Best Professional Automotive Diagnostic Scanner Reviews and Buying Guide 2019

Best Professional Automotive Diagnostic Scanner Reviews 2019

Have you ever gone to the mechanic over a check engine light issue only to realize that your fuel cap wasn’t screwed on all the way?

An OBD-II scanner can save you a ridiculous amount of money on auto maintenance. One of these tools will let you personally review and clear your vehicle’s error codes. If the issue is small, you can fix it yourself. If there’s a real problem, you’ll be equipped to discuss it with the mechanic.

There are many diagnostic scanners on the market, so choose one that meets your individual needs. If you just want to stay updated on your personal vehicle, buy a basic scanner. If you plan on performing serious repair, look for a more complicated model with enhanced diagnostic features. Either way, you’ll love being able to communicate directly with your vehicle’s internal computer whenever you like.

Best Seller: BlueDriver LSB2 Bluetooth Pro OBDII Scan Tool for iPhone & Android

https://www.amazon.com/BlueDriver-Bluetooth-Professional-iPhone-Android/dp/B00652G4TS/

The BlueDriver LSB2 is a convenient wireless OBD-II diagnostic tool. Combine the BlueDriver device with any smartphone to access complete vehicle diagnostics and repair information. This tool is connected to the Identifix database that is commonly used by professional auto shops; code interpretations and suggested fixes have all been verified by certified mechanics.

This device is one of the higher-budget options on this list, but it provides so much data that it’s well worth the price. Choose this scanner for a mobile-friendly option with frequent updates and a wide variety of useful features.

Smartphone Display

Most OBDII scanners include a digital display; BlueDriver cuts costs by having your smartphone do the work instead. Download the free BlueDriver app onto any mobile device for detailed readouts of every error code. Other displayed information includes vehicle specifications, service bulletins, previously cleared errors, and even your vehicle’s current emissions status.

You can use the BlueDriver app to clear error codes, save data, and leave notes about the vehicle’s maintenance schedule. The app’s interface also includes live status updates displayed on digital gauges; this information is useful for identifying problems as they happen. Customize the look of the app with movable widgets and color choices.

Detailed Repair Reports

The BlueDriver is a great tool for new mechanics because it offers detailed repair reports. Each error code is accompanied by possible causes and an in-app report that suggest common fixes. This useful information can guide repair work and acts as a primer for common vehicle issues.

A new mechanic with a light knowledge of a car’s anatomy and access to a BlueDriver can easily perform basic diagnostics and on-the-go repairs. Enhanced diagnostics are also available for certain car models; every time a new vehicle is added to the enhanced diagnostic list, the professional engineers at BlueDriver push a free update onto the app.

Pros

  • Connect the BlueDriver with any Bluetooth enabled device.
  • View live status updates using the customizable mobile interface.
  • Leave the diagnostic dongle attached to your car without draining the battery.
  • Clear both basic and enhanced error codes including ABS, airbag, and transmission status.
  • Check emissions data and maintenance schedules.
  • Download and save detailed repair reports to your phone.
  • Recieve free updates whenever new diagnostic information is available.

Cons

  • May produce incorrect error codes; if you see too many codes, run a fresh scan.
  • Has occasional BlueTooth connection issues that require a device reset.

Top Pick: Autel AutoLink AL319 OBD2 Scanner Automotive Engine Fault Code Reader CAN Scan Tool

https://www.amazon.com/Autel-AutoLink-AL319-Scanner-Automotive/dp/B007XE8C74/

When you want a simple diagnostic scanner with easy controls and clear information, the AutoLink AL319 is the obvious choice. This sweet and simple device contains everything you need in a single handheld package. Just plug the reader in, press a single button, and find out what’s wrong with your car.

The AutoLink is one of the cheapest models on this list. Despite the low price, it’s extremely versatile and is compatible with all OBD-II protocols.

Full Color Display

For being such a basic device, the AutoLink’s display blows other scanners out of the water. Start by pressing the I/M button to instantly get a diagnostic on your vehicle. Use the simple three-button interface to navigate through various options and submenus. You’ll notice clean data tables, color-coded errors, and cheerful green checkmarks that tell you when a feature is running as intended. Menu navigation is accompanied by a friendly beep to confirm your selection.

