Car diagnostic tools are based on the OBD (On-Board Diagnostic System) system of your car. You can access the subsystems of your car via this onboard computer. You can either consult a mechanic for the diagnostic or you can choose and buy the best car diagnostic scan tool yourself to perform the job for you.
Being a DIY automobile repairer, I know a thing or two about how these machines work. Don’t worry, you don’t have to study mechanical engineering to check and resolve engine problems.
That’s what scan tools are for. In this article, I have listed the 10 best car diagnostic scan tools to help you pick the right product.
Best Car Diagnostic Tools of 2017
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Launch CReader 6011 – Best to Buy
There are loads of companies that manufacture scan tools for cars, phones, and computers.
Launch CReader 6011 is a popular multipurpose tool that allows you to diagnose and reprogram vehicle control modules.
The customizable console is armed with user-friendly hotkeys and a quick access toolbar.
As far as the look and feel is concerned, I feel that the metallic construction and extended cover boost the durability of the product.
The Launch CReader is an all-in-one solution for car owners who want a robust and reliable scan tool for their vehicle. Replete with advanced yet easy to manage tools, the device is a hit among both first-timers and professionals.
With its attractive interface, OBDII/EOBD functions and ABS features, the Launch CReader 6011 is definitely one of the best scan tools to buy in the market.
BlueDriver Professional – Best for Iphone and Android
The BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBD-II scan tool is considered best for Android and iPhone users.
I had spent a lot of time on the internet looking for a moderately priced car diagnostic scanner for my iPhone 6. The search was over with BlueDriver.
The BlueDriver app is often recommended for users who have installed the scan tool as it enhances the performance and productivity of the device tenfold.
BlueDriver is a convenient tool for users who want a no-nonsense scanner that has the ability to work on and scan the modern engines. With its advanced OBDII/EBOD diagnostic functions and ABS solutions, the scan tool is successful in meeting up with all the expectations of users.
The onboard monitors are excellent for retrieving live graphing data and gauging the data sources and logs of CVS files.
FOXWELL NT301 – Best Scan Computer
There are so many OBDII grade scanning tools out there that promise users robust performance, excellent productivity, and responsive design. But we all know, very few actually manage to deliver the same.
With the ever growing brands of scanning tools and devices, it becomes an overwhelming task for users to find the one that best matches their vehicle.
The Foxwell Nt301 is a smart choice for users who want a cost effective and quick scanning tool for their cars.
The NT301 is a tool you’d want to have if you wish to clearly read and clear engine DTCs for OBD2 and CAN compatible cars.
Many of my colleagues happen to use this scanner and have a lot of good things to say about it. So, I looked up myself and yes, it has a couple of advanced features to help you keep the engine at optimal condition.
Moreover, with the MIL automation VIN codes, you can easily acquire and decode manufacturer specific information.
The NT301 model launched by FOXWELL is perhaps the best scan computer tool you’ll come across on the market today. Considered to be the easiest and quickest solution for ODB related faults, the device is compatible with all Windows, Mac, and IOS devices.
It accurately checks the vehicle’s engine, diagnoses the problems and them come with the best possible solutions for their wide databases.
ScanTool 427201 – Best Car Scan Tool
Thanks to technology, it is surprisingly easy today to scan your cars for engine troubles and online threats.
When looking for the best car scan tool models, I have seen many users often left with a dilemma because of the overwhelming number of choices presented to them.
The ScanTool 427201 is a Bluetooth OBD 2 diagnostic solution that can support all devices from your laptop to your phone and cars and convert it into a real-time performance monitor.
ScanTool is a company that has been known for their unique and unconventional products among users and the 427201 model is no different.
I have been an Android user for years and I can safely pass it off as one of the most user-friendly platforms for Android devices.
You’d love the brand ScanTool for its innovative and unique set of functions and tools that offer users so much more than a traditional OBD scanner. The affordable and convenient option offers all the necessary features you’d expect from a standard scan tool and more.
With its robust security system, multi-layer password protection and compact, portable adapter, the device can be used almost anywhere, anytime and on any vehicle.
Autel AutoLink – Best for European Cars
With this tool, users can connect their laptops, phones, cars and pretty much every device and access the diagnostic reports.
Its simple setup and incredible functionality of the machine are immensely popular among professional customers and technicians.
