotive scan tool market, BlueDriver’s innovative system pairs a wireless adapter with a smartphone app. BlueDriver products get high marks for convenience and are designed with regular drivers in mind rather than professionals. Because of this, their products are easy to understand and use, even if you’re not a car expert.
Autel’s main focus is in the research and development of intelligent automotive diagnostic systems. Their scan tools are among the most advanced on the market, with a wide range of included service and diagnostic functions. If you’re looking for the most innovative scan tools on the market, Autel is the brand you’ll want to go with.
Launch scanners give mechanics the best bang for their buck. Their diagnostic equipment is designed for professionals but sell at a great value that makes them affordable for home mechanics, as well. Their emphasis on global technology development also gives their products a wide vehicle compatibility.
The range of tools in Foxwell’s catalogue is robust, covering everything from basic code readers to professional models with programming capabilities. As an online retailer, they’re easy to reach when you need customer service, and their products are well-regarded for their accuracy and diagnostic speed.
Types of Automobile Diagnostic Scanner
Not all code readers are created equal—and it’s not just a matter of which brand makes them. Different models are targeted at specific types of user, so you want to make sure you get the right one for your needs. While there are a lot of different styles of automotive scanner out there, the ones you’re most likely to come across include:
- Basic OBD2 Code readers. The most basic of the diagnostic scanners, a code reader focuses on reading and clearing OBD2 diagnostic trouble codes. They’re affordable but less versatile and may not give you all the information you need.
- DIY Enhanced OBD2 scanners. This is the type of code reader most DIYers want. It goes beyond a code reader, providing multi-system diagnosis and some service functions, but is more affordable than OE-level diagnostic tools meant for professional garages.
- Professional Car Diagnostic Tools. Programming capabilities are the main advantage of professional diagnostic tools. You can tune, remap, and otherwise customize the ECU, as well as performing the service and diagnostic functions found on enhanced diagnostic tools. They’re more expensive, however, and their programming features are often limited to a handful of manufacturers.
How Much Should You Expect to Pay?
Generally speaking, there are two factors that affect the price of auto diagnostic tools: vehicle compatibility and functionality. You can get a basic OBD2 code reader for less than $100. On the other end of the spectrum, diagnostic tools with advanced features like ECU coding and broad vehicle compatibility can cost thousands of dollars.
DIY-ers should expect to spend somewhere around $100 – $1,000 for a high-quality diagnostic scanner. Models in this price range typically include some service functions and multi-system diagnosis. The features they omit also tend to be the ones hobbyists and home mechanics won’t use anyway, things like ECU coding that require more advanced knowledge to do successfully.
If you’re a professional mechanic, you’re most likely looking at a budget of $1,000 – $3,000+. Expect to be on the higher end of that spectrum if you need functions like key programming or ECU mapping.
Compatibility and Vehicle Coverage
The OBD2 code system is universal on all vehicles made 1996 and later. Most professional car diagnostic scanners have a broad compatibility for these basic diagnostic functions, but the same may not be true of the service functions, active testing, or multi-system diagnostic abilities.
With BlueDriver, for example, you can read basic information from any vehicle with an OBD2 port. It can also read and clear Enhanced Codes for ABS, SRS, and transmissions systems, but not for all vehicles. Those services are only available for select brands and vehicle model years.
The same is true of more advanced professional scanners. The Autel Maxisys Elite is compatible with more than 10,000 models but not all service functions will be available for all of them. The most limited is the ECU coding, which it can only do on 2 manufacturers (BMW and Mercedes).
The bottom line is that you should pay close attention to which features are offered for which vehicles when you’re shopping for diagnostic tools. If you can’t find this information on the product page, reach out to the company. They’ll be able to tell you in more detail exactly what functions it supports for what models.
Automotive scanners don’t just read trouble codes and record module data. Professional models also allow you to interact with the engine, making necessary repairs and adjustments. If you’re a professional mechanic, there are a few key features you’ll need in a diagnostic tool:
OBD2 Diagnostic Functions
The OBD2 diagnostic system is broken down into 10 modes. These include reading and clearing codes, retrieving live and freeze frame data, and conducting emissions tests. Many cheap code readers will only give you access to half these modes or less. For the most accurate diagnosis, even DIYers will want to get a scanner with full OBD2 functionality.
All System Diagnosis
Scanners that can read trouble codes from all the electronic modules in a vehicle are ideal for advanced DIYers, and necessary for professionals. The OBDII system doesn’t catch all engine problems. In a professional garage, you need a scanner that can read all electronic modules, giving you a complete picture of the engine’s health. You’ll find many scanners in the under $500 price range that offer 4-system diagnosis (engine, transmission, ABS, and SRS). The average price goes up if you also want to get information from other electronic modules like the climate control.
