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Whether you're an everyday driver or a pro technician, when your check engine light suddenly comes on the first step is to connect an OBD-II scanner. At Autoweek, we recommend everyone carry an OBD-II scanner for preparedness purposes. This way, when your vehicle inevitably triggers a code, you can promptly begin diagnosing the issue, potentially saving big bucks at the repair shop.
To help you find the best OBD-II scanner, we turned to our friends at the Gear Team, who tested many of the scanners featured below. While most of these recommendations are based on their expert evaluations, some come from our own research, experience, and expertise.
Things to Consider
An OBD-II links to your vehicle's ECU system, gathering data from sensors and monitors. The scanner then translates this data into Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs), providing crucial insight into what the light means.
OBD-II scanners can be inexpensive, rudimentary devices that can simply point you in the right direction, or they can be pricey, fully-featured diagnostic tools designed mainly for use by professional technicians. Here's what to look for when you're thinking about buying one.
An OBD-II scanner is a wise investment for basic car repairs and inspection preparations. A simple scanner costing less than about a hundred bucks can read and remove DTCs. A high-end scanner is essential for more advanced tasks like reprogramming keys, systems tests, or controlling modules. Still, these advanced features typically come at a much higher cost and may not be necessary for most average drivers.
It's A Tool, Not a Fix
OBD-II scanners are designed to read your onboard diagnostic system. Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) indicate an issue—but it's crucial to recognize that the scanner is just the starting point of your diagnosis, not the final solution. Armed with the knowledge an OBD-II provides, you can then decide whether to tackle the fix yourself or take your vehicle to a mechanic.
Not all DTCs carry the same level of severity. When using a scanner to check your vehicle, pay attention to the alert's severity, as this is a crucial feature that most scanners will have. If you see a level 3 (out of 3) severity rating, do not run your vehicle as this could cause irreparable damage.
Bluetooth vs. Corded Scanners
The choice between a Bluetooth scanner and a corded one ultimately depends on your preference. While Bluetooth scanners will likely take longer to retrieve DTCs, they have the advantage of regularly updated smartphone apps that provide the most up-to-date information with each software update.
Ready to shop for an OBD-II scanner? Here are some of the best on the market.
The Ancel BD310, the Gear Team's Best Overall choice for home OBD-II scanners, offers versatility with both corded and Bluetooth capabilities.
In Bluetooth mode, its free app is simple to navigate. The scanner pulls and deletes codes with efficiency but also provides diagnostic guidance and performance testing. This makes the Ancel a great mid-tier scanner—an affordable price with many features of more advanced scanners.
The BlueDriver Pro claimed the title of Best Bluetooth Scanner in the Gear Team's scanner test. It utilizes a free app for both Apple and Android devices, featuring an appealing tile-based interface for easy navigation.
The only drawback noted by the Gear Team was the initial connection time. However, patience is rewarded with a wealth of knowledge like model-specific codes, data, and tests. This scanner is the primary choice of the editors in our office. If it's trusted by them, it's certainly good enough for us.
The Foxwell NT604 scanner steps into the high-end scanner category as it's capable of scanning multiple modules such as engine, transmission, safety restraint, and ABS. It features a large touchscreen and tactile buttons for navigation.
We recommend this scanner for individuals with advanced diagnostic skills. Notably, the Foxwell offers graphing functions for live data, providing valuable insights like short- and long-term fuel trim and O2 sensor cycles. While this scanner may be costly, its effectiveness and valuable insights make it a worthwhile investment for anyone who does more than occasional driveway repairs.
The Innova 5610 model allows you to diagnose your vehicle with ease. This model, named Best for Diagnostics by the Gear Team, offers numerous features like graphing, testing functions, bidirectional controls, and diagnostic guidance.
Innova is a major player in the OBD-II arena, offering various models to suit your needs. While software capabilities may differ, all models share user-friendly navigation buttons. During testing, the Gear Team successfully conducted a range of tests including compression, ABS bleeding, and EV/hybrid battery assessments. While this scanner is definitely on the higher side pricewise, it's well worth the investment.
The Motopower MP69033 is an ideal choice for beginners. It offers straightforward access to essential data such as DTCs, freeze frame data, engine speed, and coolant temperature through a user-friendly interface. The Gear Team named this its Best Budget scanner, and we agree. At this price point, it's a great choice.
While it may not be the most advanced option, its simplicity is an advantage for understanding your vehicle's engine modules. This is a great solution for those dealing with the occasional low-risk codes and just need the codes to be cleared occasionally.
Bluetooth OBD-II Scanner
FIXD is a popular option for an affordable Bluetooth scanner. The Gear Team acknowledged the FIXD's potential but noted that most of its premium content is behind a paywall.
At the base level, the FIXD provides scanning and code deletion functions, so it'll do the job for most of us. However, advanced features and insight, like mechanic's tips and a handy repair cost calculator, are accessible only through a subscription.
The Autel MS906Pro TS stands out as the ultimate OBD-II scanner, boasting an impressive array of advanced features such as ECU coding and bidirectional control. It's tailored for professionals and probably isn't necessary for the average consumer.
Still, if you know a technician who's passionate about diagnostics and has expressed interest in owning a top-notch scanner, the Autel MS906Pro TS makes an excellent gift. This tool not only will delight them, but it will also enhance their productivity and income, making it a valuable investment in the right hands.
Where is my OBD-II port located?
The most common location for the OBD-II port is in the driver's footwell, to the left of the steering column. Depending on the make of the vehicle, they may be deeper into the well and not immediately obvious. You may have to squeeze into the footwell a bit to find it, but rest assured, it is there.
How Do I Use My OBD-II Scanner?
First, locate the port. Second, plug the scanner into the port. Third, turn the key to the "on" position while the engine remains off. Fourth, let the scanner pull the codes. The last steps of navigating the device will vary depending on the scanner.
How Do I Erase the Check Engine Light?
When navigating your scanner, there will be an option to delete the codes. How to do this will depend on the model, but most if not all will have this feature.
How does an OBD-II scanner work?
OBD scanners read your onboard diagnostic system, which oversees important functions of your vehicle. When an issue is detected, the check engine light turns on, at which point you would connect the scanner to read the Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC).
Can an OBD-II scanner fix my car?
No. Your scanner is a diagnostic tool, not a fix. Much like an X-Ray machine can't fix a broken arm, additional work will need to be done to complete repairs beyond the initial scan.
Why Trust Us
Autoweek and its sibling publications at Hearst Autos represent three of the most influential automotive publications in the world. With the legacies of Autoweek, Car and Driver, and Road & Track behind us, the Hearst Autos Gear Team is more concerned with the trust our readers have in us than our bottom line. We won't tell you to buy something if we wouldn't buy it ourselves or recommend it to our friends, and we'll never claim to have used or tested something if we haven't. We've evaluated dozens of products, from Fuel Injector Cleaners to Portable Tire Inflators.
Our picks and recommendations of products and gear are based on testing and knowledge, not hype. We rely on decades of experience in the automotive and gear spaces to help readers make informed purchasing choices. Read more about our testing process here.