Gone are the days when you had to depend on your mechanic for any little thing that was wrong with your car.
Nowadays, you can take better control of how well your car performs.
An example is to use an OBD scanner, of which there are two types: OBD1 scanners that are for older vehicles and OBD2 scanners which are for newer ones.
What, exactly, can an OBD scanner do? You can get lots of vital information about your car’s wellbeing, especially if you make use of an OBD2 scanner because it has more features.
The information includes your car’s air temperature, road speed, coolant temperature, and engine RPM, to mention a few features.
While you might not be able to replace your trusted mechanic, an OBD scanner can definitely point you to any problem areas your car might be facing. So, with that in mind, let’s explore the best OBD scanner for your vehicle.
- 1 Best OBD Scanners – Reviews & Buying guide for 2021
- 2 OBD Scanner FAQ
- 3 Conclusion
Best OBD Scanners – Reviews & Buying guide for 2021
Best Overall: Actron CP9690 AutoScanner Kit
This Actron OBD scanner can read diagnostic trouble codes on vehicles that are as old as 1996 models, all the way to present vehicles sold in the USA. Let’s see what it has to offer.
- This OBD scanner comes with CodeConnect, which is a database containing 26 million reported solutions for diagnostic trouble codes (DTC) that can cause warning lights to come on in your car, such as your check engine and airbag warning lights.
- It makes use of ODI/OBDII live real-time data that allows you to monitor, record, and even playback your vehicle sensor, relay, and switch inputs, all while your car is running. You can even print out the information if you connect the scanner to a PC.
- By using the CodeConnect hotkey, you can easily connect to various solutions to the problem you’re experiencing with your vehicle.
- This OBD scanner comes with extra items included with your purchase: a 3.5-inch color display, OBD I cables, OBD II six-foot extension, and cigarette lighter cables. It also comes with a soft storage case and a trilingual manual to make using it much easier.
- For greater convenience, this scanner comes with two AAA batteries included so you can start using it right out of the box.
- One of the biggest issues people who have purchased this OBD scanner have reported is that they battle to scan imported vehicles.
- Although the live data recording option is great, it’s worth bearing in mind that this OBD scanner will only allow you to save up to five recordings, and they can only be up to 90 seconds in duration.
Runner Up: OTC 3211 Scan Tool
This OBD tool works with all 1996 vehicles and those that are more recent, as well as light trucks. Is it worth purchasing? Let’s see.
- It comes with OBD1 cables included for older models, such as 1984-1995 Ford and GM models, and 1989-1995 Toyota and Chrysler models.
- This OBD1 scanner has airbag/SRS and ABS coverage that’s compatible with a variety of popular vehicle brands, such as Hyundai, Ford, Honda, Chrysler, Toyota, and Nissan.
- It comes with some useful features to help you monitor your car, such as an EVAP leak test, a graph, a recording and playback function of live data, and an O2 sensor test.
- You will love being able to freeze frame data from your vehicle at the time when a fault was experienced.
- Its CodeConnect database comes with over 26 million reported fixes, and to further help you find the solution to your problem it offers alternate causes for it.
- This OBD scanner has a great feature to help you, especially if you’re a beginner who’s just learning your way around cars: it has what’s known as a component locator. This is a text-based description of where you can find a specific part/component on your car.
- You’ll be able to receive status updates on your vehicle’s battery, thanks to how the OBD scanner has a charging system monitor. When you start the engine, it will give you updates on the condition of the alternator, battery, and electric starter.
- It comes with extra accessories included, such as a detachable vehicle diagnostic cable, an update cable, and a soft case.
- People who have purchased this OBD scanner have reported issues when dealing with the company’s customer service.
- The software has not been updated recently, and it’s not compatible with cars that are newer than 2013.
Alternative: INNOVA 3145 Code Reader
This Innova OBD I scanner has an easy-to-read digital display.
It provides you with numeric trouble codes so you don’t need to count flashes in order to learn what the problem is with your vehicle. Let’s see its other features.
- It’s compatible with most Lincoln, Mercury, and Ford domestic cars as well as trucks, as long as they’re 1982 to 1995 models.
- This OBD scanner works with EEC-IV and MCU computer control systems.
- It has a memory feature that will make your life easier because it can store codes even when the scanner is unplugged.
- It comes with instructions for OBD1 operation and all Ford self-tests. In fact, the instructions on how to use this scanner have been praised by people who have purchased it and used it on their own vehicles. The instructions include a complete guide to all the possible codes you’ll receive.
- If you have the device working as soon as you switch on your car, it will automatically do a self-test.
