In this article: We'll review our best OBDII reader and scanner picks broken down into two categories: Handheld and Bluetooth plug and play. We'll include quick reviews, photos and price comparisons to help you save money!
- A (Brief) History of On-Board Diagnostics
- The Difference Between Scanners and Readers
- Why Buy a Scanner or Reader
- Vehicle Make and Model Compatibility
- Best Handheld Scanners & Readers
- Best Plug-and-Play OBDII Readers
- Features to Look For
What do you do when a warning light comes on? If it's the Check Engine light most of us keep driving. If it's signaling an anti-lock braking system (ABS) or supplementary restraint system (SRS – airbag) fault we might be more concerned.
The only way of knowing if the problem is serious is by reading and interpreting the Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC). DTC's are retrieved by plugging a code reader or scanner into the On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) port. A repair shop can do this for you, but if you own a code reader or scanner you can do it yourself.
Once you know what the problem is, if it's a quick fix or you have some mechanical skills you might do the work yourself. Alternatively, if you take the vehicle to a shop you'll know if they are giving you good advice about the problem.
There are many different types of scanners and code readers and features and prices vary widely. This buying guide will help you find the best car code reader for your needs. It covers:
- A (brief) history of On-Board Diagnostics
- The difference between scanners and readers
- Why buy a scanner or reader
- Vehicle make and model compatibility
- Features to look for (At the end of the page)
Once you're familiar with these products we'll review eight of the best obd2 scanners and readers.
A (Brief) History of On-Board Diagnostics
OBD systems were first developed for checking vehicle emission control systems. They consist of sensors that send data to the Powertrain Control Module (PCM). This compares the actual values with the limits for that vehicle. If they are exceeded the warning light comes on.
In the 1990's OBD2, (sometimes written as OBDII) came out. This provided far more information about the vehicle systems. Since 1996 all cars and light trucks sold in the US have come with an OBD2 port. More recently vehicle makers have added status checking and reporting of the ABS and SRS systems.
The OBD2 port is usually found under the steering wheel. It looks like an old-style computer monitor terminal.
The Difference Between Scanners and Readers
You may see and hear the terms “scanner” and “reader” used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Both plug into the OBD2 port, let you reset the warning and turn off the Malfunction Indicator Light, (MIL). However, the code reader only displays the DTC. It won't explain what it means or provide any diagnostic help. For that you'll need to go online. (Some readers come with a list of codes, but these may not cover your specific vehicle.)
A scanner differs in two ways. First, it can pull live data from the PCM, and often also the ABS and SRS systems. Second, it provides help with diagnosing the problem. The more expensive readers can also do some of these things so there's no clear line between the two.
Why Buy a Scanner or Reader
The main reason is to find out why a warning light has come on, and to turn it off. You might also use it to monitor or improve the performance of your car. You could also use it to diagnose an intermittent fault. They make good gifts for car enthusiasts, in which case you'd want to buy the best car OBDII scanner you could afford!
Vehicle Make and Model Compatibility
Vehicle manufacturers use several different protocols for their OBD2 systems. Most scanners and code readers will work with vehicles from the major car companies but it's a good idea to check before buying.
Best Handheld Scanners & Readers
Handheld scanners are typically more reliable than OBD2 dongle readers and can often have more advanced features to help you diagnose every problem on the broadest range of vehicles. These are the traditional plug-in scanners and readers that you’re probably more familiar with. With handheld scanners and readers, you don’t need to connect it to your phone to access data or download an app. Simply plug it in and power it up.
Best Overall OBDII Handheld Scanner: Launch CRP123E
- Handheld OBD2 reader and scanner
- Covers international OBD platforms
- 5” touchscreen, full color
- 4-in-1 graphing and data logging
- Smart Diagnosis aids in quickly solving problems
- Free lifetime updates
- Built-in WiFi for updates
- 12Gb memory
Launch CRP123E Quick Review
The recently introduced Launch CRP123E is a spectacular diagnostic tool that offers an unmatched ability to target troublesome problems in virtually any vehicle system, including ABS and SRS systems, transmission systems, and numerous other non-OBD2 functions. It’s our personal favorite for a handheld OBDII device. It will read and diagnose codes stored on the ECU and give you help with solving the issue with clear descriptions of potential causes for each fault and code.