The intuitive interface has a set of I.M ready keys and codes that can check the readiness and emission of the engine. It has worked like a charm for me so far.
It feels durable and certainly is easy to manage. It comes with a USB cable, OBD-II cable, carry case and user manual, comes really handy during long road trips.
Another USP of this product is the smart “freeze data” function that can stop the application temporarily while you reset the codes.
The AutoTune AutoLink scan tool saves both time and money of the user. The scanning functions are at par with the latest and most advanced of updates in vehicles and hence, more adaptable.
Having a scan tool saves you the trouble of spending a fortune on getting it professionally checked for issues. From day-to-day use to regular maintenance, the tool has a number of uses.
Foxwell NT201 – Best OBD 2 Reader
The next contender in my list is also from Foxwell. I got a chance to use it during a road team with my college pals. It worked perfectly well on our mini van.
Once or twice, I observed some issues with the engine light and it helped me resolve the issue in no time. I particularly loved how easy it is to use the scanner.
You don’t have to carry batteries with you as it draws the power directly from the car’s OBD-II interface. The big and bright LCD display shows all the engine data clearly and accurately.
Keeping in mind that not all of us are familiar with all the DTC codes, the device displays the meaning of the codes in layman’s terms.
The Foxwell NT201 gives many of its contemporaries a tough competition by simplifying the operation for the non-techy individuals. Despite being packed with a bunch of super cool features, it is incredibly easy to use.
To know whether the engine has passed the emission test, you don’t have to depend on guesswork if you have this scanner at your disposal.
ANCEL AD310 – Best Budget Tool
It is also compatible with newer CAN (Controller Network Area) and OBD II (On-Board Diagnostic level II) imported and domestic car models.
To my great pleasure, the unit can display the readings in multiple languages other than just English.
It has a pretty solid and user-friendly interface, which I feel, will be an added perk for the beginners. When connected, the device guides the user through an uncomplicated menu of access areas and functions that the device can perform.
Should there be any error code, it detects the code and displays it on the screen. I have used it on multiple occasions and it hasn’t done any major goof-up yet.
Once the engine check light is on, it searches for error codes and clears them, following which it resets the monitors. If it is connected to the OBD II connector, it indicates the user to turn the ignition on.
The LCD screen has a white backlight which lets me study the readings properly. To avoid glare, the device is also equipped with brightness contrast option.
If you are on the lookout for a good budget OBD tool with classic features, then Ancel AD310 may be the one for you.
Sure, there are scopes of improvement but as an entry-level car diagnostic tool, it does a great job.
BAFX 34t5 – Best Cheap Diagnostic Tool
A very new and upcoming face in the OBD2 industry, the company is known for its smart, resourceful and solid solutions for cars and computers.
The Bluetooth OBD2 scan tool in question can diagnose and cure the technical issues of your engine from their extensive database of both generic and primary codes.
The colorful display monitor shows real-time vehicle information with an indicator. Another feature I appreciate a lot is their customer care service.
Also, unlike most other scan tools, the BAFX tools have a fairly longer life.
BAFX is a brand that is quickly becoming a household name among users thanks to its solid features and reliable scanning solutions. The tool is ideal for both first-time users and professional.
The fact that it comes with Bluetooth connectivity and in-depth database makes the product one of the best cheap diagnostic tools for your vehicle.
ANCEL AD210 – Best Price
The product in question is armed with all the latest solutions and scan codes that are faster and more efficient than other Bluetooth Wifi OBD2 scanners.
Ancel AD210 works well with almost every vehicle, from old 1996 models to the more advanced OBD2 and CAN cars.
The multi-lingual interface supports languages such as English, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese and Russian.
Moreover, I can customize the easy to read menu just the way I want. You can delete, upgrade codes or retrieve generic and manufacture-generated codes.
All you have to do is plug the device onto the 16-pin OBDII DCL, it automatically activates as soon as you turn on the ignition
Ancel is a scan tool manufacturer known for its scan tools that support both casual and professional users. With a smart interface, advanced features, robust diagnostic solutions, and a visible display, a scan tool is a lucrative option.
It reads codes, analyses them, generates reports, prepares graphs, and clears errors, all in the real-time.
Autophix OM121 – Best for the Money
The recent addition to its products is the OM121, a car scan tool that combines the best of smart features and aesthetic appeal.
Delicate design, sleek appearance and stable operation of the tool enhance the performance of your vehicle.