An LED indicator beneath the main screen can be used for instant diagnosis; red, yellow, and green lights let you know how your vehicle is doing. This simple system is an excellent portable solution for both new and experienced mechanics. No battery is needed – the interface draws power from your vehicle.

Universal Compatibility

The AutoLink is compatible with all known OBD-II protocols. This device can read and clear all standard error codes, and it can also perform a simple emissions readiness check. Unfortunately, the AutoLink can’t handle ABS or airbag reset, but that’s the only major downside to this device.

Autel, the company that makes AutoLink, offers free lifetime updates for all of their devices. Download the updated software from the Autel website, and install it onto your device with a TF card reader. This guarantees that you’ll always have access to the most recent manufacturer codes, and it serves as a handy fix for any software glitches that might occur.

Pros

  • This small, handheld scanner is a great portable diagnostics solution.
  • The interface is simple and can be used without extensive mechanical knowledge.
  • Brief descriptions are given for every error code.
  • Check your emissions readiness with the I/M key.
  • No battery is needed to run the device.
  • Recieve free updates and customer service for your scanner’s entire lifespan.

Cons

  • Manually scrolling through the interface can be time consuming.
  • A seperate TF card reader is required to update the device.
  • This device can’t reset advanced functions like airbags or electronic parking brakes.

Best Value: BAFX Products – Wireless Bluetooth OBD2 / OBDII Diagnostic Car Scanner & Reader Tool for Android Devices

https://www.amazon.com/BAFX-Products-Wireless-Bluetooth-Diagnostic/dp/B005NLQAHS/

BAFX offers a great wireless diagnostic scanner for literally a fifth the price of a BlueDriver. There’s a reason for this price decrease: the BAFX scanner can’t read or clear advanced codes like ABS or airbag reset. But if you’re just looking for convenient on-board diagnostics at a shockingly low price, this is the scanner for you.

Choose Your Mobile Interface

The BAFX dongle provides clear and detailed information from your vehicle’s OBD-II system. The device connects to your phone via either Bluetooth or wifi. You’ll need to download an app, but the upside is that you can choose any app that you want. The manufacturers recommend using an app called Torque Pro.

Once you’ve picked an app, you’ll be pleased to realize that your BAFX scanner offers real-time status updates from your vehicle’s sensors. Many apps use graphs and dials to turn this data into actionable information.

Compatible with All Modern Vehicles

BAFX promises that their scanner will work with any vehicle made in the United States after 1996 and with many vehicles made in other countries. The scanner’s capabilities depend on the vehicle’s internal computer; some cars communicate features like oil pressure and transmission temperature through OBD-II protocol.

This device can only read OBD-II updates, so don’t expect information related to the airbags or more complicated features. Still, the BAFX scanner is one of the cheapest ways to read and clear check engine light errors.

Pros

  • This is an extremely cheap scanner that works with all modern vehicles.
  • Use the BAFX scanner with any diagnostic app available for your phone.
  • The tool is long-lived and extremely durable; expect it to outlast multiple mobile devices.
  • Contact BAFX customer support with any problems or questions you have.

Cons

  • The Bluetooth scanner only works with Android devices; the wifi scanner works with both Android and iPhone.
  • This scanner can’t read or interact with enhanced diagnostics.
  • A separate mobile app is required to read information from the scanner.

Runner Up: FIXD OBD2 Professional Bluetooth Scan Tool & Code Reader for iPhone and Android

https://www.amazon.com/FIXD-Professional-Bluetooth-Reader-Android/dp/B013RIQMEO/

FIXD offers a wireless diagnostic scanner at a mid-tier price point. This convenient tool is all about user empowerment; from simple explanations to estimated repair costs, everything you need to know about your car is displayed right at your fingertips.

Detailed Diagnostics

FIXD tells you everything you want to know about your car. Unlike most OBD-II scanners, which only provide error codes and quick descriptions, FIXD gives you a detailed breakdown of every problem. The app will tell you what’s wrong, how much it will cost to fix, and how severe the consequences are if you put the repair off for another day.

FIXD is also capable of reading and resetting enhanced diagnostic information. View data about your airbags and transmission right alongside normal OBD-II protocols. The app takes a snapshot every time a diagnostic is run; go back through the logbook to review previous scans.

