A car diagnostic tool is often referred to as an OBD2 scanner and they’re designed to diagnose and clear error codes. OBD2 ports have been standardized in the majority of cars since 1998 and are usually located below the steering column. This means that most OBD2 scanners will work with the majority of modern cars.
From our research and testing of various car scanners, we found that the best OBD2 scanner is the Autel Maxisys Pro MS908P. which features advanced diagnostics and ECU programming for professional use. However, it’s fairly expensive and has many complex features that most people won’t use. Therefore, for the average car owner, the Bluetooth BlueDriver is the best alternative that connects to a smartphone appplication for diagnostics.
Using a scan tool is fairly straightforward as they simply plug straight into the OBD2 port. Once a connection has been established, it allows you to check for error codes such as engine management lights, airbag/SRS warnings and much more. Many professional OBD2 scanners even perform real time tests for further diagnostic data.
Table of Contents
Car Diagnostic Tool Comparison
|OBD2 Scanner||Suitable For||Includes Adapters|
|Autel Maxisys Pro MS908P||Professional||Yes|
|Launch X431 PROS||Professional||Yes|
|BlueDriver Bluetooth||Home Mechanic||No|
|Innova 3160g Bluetooth||Home Mechanic||Yes|
|Autel MaxiDiag MD808||Home Mechanic||Yes|
|Actron CP9690||Home Mechanic||Yes|
|Autel MaxiLink ML619||Affordability||No|
|Launch Creader 6001||Affordability||No|
For owners of classic cars from 1980 to 1998, you may be able to use an OBD1 port for diagnostics. However, compared to an OBD2 alternative, they don’t provide as much diagnostic data. If you own both classic and modern cars, some OBD1 scanners are integrated into OBD2 tools. This makes them even more versatile and compatible with the majority of the vehicles on the road.
As technology has improved, so have car diagnostic tools in terms of their compatibility and features. You are now able to communicate with your car using the OBD2 port via a wired connection to the scanner or a smartphone application via a Bluetooth or WiFi connection.
Below is a list of the best automotive diagnostic scanners that allow you to diagnose errors with your car.
The Best Automotive Diagnostic Scanner
1. Autel Maxisys Pro MS908 Professional OBD2 Scanner
Autel are one of the largest car diagnostic brands in the USA and they produce scanners suitable for professionals and home mechanics. The Autel Maxisys Pro MS908 OBD2 scanner is their flagship model and by far the best professional OBD2 scanner on the market today.
In terms of the technical specification, this car diagnostic tool is quite special. It has an A9 Quad Core 1.40 GHz processor that uses an Android operating system that has been designed to be simple to use. It also has built-in WiFi, flashlight, 8 hour battery life, 32GB SSD hard drive, 9.7 inch LED touch screen and much more.
Other features and functionality of the Autel Maxisys Pro MS908 include:
- Read and clear error codes
- Live data streaming and actuation tests
- Adaptation and ECU coding
- Configure display options and set triggers
- Record and playback of problematic sensor outputs
- Diagnose vehicles of manufacturers from America, Europe and India
- Includes various adapters and wires to suit a range of cars
- TPMS Reset Functionality
- Reset all service lights
- Print out reports and graphs
- Freeze frame data
- Update car firmware to latest version
- Flash programming
- … and so much more
As this OBD2 scanner will mostly be used in professional garages or workshops, it has padding all round to protect it from any heavy impacts. Everything about this car diagnostic tool is high quality and well thought out. There is also 4 versions of the Autel Maxisys Pro, which include the DS808, MS906, MS908 and MS908P to best suit your requirements and budget.
The Autel Maxisys Pro MS908 is the ultimate car diagnostic tool. It can also be made even better with the available add-on features such as the oscilloscope, J2534 reprogramming module and much more.Check it Out
2. Launch X431 PROS Professional Car Diagnostic Tool
The Launch X431 is a direct competitor of the Autel Maxisys Pro MS908 as both are targeting professional mechanics. The Launch X431 is the cheaper of the two and by far the best looking car code reader within this article with a “tablet-like” design that’s easy to handle.
According to the brand, it has the ability to work with the majority of car manufacturers with car specific connectors and adapters for both OBD1 or OBD2 ports. The bundle includes 14 different connectors and other diagnostic standards for cars in the EU and Asia.
