×
Your Cart()
 
Subtotal

Discount
Total Saving

ShippingCalculated at next step

Total
Checkout
Smart Vehicle Health Monitor Mini

Best OBD2 Scanner & Code Reader: Complete Buying Guide 2020

OBD2 scanner, AKA car code reader, is the tool that’s used to read the diagnostic trouble codes from the vehicle computer and help diagnose car problems.

There are so many different obd2 readers in the market, and it’s difficult to make a good purchase without primary knowledge.

This is a comprehensive buying guide to help you understand the specs of OBD2, OBD2 scanner, major attributes you should consider, and the most common types of OBD2 readers. Hope you will find it helpful when making purchase decisions.

 

Contents

  1. What is OBD2?

    1. What’s the difference between an OBD and OBD2?

  2. Key attributes to look for when buying obd2 scanner & code reader

    1. Professional vs. household use

    2. Car fixing vs. monitoring

    3. Expensive vs. budget

    4. Bluetooth OBD2 scanners and mobile applications

    5. Compatibilities with your vehicle

  3. Major types of obd2 scanner & code reader

    1. Traditional simple code readers

    2. Bluetooth OBD2 scanners

    3. Smart readers/monitors

    4. Semi-pro tools

    5. Pro tools

  4. Conclusion

 

What is OBD2? 

OBD2 stands for On-Board Diagnostics, the self-diagnostic system in the vehicle. Every vehicle has its own diagnostic system and will notify a check engine light and store a code corresponding to the fault when malfunctions occur. The information could be read through an OBD2 Scanner.

An OBD2 scanner can detect issues with your oil, transmission, oxygen sensors, ignition, and much more. To read the OBD2 Codes and check the vehicle issues, all you have to do is plug this simple, ergonomic device into your car’s OBD port. It then shows you a code that diagnoses 40 different possible car problems your vehicle could be experiencing.

What is the difference between an OBD1 and OBD2?

OBD1 scanners were used in car models before 1996 to diagnose vehicle issues. It was revolutionary in allowing the car to self-diagnose other than checking each and every part to know what’s malfunctioning.

OBD2 Scanners is an improved version of the OBD introduced in 1996, and it sets up a standard of the OBD port and the messaging format of OBD codes. With OBD2, you can use a standard OBD2 scanner for all vehicles and read the code that has unified information.

Related Readings: How to Interpret OBD2 Codes


Key Attributes to Look for in OBD2 Scanner & Code Reader

All OBD2 Scanners have the basic functionality of reading the OBD2 codes and clear the codes. Some also have the functionality to read the VIN code. However, there are so many more different types of code readers and that’s why it’s hard to make the purchase decision.

There are several key attributes that you can look for when buying and comparing different OBD2 scanners in the market. We highly recommend that you understand your needs before buying any OBD2 scanners. Here I would love to introduce some key attributes that you should consider before buying any OBD2 readers:

Professional vs. household use

This is an easy one. There are professional car diagnostic tools that are used by the mechanics or the dealers with advanced features and detailed info. Some tools are specific for some car makes and you may reprogram the vehicle computer with it. Most of us don’t really need a professional tool but a simple code reader that helps diagnose and decide whether to go find a mechanic. 

If you don’t need a professional tool, then think about how much information you need from it and how convenient you want it to be. There are traditional tools that basically show a list of codes, and you have to note it down and google it on your phone to know the details. You can also pick the ones with a list of codes and show simple explanations, or the Bluetooth OBD2 scanners that make it easy to search (oftentimes you just need to click and jump to google). There’re also semi-pro OBD2 scanners that provide confirmed fixes you can do by yourself, which helps you to become a DIY mechanic. All major types will be explained in the next part.

Car fixing vs. monitoring

Traditional OBD2 code readers are used only during regular checks or when the engine light is on. It’s unplugged after you note down the code, fix the problem, clear the code, etc. 

When Bluetooth OBD2 scanners rely on a mobile APP for information and operation, more functions are introduced into the smart devices. For example, nonda introduced a mileage log, driving behavior analysis, battery check, and car finder functions into their OBD2; they call it Smart Vehicle Health Monitor Mini, which puts emphasis on monitoring the vehicle conditions and helps the drivers to have a better experience.

