Uh-oh. That dreaded check engine light just popped on. You can feel your wallet shedding weight, right? Maybe not. With a simple OBD-II scanner and some dedicated internet research, you could save some serious cash.
OBD-II scanners plug into your vehicle’s OBD port—mandated in 1996 to be equipped on all new cars—and read error codes; some additionally read other vehicular data. With a scanner, you can preview if a repair is doable in your garage or if you need to prepare for the cost at a shop.
We chose highly rated OBD-II scanners on Amazon, plus the ones we use regularly, for this list. While all devices can read a certain subset of codes, some automaker-specific ones handle almost everything that an expensive shop-worthy scan tool can, allowing you to get to the bottom of even complicated issues. Each member of our testing team keeps one in their bag at all times. Get to work, doc.
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Bluetooth OBD-II Interface—Android Only
This Bluetooth code reader is only compatible with Android phones, and it connects to a variety of third-party apps including Torque Pro, Piston, Dash Command, OBD Fusion, and more. It displays check engine codes and live data from a few modules, but not all. For a cheap way to read codes, this is hard to beat.
Bluetooth OBDII Scan Tool — iPhone & Android
This Bluetooth scanner is a more complete product, featuring the ability to log data and providing vehicle-specific repair reports, in addition to scanning codes, all through the free BlueDriver app. The live data function can be very helpful for diagnosing a pesky problem, and you can even save and export the data as a file. This little tool does a lot.
If you’d rather stick to an all-in-one solution that doesn’t require pairing to a smartphone, this code reader from Autel performs all the basic functions. The interface allows you to read and clear codes, and it displays freeze frame and live data, as well as deciphers symptomatic meaning from the codes.
Professional OBD-II Scanner
This wired OBD-II scanner boasts a few more functions than the above tool. Aside from the typical code reading and data viewing, this gadget has a DTC lookup mode that verifies fixes for common problems. Though not 100-percent comprehensive, this can point you in the right direction.
OBD-II Diagnostic Scan Tool
This scan tool boasts more functions at a higher price point than those listed before it. In addition to reading check engine codes, this scanner also has the ability to read transmission, ABS, and airbag codes—usually not available on cheaper scan tools. With a battery test function, the ability to reset your oil-change-required light, and code severity indicator, this thing can do a lot.
Complete OBD-II Scan Tool
If you want basic professional functionality, this scan tool is a good entry-level choice. It can perform many tasks usually limited to a high-end shop scanner, but at an affordable price. Complete with over 25 different task abilities, it goes way beyond reading simple OBD-II codes.
Professional-Grade Complete OBD-II Scan Tool
This complete scan tool is for the professionals, and short of splurging on a Snap-on scanner, this might be your best bargain. With over 30 functions and all the adapters you could ever need, it boasts the means to tackle any pesky light that pops up on your dashboard. It’ll do it all, from oil change reset to ABS bleeding procedures.
Carly Connected Car
The Carly functions as both a diagnostic tool and a sort of customizer. Apart from reading check engine codes and data, this device allows you to code different settings in your car’s electronic modules. Examples of this are disabling the start/stop feature and even adjusting your gauge cluster display or daytime running lights. The full functionality is only available on certain brands, such as BMW, but it can be an invaluable tool for those looking to avoid expensive dealership visits.
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