Other features of the Launch X431 PROS include:
- Bluetooth and WiFi connection
- Reading and clearing error codes
- Component activation
- Oil reset service
- Steering angle calibration
- Electronic car brake reset
- Battery testing and maintenance
- ABS bleeding
- Electronic throttle position
- DPF regeneration
- Immobilizer matching
- Fuel injector coding
- … and much more
In terms of the display, the HD 6.98 inch screen is highly responsive and provides excellent feedback for live streaming graphs and other tasks. It also runs on the Android operating system, which is known to be easy to use and update to the latest firmware.
Overall, the Launch X431 is the best alternative to the Autel Maxisys Pro MS908 as it’s cheaper and provides other functions that may be required. It also doubles up as a tablet because it can connect to the internet, play music, take photos and so much more.Check it Out
3. BlueDriver Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner
The BlueDriver is by far the most popular car diagnostic tool on the market. This is mainly due to the intuitive OBD2 Bluetooth connection that connects with the brand’s Android or iOS smartphone application, which is then used to read and clear error codes.
In terms of using the tool, simply plug the BlueDriver into the port, let the blue light appear and then connect to it via the application. The stored error codes that you diagnose using the BlueDriver are then checked against a database of 6 million verified fixes. If there is a match, the application suggests a fix, which could potentially eliminate hours of research.
Other features of the BlueDriver Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner include:
- Live data analysis
- Smog check
- Freeze frame data
- Misfire counts
- View and clear codes
- Save and export code/reports
- Vehicle information
- Real time data
The user interface of the BlueDriver application is intuitive and easy to navigate with graphics that allow you to read data more clearly. There are also no wires whatsoever and it can be easily stored in the car and out of sight as the device itself is very compact.
Overall, the BlueDriver is by far the best Bluetooth OBD2 scanner. It can also be very useful for mobile mechanics to keep with them out on the road for emergency call outs or quick error code scanning.Check it Out
4. Innova 3160g Bluetooth Car Diagnostic Tool
The Innova 3160g is a mid range car diagnostic tool that can be used with all cars, trucks, SUV and hybrids from 1996. The Innova brand are well-known for their automotive multimeters and other vehicle electrical troubleshooting devices and this scan tool follows their great reputation.
If you are a home mechanic, you will be able to use this diagnostic tool with ease but there are more enhanced features for you to play around with if required. The 3160g has also recently been upgraded and now features Bluetooth and a color screen for additional usability.
Other features of the Innova 3160g include:
- Engine management light diagnostic and removal
- Erase error codes (including ABS & SRS)
- Reset oil lights and battery maintenance
- Stream and record live data
- Charging system testing
- 3.5 inch color display
- Bluetooth via smartphone application
The Innova 3160 series has gone through many variations and has been tested by many professional mechanics. The 3160g model in particular is the brand’s most popular car diagnostic tool and a contender for the best car code reader for the money. If you are loyal to the Innova brand, this is the scan tool to go for out of all of the 3160 series and it won’t disappoint.Check it Out
5. Autel MaxiDiag MD808 Automotive Scan Tool
As mentioned above, Autel are a huge brand in the car diagnostic tool industry with plenty to choose from and the MD808 device is one of their latest models. It has a modern, sleek full color display (800 x 480) and a compact design, which you can comfortable grip in one hand.
The benefit of purchasing an OBD2 scanner from Autel is that you receive a 1 year limited warranty and free updates for life. On top of this, you have the reputable brand backing along with universal compatibility.
Other features of the Autel MaxiDiag MD808 include:
- Read and remove car error codes
- Oil light reset
- EPB and SAS calibration
- DPF regeneration
- Battery management system
- ABS and SRS
- Live data graphing
- Includes heavy duty storage box and adapters
If you are servicing your car and want a diagnostic tool to clear service lights, the MD808 does this and much more. The Autel MD808 is an excellent all-rounder that uses the latest technology to provide great performance and a 6 second load time. It’s the perfect scan tool that’s easy to use regardless of your experience.Check it Out
6. Actron CP9690 Trilingual Diagnostic Scanner
Actron are another reputable brand that develop a range of car error code readers and their new and improved CP9690 model is perfect for home mechanics. Unlike similar priced alternatives, the CP9690 is also compatible with OBD1 vehicles and includes all of the connectors and adapters you would possibly need. It also benefits from a large LCD screen for easy viewing of graphs and reports.
