It can be a challenge to get excited about an OBDII scanner. Usually, when a scanner is needed, it is because a check engine light has come on. Most people associate a check engine light with high-cost auto repair, and for good reason. Shops these days charge anywhere from $60 to more than $200 to scan a vehicle for codes and determine why the check engine light is illuminated.

Many automotive parts stores offer free check engine light diagnostics, with varying levels of accuracy and often suspicious results. For the home mechanic, simply throwing parts into a vehicle until the check engine light goes away is a quick way to waste time and money. A good scanner does the hard part -it figures out why the check engine light is on, displays the codes necessary to determine where the problem is most likely occurring, and enables the owner to reset the check engine light once a repair has been made.

I received the Innova 6100P OBDII scanner free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review. sells it for $138.99.

Most of my cars predate computers. In fact, Kennedy was still President when my daily driver was manufactured. However, I am often asked to check out issues on 1996 and newer cars, virtually all of which use a variation of OBDII.

The Innova 6100P ships in a well-packaged box, complete with its own carrying case. The unit itself is nice looking. It has a large, non-color screen that is illuminated. It is easy to read, even in bright light. The OBDII cable Innova supplies is one of the nicer cables I have seen. Add optional batteries to the unit, and the OBDII plug lights up. A nice feature when trying to fit that sucker in there in the dark. The cable uses captive screws to attach firmly to the scanner.

Innova applies a sticker over the screen that is not immediately obviously attached to a static-cling protective layer. I peeled the sticker off, leaving a sticky, gooey mess. After a few times using the scanner, the invisible protective layer began to lift, and I realized the screen was not trashed as I had feared.

There are no instructions included with the scanner. Most of us these days have a phone in our pocket that can get online, and that is where you find the manual and instructions.

I chose not to look at the instructions first. Rather, I just plugged the scanner into a 2005 Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas and waited to see what happened. If you are not familiar using an OBDII scanner, read the instructions.

The scanner immediately begins the process of identifying the version of OBDII software needed to read codes, then proceeds to automatically scan the vehicle log. In my case, the scanner returned a P1111 code. The scanner uses a three-light system to indicate severity of the issue. Green=No Problem. Yellow=Maybe a problem. Red=Problem. Pretty simple.

For most vehicles, fault codes the 6100P scanner finds will also include information about the code. In my case, there was no information. Since I have seen P1111 before, I know that it simply means the Jaguar Computer Assisted Technology (CAT) system has cleared faults after a repair. In essence, a P1111 code in a Jaguar means everything is fine, despite the scanner providing a yellow light. That isn’t very comforting.

What excited me about using this particular scanner was access to manufacturer specific codes through the ABS and SRS systems, and enhanced OBDII codes. This particular vehicle has intermittent transmission issues and frequently has errors with the computer-controlled air suspension. I was excited to use a scanner that could get in there and let me know more about why I have these issues. Innova supports a limited number of vehicles for these enhanced checks, and a 2005 Jaguar is not one of them.

Undeterred, I hooked the scanner up to a 2000 GMC Sierra work truck with a ton of miles. Certain I would get some juicy details, I waited patiently for the scanner to connect and scan. The scanner is pretty quick, maybe 25 seconds from start to finish.

Nothing to report. Bummer. I was certain that with as rough as this truck is running, I would get at least one error, but all systems checked out okay.

The 6100P scanner supports Freeze Frame information. Freeze frame essentially captures a snapshot of engine characteristics at the time a code was logged. Since none of my vehicles are being nice and popping codes right now, I was not able to access freeze frame data.

Battery and alternator tests are probably among the least regularly completed by home mechanics, until the vehicle won’t start. The 6100P has a really nice feature that analyzes the system health of the battery and alternator. Easy to follow instructions are displayed on screen. This simple test requires that one start and stop the engine three times. Both vehicles I tested this scanner on came back with normal charging system status.

The 6100P enables users to clear oil change lights, a particularly handy feature if you change your own oil.