Smooth Interface

FIXD really is the easiest diagnostic tool to use out of this list. The interface is clean and professionally designed; just sync your phone to the device, and let the app do the rest. Simple reports and a maintenance timeline help you stay on top of vehicle repairs. When an error is discovered, browse through resources and repair videos to address the problem immediately.

Once of FIXD’s stellar features is its continuous monitoring capability. Leave the FIXD device plugged into your connector; if something goes wrong, your phone will alert you. One app can even control FIXD devices plugged into multiple vehicles; if you’re the family mechanic, keep tabs on every car your household owns.

Pros

  • FIXD’s clean and approachable interface is easy for anyone to use.
  • View repair suggestions and estimated costs for any problem.
  • Read normal OBD-II error codes and enhanced diagnostics.
  • Take advantage of detailed error reports and video resources.
  • Recieve live monitoring updates when something goes wrong.
  • Monitor multiple vehicles from the same app.

Cons

  • An account is required to use the diagnostic features.
  • Additional features within the app need to be paid for separately.

Also Consider: FOXWELL NT301 OBD2 Scanner Professional Enhanced OBDII Diagnostic Code Reader

https://www.amazon.com/FOXWELL-NT301-Professional-Enhanced-Diagnostic/dp/B00UJV3E12/

Foxwell’s NT301 engine tool is a classic OBD-II scanner with standard functionality. This handheld device is compatible with every OBD-II protocol; it’s a great choice for the home mechanic who wants simple and immediate answers.

If you’re looking for more features, Foxwell sells a wide variety of scanners with detailed interfaces and enhanced diagnostics. This company makes sturdy and reliable products that will last you for years.

Classic Interface

The NT301 is an OBD-II tool that any mechanic will be comfortable with. The interface has exactly the right number of buttons for navigation; use the arrows to jump between menus and page through diagnostic information. Press the “help” button for details on an error, and use the I/M button to check your vehicle’s emission readiness. Catch freeze-frame snapshots of each diagnostic, and print out detailed reports when needed.

The NT301 plugs into your link connector with a traditional cable. The device draws power from your vehicle, so don’t worry about the battery life. An optional carrying case will protect your scanner if you want to leave it in the trunk or glove box.

Broad Compatibility

Like most professional scanners, the NT301 is compatible with all OBD-II protocols. It also reads and graphs live data if your vehicle provides it; check your engine temperature, fuel system status, and other useful metrics.

The NT301 doesn’t read or clear advanced diagnostic issues. This is a basic OBD-II scanner that handles standard errors and check engine light issues.

Pros

  • A multi-button interface makes it easy to navigate the NT301’s internal menus.
  • Read any live data transmitted by your vehicle directly through the scanner.
  • The device will automatically find your vehicle information number and apply it to code descriptions.
  • Press the “help” button to get a detailed explanation for every error code.
  • Print diagnostic information for your records.
  • Update your device for free on the Foxwell website.

Cons

  • The upgrade software is only available on Windows systems.
  • This device cannot read enhanced diagnostic information.

Best Professional Automotive Diagnostic Scanner Buying Guide 2019

Display

As a consumer, the OBD-II Scanner feature you’re going to be most interested in is the display method. Some scanners are handheld devices that come with an internal monitor. You don’t need any extra tools to use these scanners; just plug them into the link connector, run the diagnostic, and read the results directly off the screen.

Many modern mechanics opt for either a PC scanner or a mobile-friendly OBD-II dongle. A PC scanner plugs into your laptop and relies on an accompanying piece of software. These scanners are surprisingly useful for stationary mechanics; since you’re already on your laptop, you can look up code definitions and solutions without leaving the garage.

The most versatile option is definitely the OBD-II dongle. These small devices plug directly into the connector and can usually be left there indefinitely. Information is displayed on your mobile device; download an app onto your phone or tablet to read the diagnostic information. These scanners are great because you can use any device to read them, and they’re easy to access in emergency situations. However, many traditionalists prefer to rely on the classic all-in-one handheld scanner instead of messing around with a smartphone app.