The convenient functionality of the scan tool is ideal for both novice and experienced mechanics alike. From diagnosing the errors to clearing them in a matter of minutes, the tool can do anything.
Add to that, the scan tool is very easy to install and manage. All you have to do is plug in the device to the car’s 16-pin OBD port.
When it comes to choosing a compatible and competent scan tool option of your car, nothing but the best would do. Inexpensive and powerful, the OM 121 Autophix is among the most reliable tools for DIY users and professionals.
From the extensive database to the display monitor, everything is customized to your requirement.
Best Car Diagnostic Tools – Buyer’s Guide
What Is a Diagnostic Tool?
A car diagnostic tool is a device that is meant to diagnose your car’s condition, and often reprogram the control modules. Car diagnostic tools come in several varieties according to the manufacturer.
This ranges from the basic code readers to the more sophisticated bi-directional computers that are capable of programming.
The code readers are more or less only meant to read the various codes pertaining to specific problems.
However, scan tools that are more complex provides you with a complete analysis of the status of your car which includes descriptions and suggestions for analyzing the codes.
Some scan tools also offer you with data in real time, like the emission level of the car and other factors.
They can, in specific parameters, even calibrate modules. But this will require certain software and thus, most scan tools are more limited in its functioning.
If you are not interested in these extra advantages, you can, of course, purchase a simple code reader, also known as OBD 2 scan tools.
You will only need to download an app on your phone to be able to read the codes.
It will save you from regular trips to the technician for an update about the condition of your vehicle. You can check the functioning of the various components of the vehicle yourself and save a lot of money.
With a car diagnostic tool, even a basic one, you just have to visit the mechanic only when you know that something is wrong with the car.
What Is a Diagnostic Test?
A car diagnostic test involves a fast but correct evaluation of your car. The technicians who are performing the test look into the data from the onboard computer of your car.
Doing this, allows them to access the trouble codes and the notifications from the car’s manufacturer.
This, when connected to the onboard computer of your car, can scan out the exact source of the problem. These problems may be related to oil tanks, the exhaust system, gas tanks, transmission and other areas of your car.
A diagnostic scan on your car will alert you to problems persisting about the build-up level in combustion engine, inconsistency in the ignition timings.
It also informs you about the performance of the fuel injector, the rpm level of the engine, the positions of the camshaft and the crankshaft, the firing of the ignition coils and more.
After this, the computer tags the data points to find out the problem and this code is stored for the technician to later work on the issue.
A diagnostic test is also meant to properly identify the problem that has caused the check engine light to turn on.
The check engine line is the precursor to server problems, most of which takes time to be discovered.
With a proper diagnostic test, you can not only avert problems which are currently causing your car to function improperly but also look into those issues which haven’t manifested yet.
It is highly essential to perform a regular diagnostic test. If you don’t want to go to the technician for it, you can easily purchase an OBD2 scanner for your purpose.
How to Use an OBD2 Scanner?
An OBD2 scanner works as a gateway into your car’s onboard computer. To begin with, you need to connect the scanner to the computer. You will have to plug in the scanner into the port that is placed under the dash.
In most cars, it is situated near your knees. The power source may be external or internal, depending on the scanner you are using. Most run on the power generated by the vehicle while it is running.
To bring the computer up to date, you need to turn on the ignition. If the check engine light is on, you will have to conduct the scan.
If you want to go cheaper, a simple code reader would be a better choice. The code reader will simply show you the codes and you will have to look them up in the menu.
A better OBD II scanner helps to pinpoint the problem and its source. It will provide viable options for you to check so that you can discover whatever is wrong.
A scanner will hardly draw much power from your car. But it can save you a lot of money in any situations. You can connect it with your smartphone to access the app and access the codes.
What OBD 2 Scanner Should I Buy?
Diagnostic scanners are differentiated by the range of codes they are capable of detecting. The simplest ones are known as code readers.
They have the basic features and can clear codes, but not much else. However, they are certainly cheaper. They won’t display more than engine data or PCM.
The more sophisticated OBD 2 scanners come with multiple unique features. Before buying, you need to know whether your scanner will work on European or Asian cars.
If you have a US-based car, most scanners will be suitable for you. The more expensive ones are suitable for more than one kind of vehicle.