Expensive vs. budget

Here’s the price section, an essential attribute you consider when buying everything. The price of OBD2 scanners ranges from FREE giveaways to thousands of dollars based on functionality and brands. 

On the page of amazon code reader and scan tools, the prices are mostly in the range from $12.99 to $259.99. Basically you can get a good-to-use OBD2 scanner with a price lower than $50. If you want premium functionalities such as detailed explanations of how to fix the problem or have a special need, etc, the price may rise up to $100 and more. However, if you want to have a budget one just to do the job, you can get a basic one for $20 and search for the explanations of the codes online. We have built a website with all codes explained, and you can search for the code you have. 

Related Resources: SEARCH for the code you got

Bluetooth OBD2 scanners and mobile applications

For Bluetooth OBD2 Scanners, an important factor is a compatibility between the devices and the APP. 

There are some brands that develop the device with mobile applications together, such as nonda(ZUS app and Smart Vehicle Health Monitor), OBDLink, and BlueDriver. They provide APP and the OBD2 Scanner, and the APP provides more information than just the list of diagnostic trouble codes. 

There are also applications that are developed alone and could be paired with some or all of the Bluetooth OBD2 readers. You may find the Torque app, the ZUS app ELM327 version, or others that work with the generic elm327 you got. Remember to read the descriptions of the APP and the generic elm327 before purchasing, as the compatibility may be limited.

We would like to recommend the paired devices and applications that are developed by the same provider, as it’s more stable, with good customer service, and sometimes with additional functionalities.

Compatibilities with your vehicle

Last but not least, the compatibility with the device and your vehicle is a primary concern when making the purchasing decision. Although the OBD2 scanners should match all the vehicles that are produced and sold after 1996 as required, some devices don’t match with selected models. Be aware of the compatibility before you click the BUY button! Some manufacturers have a list of car make that could be read by the OBD2 Reader, and you better search for it before purchasing.

 

Major Types of OBD2 Scanner & Code Reader

Based on the major attributes we discussed above, we would like to classify the OBD2 scanners into five types/categories. After understanding what you need, let’s find the best fit together.

We will use the top results in Amazon to help you understand different types of OBD2 Scanners. We hope you have a better understanding of the major types of OBD readers when you finish this section.

Traditional simple code readers

The first type is the traditional and simple code readers. It’s mostly a wired handheld reader like this. Taking the first result of amazon Code Reader & Scan Tools as an example:

OxGord OBD2 ScannerOxGord OBD2 Scanner - $14.95 on Amazon

We can tell that it’s a simple code reader, and all you can get is a list of diagnostic trouble codes from the vehicle computer. You can also clear the codes and read the VIN code of your vehicle. 
It’s pretty easy to use this type of code scanner, just step one and step two. This has been in the market for a long time and most people only know this type of car code reader.
Also, you can find advanced traditional readers with a similar outlook and better software installed. 

Launch OBD2 Scanner Code Reader
LAUNCH OBD2 Scanner Code Reader - $49.99 on Amazon

As you can see, it has a better interface and more functionality. It said it provides many more features and helps you to pass an emission test. For the data, it provides lifetime FREE updates and you can update it yourself.

Traditional OBD2 Scanners Pros:

  • Do the job: read the codes
  • Easy to use
  • Relatively Cheap

Cons:

  • No recording of the codes in history, so you have to keep a record yourself
  • No explanations of the codes and you have to search for them online
  • No auto-updates and you have to update the software by yourself

Bluetooth OBD2 scanners

The Bluetooth OBD2 scanner is a new type of scanner developed in recent years. The device is much smaller as it’s just plug-in hardware. You have to pair the scanner with your mobile phone or computer through Bluetooth and download a mobile app/desktop software so that you can read the information. 

For the Bluetooth OBD2 scanners, the typical device is as shown below:

OBDLink MX+ OBD2 Bluetooth Scanner

OBDLink MX+ OBD2 Bluetooth Scanner - $119.95 on Amazon

For compatible mobile apps/desktop software, you can find several options online. As they’re developed by different brands, you should pay special attention to the hardware that may apply. There are basically three types of software:

  • Apps that could be paired with some or all of the OBD2 scanners
  • Apps that only cope with a specific OBD2 scanner developed by the same brand
  • Or both.