Connectivity

The next question you need to ask about your OBD-II scanner is how it connects to your car and the display mechanism. Most scanners still use a cable-based connection, especially if the device is a classic hand-held model. PC scanners also typically use a cord.

However, with the advent of wireless technology, many diagnostic scanners are going cordless. Scanners that connect to your mobile device usually rely on Bluetooth technology. You might also find handheld scanners with an individual dongle that wirelessly connects to the display pad.

It’s worth noting that, although wireless scanners are convenient, nothing will ever beat the speed and stability of a data cable. Most modern scanners are advanced enough that you won’t notice a difference, but Bluetooth connections have been known to fail on occasion. It’s up to you whether reliability or convenience is a higher priority concern – with the understanding that if you purchase a good scanner, you won’t be giving up much on either metric.

Complexity

How much data do you expect from your diagnostic scanner? Basic scanners will give you error codes, brief explanations, and little else. More complicated scanners can access everything from your vehicle’s emission’s status to airbag controls. These high-end diagnostics tools can reset certain functions, provide a live feed from your vehicle’s sensors, and print detailed error reports with repair suggestions.

Even though OBD-II is a standardized system, there are actually multiple different protocols. OBDTester notes that there are five different protocols your vehicle might be using. You can identify the specific protocol by checking which holes in the link connector are fitted with metal pins.

This is where buying a more complex diagnostic scanner becomes a great asset. If you purchase a basic scanner, it might only work with one or two protocols. Professional scanners can read all five protocols; choose one of these if you ever plan on working with more than one vehicle.

When you’re making your purchase, see if you can preview the type of reports that the scanner provides. You need a scanner with detailed reports that are easy to read. If you’re confident in your mechanical knowledge, extremely detailed reports might actually waste your time; look for printable reports that you can ignore when necessary.

Upgradeability

Each diagnostic scanner comes equipped with relevant information for every previously manufactured vehicle. But if a vehicle with unique error codes is released a year later, the scanner might not be able to interpret them.

To solve this problem, purchase a scanner that you can upgrade. Scanners that rely on external software are usually upgraded automatically; check to see how often the app or program is updated. Some forms of diagnostic software are version-locked, and you will have to purchase new software after a few years.

Handheld diagnostic scanners can also be upgraded. Some of these scanners come with a PC connector; others may need to be upgraded at a licensed dealer. The more complicated a scanner is, the more likely it is that you will be able to upgrade it when new data is released. Check to see if upgrades are free or if you will need to pay for the service.

Remember that error codes update very slowly. Diagnostic codes all follow the same formula; an old scanner will be able to read a new code, but it might not be able to offer an interpretation. If you have access to a search engine, it could be years until you “need” to upgrade your scanner.

Storage

A small consideration for your diagnostic scanner is whether you can store notes and diagnostic readings. Your car’s on-board computer is a delicate system; you might get a completely different set of readings the second time you run a diagnostic. It’s useful to be able to look back at old diagnostics and cross-compare the information.

If your scanner connects to your phone or computer, you’ll almost always be able to store snapshots. Some handheld scanners can also record diagnostics, but they usually have limited storage capacity.

Power Supply

Finally, think about your diagnostic scanner’s power source. Some handheld scanners need to be charged before use; they usually come with a power cord and even a replacement battery. A low battery indicator will remind you to recharge them in between uses.

PC scanners draw their power directly from your computer. Wireless scanners may not need to be charged at all; the dongle will draw power from your car, and your mobile device relies on its own battery.

FAQ’s

What’s the Difference Between OBD-I and OBD-II?

OBD stands for on-board diagnostics. This system provides an interface between a car’s internal computer and an external device. Cars equipped with OBD note problems with internal error codes; if you plug an OBD scanner into the car, you can view and clear the error codes as part of the maintenance process. Your car’s check engine light is controlled by the on-board diagnostics system, and the light will usually only turn off if the code is cleared.

There are two OBD standards that you might encounter as a mechanic: OBD-I and OBD-II. According to OBD Advisor, the original OBD-I system was a California standard used from 1991-1995. Various diagnostics systems have existed since the 1980s, and OBD-I scanners might work with some of these older cars.

OBD-II is a federal standard system required for all cars made after 1996. The same OBD-II scanner will work for a 1996 model or a 2016 model; more codes and capabilities have been added to later models, but the old codes will still read just fine.

