If your car was made in, or after, 1996, it will have an On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) version 2 on board.
This is known as OBD2. By having an OBD2 scanner, which you can purchase from Amazon or other retailers, you’ll be able to better communicate with your car’s OBD system to know if there’s a problem your car is experiencing.
What, exactly, is an OBD2 scanner? This type of scanner basically communicates with your car’s computer to give you a rundown of how the vehicle is working.
It can pick up errors and faults so that you’re in a more informed position when it comes to doing car repairs – whether you choose to go the DIY route or you want to go to a mechanic.
With that in mind, here’s the best OBD2 scanner for the money. We’ve also got four alternatives so you have options.
Best OBD2 Scanner – Reviews & Buying guide for 2021
Best Overall: ANCEL AD310 Scanner
If you know your way around OBD2 scanners, you’ll know that having one with extra features to make using it easier and more convenient is a must.
This Ancel scanner offers attention to detail, so it’s perfect for all DIY mechanics.
- This easy-to-use OBD2 scanner offers a classic design and easy scanning features so you can find out what repairs you need to have done to your car.
- To use this scanner, you just need to make use of four buttons on it: “up” and “down” buttons are for scrolling through the menu, and the “enter” and “exit” buttons are for navigating back as well as entering the device menu.
- It’s compatible with most 1996 cars that are based in the United States, Asia, and Europe. It’s also compatible with newer OBD2 vehicles and CAN domestic or imported vehicles.
- It’s got a large display screen with contrast adjustment and a white backlight so you can use it even when visibility is poor.
- You don’t need to fuss with using batteries or a charger in order to use this scanner – simply power it up by connecting it to the OBD2 Data Link Connector that’s located in your car.
- This OBD2 scanner has a 2.5-foot long cable that’s constructed out of a thick yet flexible insulator.
- When you plug it into your vehicle’s OBD 2 port, the device will come to life and request that you start the car’s ignition. When you do that, you’ll see the “Check Engine” light come on and the device will start trying to help you find out why it stays on so a problem can be detected and solved.
- This device is great because it will read live data and it enables you to view freeze-frame data from when the fault code was experienced. This will help you to stay on top of your car’s well-being.
- There is no guide included on how to decipher the error codes. This makes it difficult to use at times, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the codes, because you have to try to find what the codes mean yourself.
Runner Up: LAUNCH OBD2 Scanner
If you want greater versatility with your OBD2 scanner, this Launch product will be suitable because of how many car brands it is compatible with. Let’s check them out, and its other features.
- You will be able to update the scanner’s software any time you like, so you’ll always have the latest version for the most effective diagnostics.
- This scanner is capable of offering engine, ABS, transmission, and airbag system readings, and it also supports a live data stream.
- This OBD2 scanner will work on most 1996 car models, and a variety of different car manufacturing countries, such as Iran and India. You can also ensure you monitor vehicles that were manufactured in Europe, America, and Asia.
- This scanner is compatible with over 57 car brands and different vehicle types, such as SUVs, light-duty trucks, and minivans.
- This best OBD2 scanner with ABS and SRS is equipped with a VIN-based Auto VIN technology that is useful for identifying the vehicle’s make and model. This will help it to start working to help you find what’s wrong with your car.
- Your data can be recorded and turned into diagnostic reports you can email or print to yourself (or, perhaps, your mechanic).
- The manual isn’t clear to understand.
- Some people who have purchased this best cheap OBD2 scanner have reported that its power switch seems to get stuck sometimes and this causes the device to shut off.
Alternative: FOXWELL NT301 OBD2 Scanner
Checking your car’s emissions before its annual emissions test is essential, and this Foxwell OBD2 scanner can help you do that. It’s the best obd2 scanner under 200 dollars because it will help you do lots more!
- This OBD2 scanner gives you live data about your car’s wellbeing, which can be accessed via text or graphs so you can read accurate vehicle error codes.
- This scanner is compatible with most light trucks, SUVs, and cars that have OBD2. Most cars that were made in 1996 or later will have OBD2 onboard, so this is a versatile product to own.
- The device keypad is arranged in a way to be user-friendly, thanks to its clearly labeled buttons.
- The device also has a 2.8-inch wide color screen to make it easy to read.
