Finding the right OBD II scanner for your vehicle can open up a whole new world where you can not only see the error code but also directly address the issue with your car. There are times when the error codes indicate a relatively simple problem, and these may be readily fixable once you have the code.
Car enthusiasts have used professional automotive diagnostic scanner for years, and they have always been present in auto repair shops, but less expensive and simpler versions are available for the average vehicle owner. Car enthusiasts may opt for more complex models, but for occasional use, another model may be more appropriate.
What Is an OBD II Scanner?
An OBD II scanner is a device that you connect to your car which can tell you the error code from your vehicle’s computer when an indicator light is on. Most often a check engine light will be present, although another indicator light may illuminate instead or in addition to the check engine light.
Once one of the indicator lights lets you know that something is amiss with your vehicle, the next step is to connect your OBD II scanner and allow it time to run and tell you what the error or trouble code is. Most OBD scanners will give you an alphanumeric code that you can then research online, or in a reference book to get more information.
The OBD II scanner does not pose any harm to your vehicle when appropriately used, and it can yield a surprising amount of data that can help save you time and make fixing your vehicle much easier.
Will Any OBD Scanner Work with My Vehicle?
In 1996, the OBD II scanner became the standard for all cars, and ever since vehicle owners have been able to use one device to scan all makes and models. While there are still a variety of different OBD scanners, you should be able to plug any one of them into your car and receive the error code.
The OBD II was able to be standardized since it works directly with the onboard diagnostic (OBD) computer system in your vehicle. This computer system works to help your car run at its best and can also trigger alerts when something goes wrong.
The computer system in your vehicle has access to most of the systems that are running, and it can also exert some control over them to help your car run at its best. When the OBD detects that something is wrong, its triggers the check engine light, or other appropriate indicator light.
The OBD is also responsible for monitoring information that is collected by the sensors that are everywhere in your car. This includes near the wheels, and in and around the engine, which gives the OBD quite a bit of information to process at any given time.
What Do I Need to Know Before I Buy?
What Do I Need to Know Before I Buy OBD Scanner
Before you buy an OBD II scanner, consider what you’ll be using it for and how often you’ll be using it. More complex models can cost significantly more than simpler models and may provide far more detail than is used in your particular situation.
Simpler models can be plugged in and immediately used, while more complex models may want to pair with another device such as a cellphone or laptop to yield all of their data. Not all models require that you use an app, but many OBD scanners have apps available that you install on your phone. Once the app is installed, you can wirelessly receive the error code.
Free apps that pair with OBD II scanners are a relatively new offering by OBD manufacturers, and many individuals find them to be incredibly useful. With the code in hand, users can also do online searches for more information about the error code and figure out how to fix it.
You’ll also want to decide how much you’d like to spend on an Car Diagnostic Tool as the prices can range from $50 to several hundred for the most complex versions. While most occasional users will opt for the $50 version, car enthusiasts may want to invest in a more expensive model that can deliver them more detailed information.
Beware of cheap or knock-off brands and models that may produce low-quality products. These units are often unreliable and may give you faulty information or be unable to read the code from your vehicle’s computer correctly.
If you decide to choose a more complex unit, consider the learning curve of how to use it and how much time you’d like to invest in referencing the manual. Although it’s a good idea to reference the manual at least to get started, many individuals have very little patience for manual reading and a more straightforward scanner may be better suited for their needs.
The Best OBD II Scanners
It may be surprising, but there are many Car Scanner available for under $100 that have a variety of features. Here are our top picks for easy to use OBD scanners that are both inexpensive, and high performing.