The more intricate ones will come with alerts for problems concerning monitoring of the tire pressure, anti-lock brakes, and more which includes about 75 codes which are installed in most vehicles.
You should at least buy one that displays the definitions for the generic codes and even permanent and pending ones.
Some can freeze a frame of information for later perusal.
They may even have Wi-Fi connection which will allow you to connect it without a USB.
It might be able to retrieve the identification number of the vehicle which is necessary if your car has been rebuilt. The better ones show the data in real time and even save the information so that you can refer to it afterward when you go to the technician.
As with everything, a high-end OBD 2 scanner will cost more. But you can avoid compatibility issues which happen with most of the cheaper models.
If you are someone who spends long hours away from civilization, it is better to know when there is some major problem in your vehicle.
What Is an OBD 2?
OBD 2 scanners or Onboard Diagnostic Scanners are connected to the onboard computer of the car for diagnosing codes and reporting.
While OBD 1 scanner varies according to the manufacturer, OBD 2 scanners use similar designations for codes, connectors, and protocols for communication.
The simplest code readers, while providing the basic code reading and clearing mechanisms do not offer further information on codes that are manufacturer specific. It also does not offer access to any other data.
Scanners, on the other hand, offer access to both recorded and live data. It also offers manufacturer specific codes. They can also read soft codes which are codes which haven’t yet turned on the check engine light.
It has more access to information as well. The data is collected from all the sensors and fed to the onboard computer.
All OBD II scanners use one connector called SAE J1962. The basic scanners can be plugged into the diagnostic connector for OBD II in the vehicle.
More sophisticated ones come with modules or keys meant to augment the connector for interaction with the controls or information that are OEM specific.
What Is ELM327?
The ELM327 is a microcontroller device which works as a connection between the onboard computer and your smart- phone or PC.
It is not as adept or versatile or self-sufficient as an OBD 2 scanner. However, as a cheaper option, it essentially provides the same basic advantages.
It can link to the OBD II system and then transport the data through Bluetooth, USB or Wi-Fi, based on its individual implementation.
It usually supports many protocols of ISO and SAE.
It can connect with any vehicle with an OBD-II connection. While not exactly the same as the Hayes command yet, its commands are very similar.
While you can use the ELM327 for diagnostic tests, you have to access other software and hardware. They will also offer you the trouble codes and you can read the PIDs as well.
The communication system is bi-directional. With this, you can clear the codes that you have already accessed.
The ones with a Wi-Fi connection are usually more expensive. But at the same time, they connect with more devices than those with a Bluetooth connection. But the ELM327 devices that are connected through USB have the widest compatibility.
They are cheaper and you have no chance or an irregular connection. Bluetooth connected ones are incompatible with devices that operate on iOS.
They are cheaper than the ones with Wi-Fi connections. However, with PC or Android, you can connect any one of these.
What Is a DTC Code on a Car?
DTC is short for Diagnostic Trouble Codes. The computer based engine of your car is able to self-detect any problems in your vehicle that affects its emissions and performance to an extent.
This can also be applied to the anti-lock system and the onboard system.
When a problem has been detected, the computer will retain the DTC in its memory. Then the check-engine lights are activated.
Some vehicles can turn on their diagnostic modes by grounding those terminals which are available on the diagnostic connector.
This also activates the check engine or other lights that are meant to alert you about problems persistent in your car.
But maximum vehicles are simply designed for plugging in the DTC scan tool into the onboard computer system.
How Do I Connect My Laptop to My Car?
You can connect your laptop to the onboard computer system of your car. The system is designed to keep a track of the proper functioning of your car and its components.
To connect your laptop, you have to convert this equipment to your PC.
This is usually accessed through the OBD 2 port on the car. This inch long port can usually be found below the steering wheel around the fuse box.
Firstly, you have to plug in the OBD 2 adapter end to the OBD2 port on the car. If you need help, the manual should offer you more information. The USB should be connected to the computer.
You can install the software with the help of the installation CD in your laptop. After this, the data from your vehicle will be easily available to you.
If you ask for my recommendation for the best car diagnostic scan tool, I will go for Launch CReader 6011 over any other product. The operation is pretty straightforward. So, if you are not a seasoned mechanic, this could be your go-to choice.
However, if you’re specifically looking for a pro-level tool, you can consider FOXWELL NT301.
In conclusion, I would say whichever product you choose, make sure to do your due diligence before finalizing your purchase.