Other features of the Actron CP9690 Car Scanner include:
- Powertrain and ABS coverage
- Vehicle identification
- Battery system monitor
- Battery and oil light reset
- ABS and airbag light reset
- OBD1/CAN support
- Live data streaming
The Actron car scanner is similar to the Innova 3160g and Autel MD808 in terms of the compact design. However, the capability to diagnose OBD1 cars makes it more appealing for owners of both classic and modern cars.Check it Out
7. Autel MaxiLink ML619 CAN OBD2 Scanner
The Autel AL619 is the brand’s latest budget car diagnostic tool. It uses a single lead to connect from the OBD2 port to the car scanner in order to get you up and running. In terms of the compatibility, it’s designed to work with a range of manufacturers from 1996 and newer.
Autel state that this car code reader works on all domestic cars with an OBD port and is able to retrieve both generic and manufacturer specific error codes. However, the majority of people will be using this car scanner to remove basic faults such as the Check Engine Light (EML).
Other features of the Autel AL519 include:
- Read and clear stored faults
- Turn off engine management light
- Display freeze frame data
- Show vehicle data and VIN
- Help guides for errors
- Graphs and live data feedback
- Print out data
- Color display
The Autel AL519 is the cheapest OBD2 scanner on the market that performs all of the basics and much more. The average car owner will easily be able to use this error code reader with its intuitive button layout and clear instructions from the color display. It also has the reputable brand backing and a 1 year warranty for complete peace of mind.Check it Out
8. FOXWELL NT301 Car Code Reader
The Foxwell NT301 OBD2 scanner is another popular device that falls into the budget category. For the average car owner that wants a simple to use car diagnostic tool to remove error codes, the NT301 is a great option.
Other features of the Foxwell NT301 include:
- Read and remove error codes
- Live vehicle sensor data
- Turn off engine management light
- Freeze frame data
- 2.8 inch wide color display
Overall, the Foxwell NT301 OBD2 is a compact car scan tool that runs fast via the windows operating system and comes with a 1 year warranty for peace of mind. For reading and removing error codes, this fault code scanner is more than ideal.Check it Out
9. Launch Creader 6001 OBD2 Scanner
Another car diagnostic tool by the Launch brand is their budget option known as the Creader 6001. It’s their cheapest diagnostic tool they produce and is compatible with the majority of 1996+ US based manufacturers as well as 2001+ EU and Asian manufacturers.
Other features of the Launch Creader 6001 include:
- View and remove car fault codes
- 2.8 inch TFT LCD screen
- Display text in a range of languages
- 7 intuitive buttons
- Freeze frame data
- O2 sensor
- I/M readiness checks
The Launch Creader 6001 is a cheap diagnostic tool that allows you to simply view and remove car error codes with ease. Launch are known for their premium automotive scan tools but this scanner is suitable for those that want to remain with the brand whilst on a budget.Check it Out
10. ANCEL AD310 Universal Car Scanner
Other features of the Ancel AD310 include:
- Read and erase codes
- Live data
- Freeze frame data
- Vehicle identification
- large LCD display (128 x 64)
- 2.5 feet long cable
To the average car owner that wants to simply view error codes to tell their mechanic or fix themselves, this scan tool is perfect. The AD310 is simple to use and definitely worth the cheap price tag.Check it Out
How We Rated The Car Diagnostic Tools
Due to the fact that we own multiple cars and are often asked by friends or family to diagnose faults with their cars, we have a lot of experience with car diagnostic tools. From the basic scan tools to professional OBD2 scanners, we have used them all over the years.
In terms of how we rated the scan tools in this article, there are a number of factors we considered. These included their usability, functionality, additional connectors provided, brand reputation, compatibility and of course, their value for money. We also included a range of car diagnostic tools that were suitable for professionals, enthusiasts and the average car owner.
Car Diagnostic Tool Buying Guide
The number of car diagnostic tools that are available to buy increase at a daily rate. The market is fairly saturated with many OBD2 scanners under $100 being the most popular for the average car owner or home mechanic.