The term “service functions” is a catch-all for a range of repair functions that may be included in scan tools. One of the most common is oil reset, allowing you to turn off the oil light on your dash and reset the parameters after an oil change. Other important functions include DPF regeneration, ABS bleeding, TPMS reset, and adjustments to the throttle or suspension. Generally speaking, reset and service functions will be more important from a professional standpoint than they are to DIY-ers, though they can be helpful in home garages, as well.
Also called active testing, bidirectional control allows the mechanic to activate or test mechanical components on demand. This tells you if individual actuators, valves, and pumps are functioning the way they should, allowing for more efficient, effective repairs.
Coding and Programming
ECU coding and programming allow you to make changes to the parameters and settings of the engine computer. This is primarily used for tuning and remapping engines to optimize their performance, though it’s also helpful for making software updates and troubleshooting issues with the fuel efficiency or engine power.
Some scan tools go beyond the data that can be read through the vehicle’s OBD2 port. This can include a camera or scope that you can connect to the reader for more in-depth diagnostic information.
What Else Should You Consider?
Functionality and compatibility are the most important considerations when you’re shopping for a scan tool. There are other factors you’ll want to pay attention to as well, however, including:
- Intelligence. The most common smart feature on diagnostic scanners is an Auto VIN option that instantly identifies the make and model. While smart features can be helpful from an efficiency standpoint, they’re not as crucial to the overall operation as other factors.
- Speed. This is primarily a concern for professional garages that need to diagnose a lot of vehicles. A higher processing speed allows the scan tool to read and process data more quickly, allowing you to get to the repairs in a timely manner. Look for a scanner with a quad-core processor for the fastest diagnosis.
- Accuracy. A diagnostic tool is useless if it’s not giving you the correct information. Accuracy can be difficult to verify, one of the main reasons it’s important to buy a scan tool from a reputable brand with a reputation for quality.
- Updates. Some scan tools come with lifetime free updates, while others will require a paid subscription after a certain length of time. Pay attention to how the updates happen, as well. Updates through Wi-Fi directly on the scanner are the most reliable, saving you the need to worry about the compatibility of your operating system.
- Customer Support. Troubleshooting problems with a scan tool can be frustrating. A solid and responsive customer support line avoids this hassle so you can spend your time fixing cars, not tinkering with the tool itself.
- Community. Not all vehicle problems are easy to diagnose. A strong community of scan tool users can help you solve tricky repairs and issues, along with sharing general knowledge to help you use your scan tool more effectively.
Best Professional Car Diagnostic Tools Review
1. Launch X431 V+ Automotive Diagnostic Tool
Professional mechanics who work on vehicles from around the world will get a lot of use out of the Launch X431 V+. It’s compatible with more than 10,000 car makes—and it doesn’t just perform basic OBD2 diagnostics, either. All-system diagnosis and advanced features like key fob programming make it an impressive all-in-one tool for any garage.
For most hobbyists, the Launch X431 V+ is more scan tool than you’ll need. Since it’s designed for professionals, non-experts may find the included instructions a bit confusing at first. Having said that, advanced DIY-ers will appreciate the range of reset functions and will find the tool intuitive to use, with a large built-in memory for storing vehicle information. It also comes with 2 years of free updates and costs about $400/year to update after that, so it has a lower ongoing cost than other professional automotive tools.
- Bi-directional communication allows active testing
- Supports key programming and ECU coding
- Fast diagnosis with Auto-Detect
- Wide range of reset and service functions
- Compatible with more than 10,000 vehicle models
- Optional Heavy Truck add-on
- 2 years free updates included
- Some users have difficulty pairing to wireless OBD2 connector
Verdict: The Launch X431 V+ is the best value you’ll find in professional auto diagnostic tools, offering the same robust diagnostic and programming functions as scanners that cost 4-5 times as much.Check Price at Amazon
2. Autel Maxisys Elite Professional Auto Diagnostic Tool
The convenience and flexibility of the Autel Maxisys Elite will be worth the investment for professional garages. It’s able to wirelessly communicate with all OBD2-equipped vehicles and performs more tests and service functions than most scanners on the market.
The main complaint from professional mechanics about the Autel Maxisys is with its programming functions. They work great for BMW and Mercedes vehicles but aren’t available for any other models, an issue for garages that work on a variety of cars. Accessing advanced functions also requires a paid subscription after 2 years, and it’s not cheap at $1,200 a year. It’s worth the expense for larger garages but may not be something you can afford in a smaller shop.