The unit features a five-inch touchscreen display that is full color. It runs an Android 7.1 operating system and has built-in WiFi so it can automatically update itself to ensure you always have the most accurate diagnostic information possible. What stood out to us about this OBDII scanner is that it works for more than 57 brands in international markets using OBD1, OBD2, EOBD, JOBD, and other similar platforms. So it’s probably the most universal scanner on our list too.
The CRP123E has live data logging and an awesome 4-in-1 display so you can see several sensors functioning in real time all at once. This makes tracking down sporadic problems much easier and is a great tool for identifying tuning opportunities.
The reader can record data too and allows you the ability to zoom in on specific moments in time to understand when a problem is happening. The historic graphing capabilities are a great way to monitor performance over time to understand when you’ll need to make repairs before something goes seriously wrong.
- The ultimate tool for analyzing every data point your vehicle provides
- Convenient touchscreen that helps you find the information you need
- Somewhat large and bulky
- Not a cheap gadget
- Handheld OBD2 reader and scanner
- 2.8” color screen with 28 lines
- Diagnoses 10 vehicle systems including ABS and SRS
- Can clear and reset codes and timers
- Live data
- Pairs with RepairSolutions2 app
- Smog check mode
- Battery and charging system test
- Diagnoses battery faults on hybrid vehicles
Innova 6200P Quick Review
The 6200P is a relatively new code reader and scanner from Innova. Previously the 6100, this new model features a 2.8-inch color screen that makes finding the information you want fast and simple. It’s a full-featured reader and scanner suitable for use by professional mechanics too.
The 6200P reads all types of engine diagnostic codes from each system in the car, including ABS and SRS systems. It can identify engine codes and provide you with a possible solution, which is great for DIYers. In some cases, the reader can even interpret codes and make system changes to correct problems. The reader can also connect through an app that provides everything from the cost of the part to information about vehicle recalls that may affect your vehicle.
Innova’s 6200P also allows for live data which is excellent on the color screen. You can use the 6200P to track things like oil temperature and emissions data. The reader can save the data so that you can use it to further identify issues or show to a mechanic to explain an abnormal experience later. We really like this feature because it can help with the phantom noises, lights and issues that are intermittent and never seem to happen when the mechanic drives your car.
There is even a program built-in that will run through your vehicle’s sensor array and check the emissions so that you’ll know the vehicle will pass a smog check. This is a particularly handy feature when dealing with high-mileage cars. Or, if you’re trying to sell the vehicle and don’t want a failed smog check on the Carfax, this could help you diagnose and fix the issue before you even take it in for smog!
- Can diagnose virtually any issue that involves a vehicle sensor system
- One of the first products to address the specific needs of hybrid vehicles
- Pro-minded, so menus and names may be confusing
- No manual yet available
- Handheld OBD2 scanner
- Covers 10 vehicle systems
- Reads and diagnoses problems
- Real-time data tracking and logging
- 2.8” color screen
- Easy menu layout
- Clears and resets timers and check engine light
- Battery and charging system test
- Works for all vehicles 1996+ including many cars in overseas markets
Foxwell NT301 Quick Review
The NT301 is a great pick at a more reasonable price than the Innova 6200P. It’s been on our list now for some time and is still a very relevant and highly rated scanner. What it lacks in flash it makes up for in ability. The NT301 shows you data on a 2.8-inch color screen. Information is presented in a very easy to understand interface, so you can get what you need easily. The reader can scan all 10 vehicle management systems and display generic, manufacturer specific, and pending codes.
This is a nice reader for the average car enthusiast because once you read the codes, the reader will give you definitions and descriptions of how to fix the issue. To illustrate how user-friendly this one is; it has a help button that tells you what the information on screen means. Foxwell went the extra mile to make this a great choice for the home mechanic and DIYer.
Another cool feature we like about the NT301 is that it supports freeze-frame data logging so you can pinpoint when problems happen. This is particularly useful when trying to track down a sensor that has a sporadic problem or only causes a problem at a particular RPM. The live data logging stores graphs of the data so you can look at them later. The main page also allows you to print the data simply by connecting to a printer.