- Some people who have purchased this OBD scanner have reported that its connector pins push back into the code reader case.
- Other people have said that this scanner isn’t easy to use, therefore it’s not best for beginners.
Alternative: INNOVA OBD2 Scanner
This is another product offering from Innova, but it’s an OBD2 scanner instead of an OBD1 scanner.
Let’s see what this scanner code reader has to offer and how to use the OBD scanner codes.
- One of the best features of this OBD2 scanner is that it comes with a Repair Solutions 2 app. This app enables you to receive verified vehicle fixes, find out the part that you need to buy in order to repair your car, and even offers maintenance schedules.
- You will be able to check the engine and ABS lights on most cars that were made in, or after, 1996. This includes domestic, European, and Asian vehicles.
- It has a battery and charging system test. This will ensure you always remain updated on whether your car’s battery and alternator are working effectively.
- This OBD2 scanner offers live data about your car, such as when it comes to its oil temperature and RPM.
- Just like with some other OBD scanners we’ve reviewed, this one has a freeze-frame data feature. It gives you information about your vehicle from the moment when the code was experienced.
- To make it easy to use, this OBD scanner has a patented all-in-one display. This offers 20 pieces of data on one screen, such as code definitions, so you have all the information you need without having to scroll through menus.
- Sometimes it’s difficult to know if you need to repair a faulty component in your car immediately or if you can wait it out. This OBD scanner will let you know, based on code severity levels, so it’s perfect for you if you travel a lot.
- An extra feature it has is Smog Check LED indicators. These will inform you if your car will pass an emissions test.
- The OBD scanner’s user interface is beginner-friendly, but it’s not as intuitive as what you’ll find on other OBD2 scanners on the market. One of the issues that some people who’ve purchased this scanner have experienced is that you have to scroll through menus a lot in order to find the information you need.
- Some people have reported issues when it comes to installing the scanner’s firmware.
Alternative: INNOVA OBD1 Code Reader
This Innnova code reader allows you to access the on-board computer so you can read ABS and ECM codes. Let’s see what else it can do.
- It’s compatible with most General Motors cars and trucks, provided they were made within the years of 1982 and 1995.
- This code reader works by connecting with your car’s computer self-test connector, but will not cause any problems for this system.
- It has instructions in English, Spanish, and French.
- It comes with code definitions and illustrations so it’s easy to work with to help you solve your car’s problems.
- It can be used on multiple OBD1 cars and makes it easier to work with because you don’t have to try to move underneath the driver’s dashboard in order to use a paperclip.
- Despite the above point, some people who bought this OBD scanner have reported that they didn’t like how the error codes show up as flashing lights on the dash that need to be recorded with a pen and paper.
OBD Scanner FAQ
In this buying guide, we’ve looked at OBD1 and OBD2 car scanners, but if you’re a beginner who doesn’t know much about these devices you might have some questions.
An example is what the difference really is between these two types of scanners. With that in mind, let’s explore some common questions about OBD scanners.
Which is better OBD1 or OBD2?
Both OBD1 and OBD2 scanners have their merits.
While OBD1 systems use basic diagnostic testing methods for vehicles, this was considered advanced for their time when they first hit the market in 1991 because of how they could “talk” to the vehicle’s computer and could analyze a few critical problems in vehicles.
Although OBD was a big milestone in the quest for car owners to be able to diagnose problems with their cars themselves, OBD1 is quite limited as compared to OBD2.
Not only is OBD2 more updated than its predecessor but it has more processing power and it can check all components of vehicles.
This is why OBD2 is considered to be the industry official standard code. Since it offers real-time diagnoses, this makes it much more efficient.
Another reason why OBD2 is better than OBD1 is because OBD1 was built to help vehicle manufacturers to come up with better cars for the future.
When OBD2 was produced, this enabled large manufacturing companies to improve, but it also went the extra mile to help individual car owners better understand and fix their cars.
Two other important differences between OBD1 and OBD2 that you need to know about refer to their specialization and connectivity.
One of the big drawbacks of OBD1 scanners is that they’re manufacturer-based, so if you have a different car brand you’ll have to have a different OBD1 scanner, which is quite a hassle.
By comparison, OBD2 is more standard – almost all cars will be able to use the same OBD2 scanner, therefore saving you money and increasing your convenience.
When it comes to connectivity, OBD1 vehicles lack it because there aren’t many ways in which to connect to the scanners.
By comparison, OBD2 allows you to run diagnostics directly from a cable or even wirelessly via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
What year did OBD start?