Various menus enable users to examine a variety of monitors. In fact, the scanner was able to analyze at least 12 systems on the Jaguar, and nearly that many for the GMC pickup. that is a good, comprehensive scan, even if neither vehicle allowed further in-depth examination. I was able to check the status of the O2 sensors on the Jaguar, a component I have concerns about due to the high mileage and advanced age of the car. Both banks checked out as within range.

What I liked about the 6100P:

The carry case is great. Nothing is worse than dealing with cords loose in the trunk or tool box. The case keeps everything tidy.

The cable is wonderful. Not only is it heavy-duty with a professional feel, it is super long. Long enough that I could stand comfortably outside the passenger door of the Jaguar with the scanner plugged in on the drivers side.

The screen is bright, clear, and easy to read. The font is simple and instructions for the next steps are clearly displayed.

The scanner itself seems well-built if not a little light weight. Optional batteries permit use of the scanner when not plugged in to a vehicle and illuminate the OBDII plug.

Buttons are rubberized and have good feel and response, even with mechanics gloves on.

Things I don’t like about the 6100P:

The labels on the buttons are not well designed. I don’t care for images that represent words. I sarcastically refer to these as hieroglyphics. The 6100P has only one button that makes sense, and it has a crude, 3D rectangle image that is supposed to be an eraser, I think. That button is red while the others are grey, so obviously it is important. Three of the nine buttons have letters: M, FF, DTC. DTC is obvious if you know what you are looking at, but for a person that doesn’t know Diagnostic Trouble Codes are the information that results in a check engine light, even that one wouldn’t make much sense. M is menu and FF is freeze frame. Other than that, an S in a ying/yang-type circle (system menu, or start, or select, depending on what test is being run), two arrows pointing at each other (link), and a select button that resembles a delete button don’t provide much confidence in knowing what you are doing. I had to read the instructions to figure out what the buttons are supposed to do. Worse, the scanner refers to some buttons as “hot keys” when scanning, but does not indicate what a hot key is. I just started pushing buttons until it did what I wanted it to do.

The scanner does not provide live data.

Layout of menu options is annoying. A scanner that used a VIN would be much nicer. Having to manually enter information about the vehicle using a slow-moving button is annoying. Pressing and holding the up or down buttons makes it go really quickly to the end.

Things I didn’t know about until reading the instructions

The 6100P scanner can be connected to a computer via USB and information can be uploaded once the appropriate and free software is downloaded from Innova. The scanner uses the USB connection to update firmware as more vehicles and codes are included. Today’s vehicles can have more than 20 systems to check, and the 6100P seems to cover them all.

As mentioned above, I had to read the instructions to figure out what the buttons are supposed to do, and since some of them seem to have redundant functions, I ended up scanning the same vehicle several times just to make sure I pushed the right button.

Final thoughts

I use a scanner that I bought on Amazon for about $40. It reads codes and clears them, and that is about it. The major exception between my cheap scanner and the 6100P is live data. I can monitor engine temperature, RPMs, and lots of other system information in real time with the cheap scanner, but cannot with the 6100P, and that disappointed me. The screen on the 6100 is vastly superior to my cheap scanner, and I was really hoping to get a good idea of what was happening in real time.

What this scanner provides that a cheap unit like the one I typically use is the level of systems scanned. My cheap scanner will show just a limited amount of information, but does not have the capability of scanning for many of the system faults the Innova 6100P can access.

I would recommend this scanner to home mechanics working on recent model year vehicles over a cheap unit. The ability to access more data related to an error code is worth the expense, provided it works with your vehicle. The scanner is a nice size and seems to be well-made. I think that as a long-term tool, this scanner is going to hold together and last. The ability to update the software means new vehicles will be added, and that will save money for most people in the long run.

It may seem funny, but I really love the cable on this scanner. I have several scanners that are useless because of fixed cables that have cracked and broken or have damage to the pins and connectors from storage. The storage bag is nice for keeping things in their place, something I often struggle with in the heat of working on a car. Innova sells replacement cables just in case something goes wrong.

It seems the most advanced features of this scanner are more appropriate when applied to newer vehicles. Many older vehicles simply are not intended to capture and display the complex information modern vehicles provide. If a person is working on vehicles from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, a cheap scanner might be a better investment.