- Simple to use with a great layout that isn’t confusing
- Perfect tool for identifying bad O2 sensors, solving common emissions problems, and finding codes
- Can’t check or clear ABS or SRS codes, only checks engine systems
- Requires a Windows PC for updates
Best Handheld OBDII Scanner for Your Glovebox: Motopower MP69033
- Handheld OBD2 scanner
- Checks CEL codes only
- LCD screen
- Simple menu navigation
- Reads and erases CEL codes
Motopower MP69033 Quick Review
Sometimes, all you need is a tool that will give you the codes stored on the ECU and you don’t need a whole slew of extra features. The MP69033 is a great scanner that doesn’t cost very much, is easy to use and does the basics very well. Great choice to throw in your glovebox just in case something happens on the road.
Like most of the other OBDII options on our list, the MP69033 includes a DTC lookup library to help you identify the cause of the fault code quickly. This can speed up your repair by narrowing down the likely culprit and help you understand the severity of the problem. It only reads engine diagnostic information though, so it won’t give you codes for ABS, SRS, or other non-OBD2 systems nor will it allow you to clear those types of faults/codes.
The LCD screen provides you with the codes. It is easy to look at, if not special in any way. This device is primarily intended to read and erase codes, which it does in a simple and straightforward way.
Even though there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, the MP69033 tells you the codes that you need in order to diagnose many of the most troublesome check engine light situations. It clears codes and resets oil change timers, too.
- Simple and effective code scanner at a budget price
- Covers the most common CEL codes on many vehicles
- Doesn’t have some of the more useful features like data logging
- Not compatible with all makes and models
Best Plug-and-Play OBDII Readers
These OBDII readers are dongles that plug directly into the OBD2 port and send data to an app. This makes for a portable, wireless, and convenient scanner tool. Many of these devices work with third-party apps and can provide live data too. Check with the manufacturer if you drive a non-US vehicle, as there are likely some features that won’t work.
Best OBDII Scanner for Android Users: OBDLink LX
- OBD2 Reader Dongle
- Bluetooth 3.0
- Works with Android and WIndows PC
- Reads and displays DTC, emissions, and mileage
- Works with third-party apps
- Clears codes and resets oil change timer
- Sleep mode
- Free app
OBDLink LX Quick Review
Dongle plug-ins are kind of the latest fad, but some of them are truly promising and useful tools for diagnosing issues on your car. The OBDLink LX scanner works on almost all 1996 and newer cars that have a North American VIN number. The device is very simple to use – you just plug it into the port and open an app on your compatible smartphone and connect with Bluetooth 3.0. This particular Bluetooth OBDII scanning device only works with Android, so skip it if you are an Apple user. However, OBDLink does make an Apple Compatible device if you’re interested.
The LX is intended to be left in place while you drive. No need to remove it when you park either. The dongle has an automatic sleep feature that prevents the device from draining the battery and eliminates the possibility of a vehicle fire too so you can leave it plugged in for as long as you’d like.
OBDLink includes the proprietary free app for use with the LX, but you can also use it with other popular third-party apps like DashCommand and Torque. Third-party apps give you access to all sorts of interesting data and can be essential when trying to tune your car for power and performance.
And when you want to read the codes on your vehicle, simply open the app. Any stored codes will be displayed. This reader identifies DTCs, emissions test readiness, and calculates the vehicle's mileage to help you identify problems before they become serious. You can use this device for live monitoring while you drive too. The device is designed to accelerate data to provide smooth graphs and gauges.
- Simple and effective way to access data through the OBD2 port
- Great for Android devices
- No fees or subscriptions unlike most of the popular dongle designs
- Excellent app and works with the best third-party tuning and diagnostic apps
- Data rates are not as fast as advertised, but still better than the competition
- Some buyers had issues with firmware updates
- Doesn’t work with iPhones
Best OBDII Scanner on a Budget: VeePeak OBD2Check BLE+
- OBD2 reader dongle
- Bluetooth LE
- Works with 1996+ North America cars, limited overseas market compatibility
- Allows access to advanced data with compatible vehicles
- Extensive third-party app compatibility
- Reads and clears codes, resets timers
VeePeak OBD2Check BLE+ Quick Review
This is our recommendation for an inexpensive way to get the power of OBD2 live data at your fingertips. The OBD2Check BLE+ scanner from VeePeak works on all North America VIN numbered cars 1996 and newer with any of the five OBD2 protocols. It also works on select Canadian, European Union, and Mexican-market vehicles.
