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OBD2 Scanner & Code Reader Complete Buying Guide

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 problems.

There are so many different obd2 readers in the market, and it’s difficult to make the right choice when buying a car diagnostic tool.

Thus, we provide 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. Other attributes

  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 (Bluedriver)

    5. Pro tools

  4. Conclusion

What is obd2? 

OBD stands for on-board diagnostics. An OBD2 scanner can detect issues with your oil, transmission, oxygen sensors, ignition, and much more. It shows you a code that diagnoses any number of issues and can alert you to problems that could get worse down the road in the future. 

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 older models to diagnose any issues in your vehicle. It was revolutionary in allowing the car to self-diagnose itself without having to have someone come take a look. The OBD1 was focused on helping solve the emissions systems issues. It was connected to the console of the car, while the OBD2 can be used remotely. The OBD2 was introduced in the early ’90s to the automotive industry. The technology and capabilities of an OBD2 are also new and improved compared to the original OBD1 scanners. 


Key attributes to look for in obd2 scanner & code reader

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 analyze your needs before buying any OBD2 scanners. Here we list out the major attributes of customer needs:

Professional vs. household use

This is an easy one. There are professional car diagnostic tools that are used by the mechanics or the dealers. Some tools are specific for some car makes and you may reprogram the vehicle computer with it. I suspect 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 shows a list of codes, and you have to note it down and google it on your phone. You can also pick the ones with a list of codes and 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.

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, which puts emphasis on monitoring and daily usage of drivers. 

The vehicle health monitor is now in a free giveaway campaign and we highly recommend you check it out.

Expensive vs. budget

Here’s the price section, a core 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. We don’t comment on each of them for detailed reviews and qualities, as we regard it as a misleading message. But 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, 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 of $20 and search for the information online. We have built a website with all codes explained, and you can search for the code you have HERE. 

Bluetooth OBD2 scanners and the Mobile Applications

Other than the basic attributes mentioned above, other factors may be considered when using the OBD2 scanner. Here we discuss mobile applications that work with the Bluetooth obd2 readers. 
There are some brands that develop the device with mobile applications together, such as nonda(ZUS app and Vehicle Health Monitor) and BlueDriver. Those are paired and may provide more information than just the list of diagnostic trouble codes. We would like to recommend the paired devices and applications, as it’s more stable, with good customer service, and sometimes with additional functionalities.
There are also a few applications that provide information about the codes and could be paired with some or all of the Bluetooth obd2 readers. You may find the Car code reader app, the ZUS app ELM327 version, or others that work with the device you got. There’ll be detailed explanations about what types of devices the application matches in the description of the applications, and what applications the obd2 reader could be paired with in the product description section. For example, some obd2 scanners could only pair with Android phones but not ios phones. Be very careful when you make the decision.

Compatibilities of the device and 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! 

 

Major types of obd2 scanner & code reader

Based on the major attributes that we discussed above, we would like to classify the obd2 scanners into five types/categories. After clarifying the major attributes, let’s find the ones that fit your needs.
We will use the top results in Amazon to help you understand different types of OBD2 Scanners. We don’t have any intention to advertise for them. 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 little bit 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.

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. 

Smart readers/monitors

This section is for a special product that works much more than a simple OBD2 scanner. Strictly speaking, it’s a Bluetooth OBD2 scanner; but the rich functionality really makes it different from other products in the user experience. As it’s designed as a monitor, the intended user guide is to keep the scanner plugged whenever you drive around. The reasons will be explained below. 

nonda 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

The features designed really made it different from other products and services. We highly recommend that you check it out as we’re doing a FREE giveaway campaign for the safety of American drivers.

Semi-pro tools (Bluedriver)

The Semi-pro tools are raised for some car diagnostic tools that provide detailed information about how to fix the car. 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 of $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

Compared with other types of tools, we suggest that you choose the tool that fits your needs: 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 become a home mechanic, then professional tools will be the best fit for you.

Pro 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.

 

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. The job could be done by the simplest tools and also highly advanced tools, and what matters the most is what you actually will do about it (not what you expect, in case you are a newbie that wants to learn about car fixing). Also, 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(which could be learned online). 

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



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