In these OBD scanner reviews, we’ve seen that most of the products cater to cars that were made after 1996. This is no coincidence.
All cars and light trucks that were made and sold in the U.S. after January 1st, 1996 had to have OBD2 equipped. But, if your car was built before that year, it might have OBD1 installed.
OBD1 was first installed in vehicles in 1991. It was called the California Standard. It made use of basic diagnostic tests, such as finding uncomplicated engine problems in a car.
It was quite limited, which is why OBD2 later came about, in 1996.
The first OBD2 vehicles could give you information pertaining to air leakages in the fuel system and other faults when it came to the exhaust gas recirculation system.
Although OBD1 only came about in 1991, the interesting fact is that OBD systems were already coming into play as early as the ’60s!
Volkswagen used onboard monitoring in 1958 as it had electronic fuel injection in vehicles.
Then, in 1978, the Japanese created the Datsun 280Z that had onboard computers to give car owners real-time tuning of the fuel-injection system.
Then, General Motors joined the scene with their testing of the Engine Control Module (ECM), which they called the Assembly Line Diagnostic Link (ALDL).
This was already being used in cars that were sold in California in 1980. By the next year, this feature was found in all cars sold in the United States.
Most of the features being developed by car manufacturers were used to monitor pollutants like carbon monoxide that were released by vehicle exhausts, but the testing protocols were allowing cars to pass emissions tests even when they had a large quantity of pollutants passing through their tailpipes!
This was a problem of which OBD1 could provide a solution.
The California Air Resources Board was on a mission to improve air quality, so it set the rule that all vehicles which were sold in the state in 1988 had to have on-board diagnostic systems to monitor and locate any problems within the vehicle’s emissions system.
OBD1 was a basic, but useful, diagnostics system that monitored the engine control module, oxygen sensor, and fuel delivery system to achieve this purpose.
Are all OBD ports the same?
Generally, all OBD ports will be standard. They take the form of a 16-pin connector that is located in the vehicle passenger compartment.
However, this may be difficult to find, depending on the model and make of your car.
Usually, you’ll be able to find your OBD2 port in that spot, but you should also look a bit left of your steering wheel, underneath the vehicle dashboard. It might have a protective cover or latch.
If you’re still battling to locate your OBD 2 port, you can download an app to help you. It’s called “Where Is My OBD2 Port? Find It,” which is available on Android and Apple devices.
In case you’re wondering what OBD system your car has, you can check underneath the hood as there will be a sticker that tells you what type of OBD system is in your vehicle.
Another way in which to find out is to know what year your car was manufactured. It’s really that simple!
What does OBD stand for?
After reading the previous questions in this section, you’ll probably guess that OBD stands for On-Board Diagnostics.
It’s basically a computer system that’s located inside a vehicle and it works by regulating how well (or poorly) a car is performing.
The computer system will gather information from a network of sensors located inside the vehicle and then the system can regulate the car components based on that, before alerting the car owner about any problems in the car.
An OBD has the following components:
- ECU: This is known as the Electronic Control Unit. It’s basically the main part of the OBD system and it gathers information from sensors, then uses it to control parts of the car, such as fuel injectors, or to monitor the car for any problems.
- Sensors: The sensors are found in various areas, such as the car’s engine and chassis to the electronic system. All the sensors send codes to the ECU so that the source of the signal can be discovered and the ECU can read the signals.
- DTC: This stands for Diagnostic Trouble Code, and it basically comes into play when the sensor sends data to the ECU. The ECU will record the information as a code called the DTC. Put simply, the DTC is a list of numbers and letters that refer to the source of the fault. These codes tend to be standardized but can be specific to the car manufacturer. When a DTC is recorded, the ECU sends a signal to the car’s indicator light – the “check engine” light – so that the owner knows a problem with the vehicle has been located.
- MIL: This stands for Malfunction Indicator Lights. They are activated when the ECU collects the DTC code and sends a signal to the car’s dashboard so that indicator lights can come on to warn the driver of any problems. Usually, if this light remains on, the problem is a small one. A flashing light usually means the problem is more serious and you should tend to it as soon as possible.
- DLC: The Diagnostic Link Connector is what’s used to access the information and DTC codes that the ECU collects. This is usually located underneath the driver’s side of the dashboard.
Whether or not you drive your car frequently, having an OBD scanner is essential.
As we’ve seen in our article, you can gain valuable information from your OBD system that can help you better monitor your car to ensure that it never lets you down.
In this article, we’ve featured five of the best OBD scanners on the market and why they’re worth purchasing.
We’ve also answered some common questions about OBD scanners to help you learn more about them.