The BLE+ plugs directly into the OBD2 port and connects to Android or iOS phones using Bluetooth. From there, you use a third-party app of your choosing to read codes, see diagnostic data, and get graphs and gauges of how your vehicle is performing. It supports advanced data for newer vehicles that provide access to the data.
When using this OBDII scanner, it will display any codes saved by the ECU. Depending on the app you are using to view data, you may only have the code that is generated, or you might get an explanation about why the code is appearing. In either case, it is a simple task to copy the code and use an internet search to get more information. Since the device uses Bluetooth and not WiFi, you won’t have to go through any complicated settings to configure and use it.
The VeePeak OBD2Check BLE+ does a great job of providing convenient access to data stored on your car’s computer at a low price. It has been used by mechanics daily and is very well regarded.
- Easy to afford price-point puts advanced diagnostics within reach of everyone
- Works very well for live data monitoring and tracking reports
- Excellent options for using third-party apps
- Does not have a sleep mode, so it should be unplugged when not in use
- Does not work with MS-CAN protocol
Editor's Pick for Bluetooth OBDII Scanner: Bluedriver Bluetooth OBD2 Reader/Scanner
Bluedriver Bluetooth OBD2 Quick Review
This very small device plugs directly into the OBD2 port and sends data over Bluetooth to an app. That makes it very small and light, and means it could be running and saving data while you are driving.
The app, available for iPhone, iPad and Android, offers a number of useful functions. These include:
- Freeze Frame
- Live Data
- Graphical display of multiple PIDs
- Access to repair reports telling you how to solve the problem
- Smog check
- Mode 6 functions
Be sure to check out our walkthrough and review of the Bluedriver OBDII Reader/Scanner
Looking for accessories to add to your car? Check out these lists!
Features to Look For
Every OBD2 scanner and reader shows and allows you to reset DTC's. They will also let you turn off the MIL. After that there are a lot of other features to consider. Here's a list:
Problem-solving capabilities and support
Reading a DTC is only the first step in solving the problem. You need to find out what the code means, and how to fix it. Almost all scanners and readers offer a table that explains the code although you can just go online. The better scanners provide a lot of support for diagnosing problems and identifying solutions. Some information comes on CD, other material you access online.
ABS and SRS code reading
Entry-level readers will only output engine DTC codes. If you want to diagnose warning messages from the braking or airbag systems, look for the ability to read these codes.
Most scanners and readers are hand-held units with a cable that plugs in to the OBD port. Some use a Bluetooth transmitter plugged into the port which sends data wirelessly to an app on your phone or laptop. One advantage of this is that you can quickly access online databases of problem-solving tips from your device.
If using a plug-in scan tool, check the cable length. A short cable is okay if you're just going to read a code in your garage but one that's longer lets you put the scanner on the passenger seat. You might even want to carry it around to the front of the vehicle while you're working under the hood.
Storing data helps understand problems. You can see when a particular code last occurred, save data for subsequent analysis and see what effect any changes you make have. You might also want to have the scanner plugged in while driving. If that's the case you definitely need some memory to save your data.
This means the scanner retrieves information showing what the vehicle was doing when the fault occurred. It's helpful for finding out what triggered a DTC.
Hooking your scanner to a PC offers two benefits. You can download updates covering newer vehicles and you can save and print data. (This would be helpful if you wanted to monitor trends.)
Size and weight
Basic readers have a simple LCD display. A larger screen with a color display lets the device show more information. The best ODB2 scanners even display data graphically.
The downside of a larger screen is that the unit becomes bigger and heavier.
If you have short stubby fingers or prefer working in latex gloves you'll be glad of big buttons.
Less expensive readers and scanners are powered through the ODB port. This means data is not available once you disconnect. It also risks draining the vehicle's battery if you leave the unit plugged-in for an extended period. Units that run on batteries avoid this problem.
Scanners with larger screens can display selected live data, (usually termed Parameter ID's or PID's) in a graphical form to help with analysis.
I/M Readiness and Smog Check
Smog check lets you see if your vehicle will pass emissions testing. The I/M function, which stands for “Inspection & Maintenance,” is a check of how much time has passed since any DTC's were reset. (Without this people might be tempted to cheat on their emissions tests.)
A scanner with this function can display the upper and lower limits of each parameter, and so see exactly why a DTC was signaled. It's a function that's of most use to those with expert engine knowledge.