However, there are many people that are professional mechanics or enthusiasts and wish to purchase a premium car diagnostic tool. When equipped with a more capable car scanner, you will be able to do far more than just read and clear codes but also perform modifications, real time tests and much more.
At ProCarReviews, we have been testing OBD2 scanners for many years and currently have over 50 within our garage. To help you make an informed buying decision, we have produced the below guide regarding car diagnostic tools.
Types of Diagnostic Scan Tools
OBD2 scanners come in a range of types with the larger and more powerful being suitable for professionals or enthusiasts. This is because they often come with a larger processor, hard drive and other features. The smaller devices are the cheapest and perform the basic tasks such as reading and clearing error codes. However, for some car owners, this may be all that’s required, which makes them perfect.
Depending on the age of your car will be a major factor in which car diagnostic tool is best. Modern cars have an OBD2 port but vehicles that are made before 1998 (before they were standardized) may have an OBD1 port. Therefore, you may need to purchase an adapter to convert the OBD2 connection to an OBD1.
The term OBD stands for “On Board Diagnostics” and the number “2” refers to the second generation, which is a huge improvement upon the first generation. The OBD1 scan tools aren’t universal and are usually specific to each car and provide completely different codes.
The introduction of OBD2 technology is a huge improvement and the amount of information you can get from a from a scanner is much greater than OBD1 tools. The below image is an example of a OBD2 connection that you will plug in to a port.
OBD2 compatible vehicles can connect to a range of diagnostic tools and provide standardized error codes, which makes researching the issue much easier. However, it’s always worth spending slightly extra for additional functionality as you may find you need it one day.
Ease of Use
Older car diagnostic tools are notoriously difficult to use with bland interfaces, poor usability and various wired connections. However, with the advancement of technology, they have become just as easy to use as a smartphone.
For those that have never used a scan tool before, there are thousands of videos on YouTube with mechanics providing detailed tutorial videos. However, these days most brands will provide detailed instructions in the box or online.
Of course, if you are new to using a car diagnostic tool, we highly recommend avoiding the professional devices. These may provide far more details than necessary and you may only want to find out the error code that’s stored on your car’s ECU.
We have trialled many of these OBD2 scanner tools within this article but the BlueDriver really excelled in the “ease of use” category. Once it has been connected (as shown in the image below), you simply go to the app and perform various checks. You could even leave the BlueDriver connected whilst you are driving and use the application as your very own car HUD to display various real time data.
Why You Need a Car Diagnostic Tool
Owning a scan tool is very helpful when trying to diagnose issues with your car. All you have to do is connect the scanner into the port and you are on your way. It avoids the hours of guesswork and potential to spend thousands of dollars on parts and labor.
Scan tools automatically read and analyze the vehicle to provide a detailed list about the car and any codes that are stored. With a wide range of possibilities to choose from, anyone is able to perform various diagnostic tasks. The main advantages of owning a diagnostic scan tool are:
- Checks to see if your car is safe to drive and wont cause any damage
- Saves you money as you won’t need to use a mechanics
- Displays the most recent data and stored codes
- Gives you the chance to scan vehicles before you buy them
- Add/Modify current features i.e. full window closure
- Provides real time data
Other Factors To Consider
The amount of car diagnostic tool devices out there will continue to increase but you will want to keep an eye out for their features. From the on screen information to the data storage, these factors can make the difference between an easy to use or terrible scan tool.
If you are opting for a device that runs from an application, we highly recommend checking reviews of the smartphone application. This will give you a strong indication to whether it is compatible with your phone and features work as they should.
We also highly recommend sticking to the big brands such as Autel, Launch, Ancel, Actron, Innova, Foxwell and a few others. This will give you complete peace of mind that it won’t cause any damage to your ECU and functions as you would expect.
Car diagnostic tools have improved massively over the years due to the modernization of new cars. Without them, you can spend hours finding out issues with your car and potentially spending thousands of dollars on car parts that didn’t need to be replaced in the first place.
Deciding the best OBD2 scanner for your requirements is dependent upon the type of usage that you intend on doing. For example, if you run a garage or you are a car enthusiast, you should look at the premium devices.
Within this article, we have covered all the best options for professionals, home mechanics and those that are looking for a cheap car diagnostic tool. Considering that most garages charge anywhere between $50 to $100 to diagnose your car, it makes sense to invest in one for yourself.