OBD-I and OBD-II scanners are not cross-compatible. This has more to do with the connectors than anything else; even if an OBD-II scanner could be programmed to read OBD-I protocols, the pins simply don’t line up.

In general, always buy an OBD-II scanner. This will equip you to run diagnostics on any modern car. If you specialize in working with vintage cars, an OBD-I scanner might be a handy addition to your toolbox, but it’s not necessary for standard applications.

Where Is the Diagnostic Link Connector Located?

All OBD-II link connectors are located beneath the dashboard on the driver’s side. According to AutoTap, OBD-II connectors are required to be located within three feet of the driver, and they can all be found without access to tools. The first place you should look is the steering wheel; it also might be hidden next to the ashtray or beneath the left-hand turn signal.

On-board diagnostic connectors feature a 16-pin port. This port is shaped like a trapezoid with pinholes along the top and bottom. You will notice metal pins in some but not all of the 16 available slots.

You may need to remove the lower cosmetic dashboard cover to access the connector; this panel can easily be snapped back into place when you finish your maintenance.

For a quick way to find your car’s OBD link connector, check out CarMD’s handy online tool. Enter the make, year, and model of your car, and you’ll be provided with the exact location of your link connector alongside a handy visual graphic.

How Do You Read OBD-II Codes?

Although OBD-II is a standardized system, each manufacturer still uses a handful of different error codes. For this reason, many OBD-II scanners will ask you to enter your car’s make and model or even your vehicle identification number (VIN) before you can take a reading.

A high-end modern scanner will explain what each code means as part of the readout. But if you’re using a basic scanner, or if you want to educate yourself on the code system, you’ll be pleased to learn that the language is quite simple.

WikiHow has a great guide to OBD-II codes. Every error code starts with a letter.

  • P, or Powertrain, refers to the engine, ignition, and general fuel system.
  • C, or chassis, refers to axels, brake fluids, and problems related to the car’s basic structure.
  • B, or body, refers to the seats, airbags, and surrounding areas.
  • U stands for undefined. All miscellanious error codes are filed into this category.

Next, look at the number that comes after the code. If the first number is a 0, a 2, or a 3, this is a universal code; it means the same thing for every make and model of car. If the number is a 1, the code is manufacturer-specific, and you can expect to get a different reading depending on the car you’re working on.

The second number refers to the sub-system, like the engine or the fuel line; the final two digits represent the actual problem. As you get used to reading OBD-II codes, you’ll start to recognize common errors before the scanner finishes the readout.

If you need help identifying a specific error code, check out AutoTap’s online tool. Type in any code along with the vehicle manufacturer to get a list of all potential code definitions. You’ll need to know your VIN to make sure that the code definition applies to your specific situation.

The quirky element of on-board diagnostics is that the place where the error registers may not actually be the malfunctioning part. The car’s computer can only tell that a certain part is experiencing a problem, but it doesn’t know why that problem is occurring. This can result in your scanner generating too many error codes or “incorrect” codes that are vaguely related to the issue. As a mechanic, your job is to interpret the information from the scanner to identify the actual issue.

Always re-scan your car after you complete a repair. Any false codes should clear automatically if the issue is no longer present. When you are sure that the repair is done, you can manually clear the codes; this will turn off the check engine light and change the readout on your scanner. If your scanner has the capability, consider saving a snapshot of the cleared codes in case the issue pops up again.

Conclusion

The scanners on this list all have their own best-use scenarios. If you’re looking for basic OBD-II diagnostics, go for the AutoLink; it’s an affordable tool with clean information and great customer service. The best wireless scanner is definitely the BlueDriver – get access to a large database of information, free updates, and enhanced diagnostic support.

For a cheap option, grab the BAFX scanner. You’ll need an additional app for your phone, but you really can’t beat the price tag. The FIXD is a great choice for peace-of-mind maintenance, and Foxwell’s NT301 is a classic scanner that will serve you well.

Any of these scanners will provide you with simple and easy to understand OBD-II information. Don’t wait until your check engine light comes on; scan your vehicle regularly to fix small errors before they become large problems.

Automotive Expert

Your automotive Editor-at-large and car mechanic.

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