- It has a smog check helper. Its red, yellow, and green LEDs, as well as built-in speaker, let you know when the device is ready to do a smog test.
- You don’t require batteries to use this OBD 2 scanner. Simply hook it up to the OBD2 interface in your car. Convenience is just one of the factors that make this the best OBD2 scanner under 100 dollars.
- Some people who have purchased this OBD2 scanner have reported dissatisfaction with the quality of the user manual.
- It’s only compatible with Windows PC for times when you want to update it.
- It doesn’t have highly intuitive functionality and navigation, as compared to what you’ll find on other OBD scanners.
Alternative: LAUNCH CRP129E OBD2 Scanner
You can do a lot with this scanner, from being able to interpret data in the most convenient way to running various tests on your car. Let’s check it out.
- This OBD2 scanner enables you to generate vehicle health reports and print them or share them with yourself, loved ones, or your mechanic via email.
- You will be able to monitor and reset the engine, ABS, SRS, and transmission systems, as well as turn off the warning light.
- You’ll receive live data in graphs and get to playback recorded information in either graph or text format.
- This scanner can conduct a variety of tests, such as an oil test, electronic parking brake test, throttle position reset, steering angle calibrations test, real-life battery monitoring, and TPMS reset.
- It’s compatible with 57 car brands and it can be used in 10 different languages, so it’s extremely versatile.
- It comes with a carrying case.
- Some people who’ve used this OBD2 scanner have reported that sometimes the diagnostic pages link to Google pages that are out of date or don’t exist. This requires some updating on the part of the manufacturer.
Alternative: LAUNCH Diagnostic Tool
You want your OBD2 scanner to be easy to use and beginner-friendly, otherwise what’s the point of trying to use it? This Launch OBD2 scanner ticks both boxes. Let’s see what else it has to offer.
- This diagnostic tool is user-friendly, so you can use it easily even if you’re a beginner, and it will monitor and analyze data from your vehicle within mere seconds!
- It offers specialized tests, such as the EVAP, VIN info, O2 sensor, I/M Readiness, and other tests, so you’ll get a comprehensive range of monitoring for your vehicle.
- It has simultaneous 2-PID (Parameter ID) graphing live data. What this means is that you’ll be able to figure out if your car’s battery is performing correctly and locate any bad sensors.
- This OBD2 scanner can work with all standard OBD2 cars and light trucks that are sold in the U.S. This includes European, Asian, and American vehicles.
- It’s easy to navigate and has responsive buttons. It also has on-screen tips to help you use it.
- It comes with a short cord that could have been quite a bit longer so that it would be easier to work with.
- It doesn’t come with a case. If you want one, you’ll have to buy it separately.
- Some people have reported issues with updating the device’s firmware. This can reduce the performance of the device.
OBD2 Scanner FAQ
Now that we’ve looked at some of the best OBD2 scanners on the market, you might have an idea of which one you want to buy.
But, before you do, let’s check out some common questions related to OBD2 scanners so you can learn more about them and how to use them.
Do OBD2 scanners work on all cars?
Generally speaking, most OBD2 scanners will work on your car, provided that it was built in 1996 or later. This is the case in the United States, but things are a little different elsewhere.
For example, in the European Union, cars that are 2001 or later models and are gasoline vehicles will be OBD2-compliant, but specific countries will have different rules.
For example, in Argentina vehicles that were made in 2009 or later will be OBD2 compliant, while in Thailand cars will work with OBD2 software if they were made in 2013 or later years.
Since these scanners aren’t powered by anything and just need to be connected to the vehicles in question, they’re easy to use.
Although they’re versatile for use on a variety of vehicles, you should always ensure that you check the manufacturer’s guidelines to be 100 percent sure that your car and OBD2 scanner will be compatible.
You can get a quick answer on compatibility by checking out our table at the start of this article which provides you with the compatibility of all the OBD2 scanners we’ve reviewed in this article.
Some OBD2 scanners only work on certain makes of cars, so that’s something to bear in mind because not all of them are going to be universal.
You might also be wondering if there’s a way to be 100-percent sure that your car will be OBD-compliant.
There is – simply open the car’s hood and look around for a sticker that says “OBD-II compliant” or “OBD-II certified.”
Is it worth buying an OBD2 scanner?
If you’re not a mechanic, you might be wondering if it’s worth your money to purchase an OBD scanner.
