Keeping an OBD2 scanner tucked in your trunk or glove box can be handy when your vehicle’s check engine light suddenly decides to light up the dash. This is the sort of little gadget that you hopefully won’t need often – but is sure handy to have when an inspection deadline is staring you down and you need to know why your dash is suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree.
We’ve discussed the importance of OBD2, or onboard diagnostics, in an earlier article. To quickly recap, this system is designed to alert drivers when something is amiss with emissions equipment. An OBD2 scanner plugs into a special port under the dash that gives access to the car’s ECU – the brain of the car. Any trouble codes stored in the ECU can then be read and cleared by the scanner. It won’t only save you a trip to the repair shop – it may also save you from being taken for a ride by an unscrupulous mechanic.
OBD2 scanners have become popular additions to the modern toolkit, so excellent options abound that cost anywhere from $20 to $200. So what’s the best choice? After careful review of the marketplace, we settled on an answer: the FOXWELL NT301 OBD2 Scanner. It received the top honor in part due to its easy-to-use interface and excellent data display in both graph and text forms. It is also affordable at $67 and has been highly ranked by over 15,000 real buyers.
Curious how accurate these scanners are? Check out our take on the topic.
Our Automobile Expert’s Top 5 OBD2 Scanners
The following five scanners are our top picks. Compare their ratings and features to determine which is best for you.
|Editor's Picks||Brand||Rating||Wireless||Live Data||Warranty|
|Best Overall||FOXWELL NT301 OBD2 Scanner||1 year|
|Best Budget Buy||Autel MS300 Universal OBD2 Scanner||1 year|
|Best Bluetooth||FIXD OBD2 Professional Bluetooth Scan Tool||1 year|
|Best Basic||Autel MS309 Universal OBD2 Scanner||n/a|
|Best Professional||INNOVA CarScan Pro 5210 Code Scanner||n/a|
*Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5 and based on reviews, feedback, and opinions of actual customers
In This Article
Who Should Buy an OBD2 Scanner
- Curious vehicle owners. If you’re pretty savvy when it comes to maintaining your car and are always curious to learn more, an OBDII scanner should be in your tool arsenal.
- Wary vehicle owners. If you want to ensure you’re getting a fair shake at the repair shop, an OBD2 scanner can save you some hassle by arming you with the facts before you ever step foot into a service center.
- Drivers who deal with frequent check engine lights. There are a range of issues that could cause your engine light to turn on.1 If your check engine light is on more often than not, an OBD2 Scanner can shed some light on what might be going on – and why you may want to take your car in for service.
- Owners of tuned and modified cars. Premium scanners don’t just read and clear codes: they can actually reiterate a wealth of information about your car’s performance. If you may be thinking about tuning your car for more power, a quality, multi-function OBDII scanner should be on your short list.
Who Should Not Buy an OBD2 Scanner
- Owners of antiques. An OBD2 scanner is only compatible with cars built after 1996. On rides older than that, an OBDII scanner would be useless.
- Those with loyal and trustworthy mechanics. If you’re not interested in doing repairs yourself and you have a trustworthy mechanic, you might not need an OBD2 scanner. Your mechanic can read your vehicle diagnostics anytime you need them to, though they may charge you for this service.
- Those living near an auto parts store. Most auto parts stores offer free scanning on a walk-in basis; just show up and ask the clerk you want to have your codes scanned. It isn’t as convenient as doing the task yourself in your own driveway, but there’s peace of mind with letting an experienced hand read the code – and maybe even help interpret it for you. If you’ve got a parts store around the corner, it may be better to utilize their services rather than DIY it.
Research Tips (from an Expert)
Here are some tips and best practices to consider when purchasing a OBD2 scanner:
- Compare wired or wireless. Some OBD2 scanners need to be directly plugged into a port on the vehicle in order to read the diagnostics, while others use a wireless setup that relies on wifi or Bluetooth to take a reading. The wired models are a little bulkier to handle but may save you money over a comparable wireless model.
- Look for scanners with explanations. The best scanners not only tell you the error code, but also explain what the problem is. This feature will mean that you’ll be better equipped to fix it yourself or talk to a repair person about it.
- I/M readiness check is a big plus. Look for a OBD2 scanner that offers an I/M readiness check. This feature determines whether or not your vehicle will pass your state’s emission test, which could save you money.
- Consider size and weight. If a scanner is big and bulky, it may be a hassle to use.
- Look for graphs and other data visuals. The best OBD2 scanners offer a visual representation of the problem, which is also helpful when comparing performance before and after any repairs.
- Consider the warranty length. Your scanner should last as long as your vehicle. The best models offer a lifetime warranty, but the cheapest models? We’re not so sure they’ll outlast your car payments.
How Much Do They Cost?Between $20 and $80
You can expect to pay between $20-$80 for most OBD2 scanners. Wireless OBD2 scanners typically carry a higher price tag than their corded counterparts. Start piling on the features and the prices rises consummately, with the priciest professional-grade models costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The best bet for an average buyer is somewhere in the middle of our quoted range, as $50 or so will be buy a quality unit with plenty of features.