Check Autel Vehicle Coverage HERE
- ECU programming for BMW and Mercedes
- Easy to use touchscreen interface
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Wide vehicle compatibility
- Efficient diagnosis of complex vehicle issues
- Allows performance enhancement and ECU customization
- Includes 36+ service functions
- Higher price point
- $1,200 Autel subscription required to update after first 2 years
Verdict: The Autel Maxisys Elite belongs in a professional garage. It’s capable of diagnosing, servicing, and customizing most vehicles a customer brings in.Check Price at Amazon
3. BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBD2 Scanner
The BlueDriver system is aimed at everyday car owners and drivers. It can read engine codes from any OBD2-compatible vehicle, which is most of the cars and trucks on the road today. For select manufacturers it also performs 4-system diagnosis (transmission, ABS, SRS, and engine). This option is currently available for select model years of 13 manufacturers. This includes common brands like Ford and Toyota but leaves out some major names, notably Chevrolet and Jeep. If you’re buying BlueDriver for its enhanced codes, double-check its compatibility with your car before you pull the trigger.
You don’t have to be a repair expert to take advantage of BlueDriver. The Repair Reports function gives vehicle-specific suggestions and explains the meaning of trouble codes. Even advanced DIYers can benefit from this extra insight and make faster repairs with BlueDriver.
That makes it the ideal diagnostic tool for home mechanics of all experience levels.
Check Bluedriver Vehicle Coverage HERE
- Allows continuous monitoring
- Easy to install and use
- Works with both Android and Apple devices
- Repair Reports function provides verified fixes from certified mechanics
- Customizable dashboard
- Free and automatic updates
- Enhanced codes only available on select vehicle models
- No service or programming features
Verdict: The convenience of BlueDriver is its main advantage. It’s the best car diagnostic tool for drivers who want to easily monitor their vehicle’s performance.Check Price at Amazon
4. Autel MaxiCOM MK808BT Professional Car Diagnostic Tool
The Autel MaxiCOM is a comprehensive diagnostic tool for an experienced home mechanic. The menu layout is designed for quick access of the most often used diagnostics and features. It can diagnose and reset all dash lights, including the oil, ABS, and SRS systems, so it’s very handy as a troubleshooting tool in a home garage. You’ll also love how affordable the updates are. They’re free the first year, and around $120/year after that.
The vehicle compatibility of the Autel MK808BT is broad but inconsistent. It can communicate with more than 80 vehicle manufacturers but not for all service functions. ABS bleed is one function many mechanics have issue with since it won’t work consistently on common vehicles like Jeep Cherokees (along with other models). This is the main reason it’s not recommended for all professional mechanics, along with the lack of active testing and ECU coding functions. It could work in small garages, but it’s not as feature-rich as the two options above.
- Diagnoses all vehicle modules
- 21 service functions, including IMMO reset and key programming
- Option of wireless or hardline connection
- Compatible with US, European, and Asian vehicles
- Includes 1 year of free software updates
- Excellent customer support through data manager
- Not all functions available for all vehicles
- No ECU coding capabilities
Verdict: The Autel MaxiCOM MK808BT is the best mid-range car diagnostic scanner and is suitable for small garages and advanced hobbyists.Check Price at Amazon
5. Foxwell NT624 Elite OBD2 Automotive Scanner
Home mechanics looking for an automotive scanner that won’t break the bank will love the Foxwell NT624. It’s a comprehensive diagnostic tool that can read codes from all electronic modules. It’s reliable across vehicle models, too, performing just as well on US brands like Chevy and Ford as it does on Japanese vehicles like Nissans, or European brands like BMW.
Home mechanics will also love the quick set-up. You can start using it right out of the box and running scans is easy, no matter your experience level. Updates are easy, too, and you’ll get them free for life, no need for paid subscriptions. It basically pays for itself the first time it spares you a trip to the mechanic, making it a smart investment for everyday car owners.
- Affordable price
- All-system diagnosis
- Free updates for life
- Includes the 2 most common reset functions (oil light and SBC/EPB)
- Compatible with 61 vehicle manufacturers
- Repair and service functions too limited for professional mechanics
Verdict: Home mechanics looking for an affordable all-system code reader should buy the Foxwell NT624 Elite. It reads and clear codes from all electronic modules, giving drivers a complete picture of their car’s health.Check Price at Amazon
The Final Thoughts
After thorough research, it’s clear all 5 of these tools have their strengths. The biggest difference between them comes down to functionality. Professional mechanics who need coding and active testing will want to spend the extra money for the Autel Maxisys Elite or Launch X431 V+. Between the two, the Launch X431 V+ worked most consistently with the broadest range of vehicles and is the best value for a professional diagnostic scan tool.