In order to answer that, we’ll have to look at some important things to bear in mind about these types of scanners.
Let’s start with some good things. OBD scanners can help you maintain your car.
If the “check engine” light comes on and won’t go away, you will not have to feel helpless. You will be able to run tests via an OBD2 scanning device so that you can figure out what’s wrong with the car.
Many OBD2 scanners come with diagnostic code definitions so that you won’t have to look them up online.
Some people might say there’s no point in owning an OBD scanner if you’re not going to be able to fix the problem with your car yourself.
But at least you’ll have a better idea of what the problem is – it might be something small that doesn’t have to worry you before you can take the time to go to a mechanic, for instance.
On the other hand, this scanner can diagnose serious problems, which will push you to take your car to the mechanic immediately, and this will save you money when it comes to preventing further damage to your car.
Having an OBD2 scanner can also prevent you from being conned by an unlawful mechanic.
If you know the error codes and what they mean, you’ll be in a more empowered position and less likely to be taken for a ride by a mechanic who wants to swindle you out of your hard-earned money.
That said, it’s important to note that you’re not necessarily going to get very accurate fault reporting with an OBD2 scanner.
It will give you the idea of what’s wrong with your car, but then you’ll still have to take a peek under the hood or let a mechanic check it for you.
However, if you’re a DIY mechanic in your spare time or just very interested in learning about your car, an OBD2 scanner can teach you many things.
And, of course, if you’re a mechanic, having an OBD2 scanner that you can use on various car makes and models will be hugely beneficial.
Is it OK to leave OBD2 plugged in?
You might be wondering if it’s safe to leave an OBD2 device plugged in all the time. This should be safe for most vehicles, but it’s important to be careful with battery drainage.
If you’re leaving it plugged into your car when it’s off, you might encounter problems with the battery being drained by the time you want to start your car again.
This has been found to happen with some people, especially during cold months when there’s more pressure put on the car’s battery or if it’s left for days without being used.
So, based on that, it’s worth taking the OBD2 device out of the car’s port when you’re not using your car, and this is the safest thing to do even if your car battery is in excellent condition.
It’s also important to remember that your OBD2 scanner will only work when your car is up and running.
It won’t be scanning or monitoring your car when it’s off, so it’s really pointless to keep it plugged in if you’re not using your car.
How accurate are OBD2 scanners?
It sounds like a dream to be able to diagnose problems in your vehicle yourself, but you might be wondering how much OBD2 scanners can really do as well as how accurate they are.
Choosing a high-quality OBD2 scanner that has a lot of features does ensure its accuracy, but it’s important to know what the scanner’s codes are.
Once you’ve got that knowledge, then using an OBD2 scanner can really be worth purchasing. This is because it will be able to troubleshoot a variety of problems, such as vehicle oil pressure and spark plug effectiveness.
It will even be able to access the vehicle’s identification number from its internal computer.
When purchasing an OBD2 scanner, make sure that it has the features you need otherwise it won’t give you the accurate information pertaining to certain car components that you want.
Some basic scan tools will have limited functions. For example, if your car’s ABS light is flicking, you’ll want a scanner with more functions to get to the bottom of the problem.
However, you might not need anything fancy or expensive. For example, you might just want to clear the “check engine” light after you have fixed a problem in your car.
It’s good to bear in mind that OBD2 scanners will only be able to give you an idea of what’s wrong with your car.
They will point you in the direction of what component will need to be fixed, but you won’t get specific issues.
For example, the first character that shows up on the device could be “P”, which means that there’s a problem with the car’s powertrain system.
Then, a number that shows up could be “2,” which would mean that the car has an air or fuel metering injection system issue.
You can sometimes find out more information that will help you better fine-tune where the problem is coming from, which is very useful.
So, to ensure greater accuracy with OBD2 scanners, it’s essential to choose a scanner that will give you the features you’re looking for.
After reading this article, it’s clear to see that OBD2 scanners have many benefits. They’re an essential tool to own if you want to maintain your car in the best way and ensure it performs at its peak.
But, which OBD2 scanner should you purchase? Luckily, you’re spoiled for choice in these OBD2 scanner reviews.
To help you learn more about OBD2 scanners and if you really need one, we’ve also answered some important questions about these devices.