The Best OBD2 Scanners: Full Reviews
The FOXWELL NT301 OBD2 Scanner took the top spot on our list of the best OBD2 scanners. Why? Among its many capabilities, it offers users live data in both graph and text forms. It also provides access to emissions readiness status and will happily clear any codes – and your check engine light along with them.
Unlike other scanners, this one delves into the nitty-gritty, shedding light on what exactly is happening under the hood. It might be a bit much for the average owner, but anyone interested in really learning how their car is performing day-to-day will appreciate the abundance of data that’s unlocked with this tool.
Compatible with pretty much any vehicle equipped with OBD2, this corded scanner supports data logging and is also printer compatible for added convenience. The 2.8″ wide color screen and big, easy-to-read buttons make it a cinch to operate. Best of all, no batteries are necessary – just plug in and get going. For $67, the Foxwell is everything you want in a scanner at a very fair price.
- Supports data logging
- Printer compatible
- 2.8-inch wide color screen
- 1-year quality assurance
- Corded use
- The displayed technical data may be overwhelming to average car owners
- May be overkill for anyone only looking for a simple code readout
The Autel MS300 Universal OBD2 Scanner is a solid choice for those looking for a budget-friendly OBD2 scanner option. It boasts a no-battery, plug-and-play installation that retrieves generic as well as manufacturer-specific error codes. It features an easy-to-read backlit 2-line LCD display and just two buttons, making operation almost intuitive.
This scanner lacks the most noteworthy features of the Foxwell, but for $17, how can you go wrong? The Autel’s basic design will show you codes and let you clear them. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s that simple. For most buyers, that’s probably enough.
- Comes with I/M Readiness function
- Compatible with all OBDII-Compliant vehicles post-1996 in the U.S.
- Just $17
- Clears code and turns off check engine light
- Corded operation
- Some reviewers accidentally deleted codes using this scanner
- Lacks the features of pricier units
If you don’t want a handheld, corded unit, the FIXD OBD2 Professional Bluetooth Scan Tool is the scanner to get. It boasts a wireless design that partner’s with an accompanying app to instantly translate more than 7,000 engine fault codes into plain English right on your phone. It works with both Android and Apple devices, and the app is free – no subscription required.
Once in the app, you’ll find you can view real-time data and even track maintenance. The app will send notifications alerting you to an issue, eliminating any chance of procrastinating diagnosis. A paid, premium version of the app offers estimated repair costs for your specific issues, a mechanic hotline available six days a week, and even emissions testing.
- Compatible with iPhone and Android
- Companion app with helpful how-to guides and video tutorials
- Tracks maintenance and wear items
- Can monitor multiple vehicles from one dashboard
- Best features are hidden behind subscription service
- App can be difficult to use
For a no-frills option, the Autel MS309 Universal OBD2 Scanner is an ideal option. It offers plug-and-play installation that retrieves generic as well as manufacturer-specific error codes. It also displays DTC definitions on a TFT color screen.
The Autel MS309 Universal OBD2 Scanner comes with a freeze-frame function that cuts down on test drive cycle verification time. This scanner also with I/M readiness function for emissions testing. It’s compatible with all OBDII-Compliant vehicles, passenger cars, or light trucks post-1996 in the U.S., post-2000 for EU-based and Asian cars. For $23, it’s a solid entry-level pick.
- I/M readiness functionality
- Compatible with all OBDII-Compliant vehicles post-1996 in the U.S.
- Enables VIN retrieval
- Includes free lifetime software updates
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Corded operation
- Can be unintuitive to use
Flush with cash and want to scan like the pros? If so, check out the INNOVA CarScan Pro 5210 Code Scanner. It scans and reads error codes, in addition to allowing you to reset check engine lights. It’s compatible with foreign or domestic 1996 or newer OBD2 cars, light trucks, SUVs, or hybrid vehicles. It also features one of the most comprehensive companion apps we’ve seen with scanners. The app lets you buy the exact part you need to fix your issue as well as track in real-time the performance of your vehicle.
The INNOVA CarScan Pro 5210 Code Scanner offers a choice of three languages including English, Spanish, or French. It is corded, but the wealth of information the scanner shows – not to mention the excellent app that accompanies it – makes the $100 sticker price feel worth it.
- Supports foreign or domestic 1996 or newer OBD2 vehicles
- English, Spanish, or French language options
- Live-data functionality
- Comes with I/M readiness function
- Some reviewers found this scanner confusing to use
- Fee for adding more than one VIN
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an OBD2 scanner, and how does it work?
What's the difference between OBD and OBD2?
How accurate are OBD2 scanners?
Does the car have to be running to check codes?
Ride Digest uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- Glon R. Is your check engine light on? Here are 10 possible reasons why. Digitaltrends.com. Published March 9, 2021. Accessed July 19, 2021.