Home users can save themselves some money by honestly evaluating which features they need. Are you at the experience level to replace the tires, change the oil, and make similar repairs at home? In that case, service functions like TPMS reset or oil light reset will be big money-savers, and something like the Autel MaxiCOM MK808BT will be worth the investment. Those who are looking for more basic diagnostic information may get more out of something like BlueDriver, especially given its continuous monitoring abilities.
The bottom line is that knowing what you need from your scanner is going to determine which is the best for your garage. Hopefully the tips in this buying guide have given you some insight into the abilities (and limitations) of these professional car diagnostic tools.
1. What are the differences between Autel Maxisys Elite and Autel Maxisys Pro (MS908P)?
You can see the Maxisys Elite as the upgraded version of the Maxisys Pro. They offer the same functions and vehicle coverage, but the improved components in the Maxisys Elite give it a longer battery life and faster processing speed. The Maxisys Elite is also compatible with USB 3.0 and can operate better in extreme temperatures.
2. What is difference between Launch X431 V and Launch X431 V+?
The X431 V+ has a larger screen that’s easier to read and navigate. It also uses a quad-core processor, compared to the dual-core processor in the Launch X431 V, and has a larger memory capacity, enabling it to perform diagnostic scans more quickly. While both units have on-board Bluetooth support and one-click update, the X431 V+ also has the option for wireless report printing.
3. Does Launch X431 V+ support super car like Ferrari, Maserati, or Lamborghini?
Some super-charged engines are supported, including Ferrari and Maserati. In addition to basic diagnostic functions, it supports service functions like clutch PID, gear learning, and throttle adaptation. Unfortunately, the Launch X431 V+ does not support Lamborghinis.
4. Can Launch X431 V+ relearn crank position and idle?
Yes, for most supported vehicles.
5. Why is the Launch X431 V+ not listed on Launch Tech USA website?
The Launch X431 V+ is sold exclusively in the United States through their authorized Amazon distributor and can’t be purchased directly from the company on their website. This is why you won’t see the product listed on that page.
6. Does the Autel MK808BT diagnose US made vehicles?
Yes, the Autel MK808BT is compatible with over 80 manufacturers, including vehicles made in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
7. Does Autel MK808BT comes with Bluetooth connection? Can it work without WI-FI?
The Autel MK808BT has Bluetooth support built-in. It also has the option of a wired connection so you can use it when there’s no Wi-Fi available.
8. Can Autel MK808BT relearn the idle?
No, the Autel MK808BT does not support that function. If you need the ability to relearn idle, you’ll want to look at the Maxisys Elite reviewed above.
9. What’s the difference between the Foxwell NT624 Elite and the NT614 Elite?
The main difference is that the Foxwell NT614 Elite is a 4-system diagnostic tool, able to read information from the engine, transmission, ABS, and SRS. The Foxwell NT624 Elite is an all-system diagnostic tool. It can read information from all electronic modules, including those listed above as well as things like the climate control.
10. Is theFoxwell NT624 Elite able to turn off a check engine code?
The NT624 Elite can clear the trouble codes that turn on the check engine light. If the check engine light comes back on after you’ve cleared these codes, theirs is likely an ongoing issue in the engine that needs to be fixed.
11. Will the Foxwell NT624 Elite show previous history codes?
Yes. The Foxwell NT624 Elite can read all codes, including permanent codes and previous history codes.
12. Will BlueDriver device display “short term and long term” fuel trim data?
Yes, you can view the fuel trim data under the Live Data section for most vehicles. You can check whether it’s compatible with your vehicle on the BlueDriver website.
13. Do you need an internet connection to use BlueDriver?
You can use many of the diagnostic functions of BlueDriver without an internet connection, including reading and clear codes, reviewing freeze frame data, running smog checks, and viewing live data.
More advanced features do require an internet connection. These include VIN decoding and repair reports, as well as retrieving service bulletins, recalls, and maintenance schedules. You’ll also need an internet connection to update the software or share reports.
14. Is BlueDriver compatible with all phones and tablets?
BlueDriver works with all iOS devices running operating system version 10.2 or later. It’s also compatible with Android devices running version 6.0 or later. Keep in mind you will need a Bluetooth connection to use your device with BlueDriver, something that may not be available on all Android tablets. The BlueDriver app is not currently compatible with Windows devices.
15. Which vehicles are compatible with BlueDriver?
BlueDriver can read engine codes from all consumer vehicles sold in the United States or Canada after 1996. Enhanced codes are available for many popular manufacturers, including BMW (2005 and later), Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai (2011 and later), Mazda, Mercedes (2005 and later), Mitsubishi (2008 and later), Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and Volkswagen.
If you want to verify which features will work on your vehicle, head over to BlueDriver’s FAQ. There’s a form where you can enter the make, model, and year of your vehicle to get a specific list of BlueDriver’s compatibility.