The general Apps are free with updates, so it’s relatively easier to use than the traditional tools, which should be updated by yourself. 

Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner Pros:

  • Read the code and some provide explanations
  • Some keep the code record for you
  • Easy to update the software

Cons:

  • Compatibility between the App, Mobile System, and scanner takes time to figure out, especially when the APP and the reader are not developed by the same provider
  • Relatively expensive

Smart readers/monitors

As introduced above, with the development of Bluetooth mobile APPs, more functionalities could be embedded into the OBD2 scanner. The Vehicle Health Monitor is one of the new inventions: after plugged in the OBD2 port, it monitors vehicle performance and alerts you of problems in real-time.

obd2 scanner

nonda Smart Vehicle Health Monitor Lite - FREE on the official website

The basic features of the nonda Smart Vehicle Health Monitor are similar to other products: scan and read all OBD2 codes, descriptions of all diagnostic trouble codes found, clear the codes, and read the VIN code. The user-friendly designs include historical data after you cleared the check engine light and a regular scan whenever you start the vehicle.

Other than the basic functionalities, the Vehicle Health Monitor provides additional services:

  • Mileage Tracking Feature: you can see potential savings and generate reports
  • Monitor your vehicle status and your driving habits
  • Find your car through the app when you park in a big parking lot

Vehicle Health Monitor Pros:

  • Work as OBD2 Scanner if you don't like additional features
  • Provide more information about the vehicle
  • Additional functions such as mileage tracking and car finder
  • Nonda Smart Vehicle Health Monitor FREE now

Cons:

  • Need to be unplugged when you don’t drive as often, as OBD scanners get electrics from the car battery

Semi-pro tools

The Semi-pro tools are raised for some car diagnostic tools that provide detailed information about how to fix the car and are really useful for DIYers. It’s most suitable for home mechanics that do their car fixing at home. They care the most about functionality and ease to use. There are hand-held tools, such as Launch X431 V+ Automotive Diagnostic Tool, and Bluetooth scanners such as Bluedriver. Here we use Bluedriver as an example.

Bluedriver Pro OBD2 Scanner

Bluedriver is highly recommended by many review sites for professional car diagnostic tools, as it’s of good value with the price $99.95, as it’s designed to fit home mechanics and focus on DIY car fixing. The official website raised that the advantages of its product are:

  • Verified fixes for your vehicle
  • Unmatched support

Professional tools

There are also advanced professional tools that price at thousands of dollars, which are mostly used in mechanic shops. If you want to learn more about this, we highly recommend that you consult a mechanic about professional details based on what vehicle you have.

In conclusion, you should pick the product that fits your needs the most in your budget. Do you want to do professional fixes, or just check what problems you have? If you want to do some simple fixes, like reconnect some wires, the simple OBD2 readers will do the job. If you want to know more about the vehicle and enjoy additional features, try the vehicle health monitors. If you want to become a home mechanic, then semi-professional tools will be the best fit for you.

 

Conclusion

Having discussed all the major attributes to consider and common tool types of OBD2 scanners, we would like to say that figuring out what you need is the most important thing when you make purchasing decisions. 

Having an OBD2 scanner at home will definitely help you understand your vehicle better and also save money. Some simple fixes don't require professional skills when you know what the problem is and how to fix it.

Related Reading: Car Diagnostic Test: All you need to know

We highly recommend an OBD2 Reader with its bundled APP, ZUS. We are now doing a FREE GIVEAWAY CAMPAIGN on the Vehicle Health Monitor Mini that could be used with the Free APP, ZUS on both Android and IOS systems. You can read and clear the OBD2 Codes with it and enjoy additional features in the APP. It’s most suitable for drivers who would love to know more about their vehicles and want to start at a low budget. Don’t miss it!

car code reader

Hope this article is helpful for you! Feel free to give feedback and we would love to add more content to help more people.

Leave a comment

Copy Success