Which is the best car diagnostic tool? – Car Experts Compare the TOP 10

There are a lot of car diagnostic and automotive scan tools (as well as other possibilities) on the market to help you make your own car diagnosis. Our team of experts shortlisted 25 devices to discover the best car diagnostic tool.

Who wouldn’t like to better be able to understand their vehicle? Especially when there are faults and problems. Or when a warning such as an engine misfire or check engine light shows up.

To know what is happening with our vehicles, we always go to an auto repair shop or to auto mechanics. And in the end, it gets expensive. So, it would be much more convenient and affordable to do a diagnosis of your car by yourself.

All of today’s cars are equipped with extensive electronics. Therefore, with the appropriate car diagnostic tool, you can read out and evaluate the data yourself. We have looked at many of these devices to help you decide which is the best car diagnostic tool for you to purchase!

Different ways to diagnose your car

diagnostics tools

To check your car thoroughly, there are essentially three different options.

  1. Firstly, you can use a mobile app with your own OBD2 scanner.
  2. Secondly, you can also use software that is installed on your own laptop/tablet.
  3. Lastly, you can buy a standalone diagnostic tool.

Each of these car diagnostics possibilities has its advantages and disadvantages and is suitable for different target groups. Here is a short overview:

Standalone diagnostic toolSmartphone App + OBD2 scannerSoftware
Advantages
Professional equipment

Often suitable for all car manufacturers

External device
Affordable

Convenient to carry around

Always up to date
You can use your own computer

Often extensive features
Disadvantages
Expensive
Not as in-depth
Updates often cost extra

Anyone who sells used cars or that has their own auto repair shop needs a standalone professional diagnostic tool. These usually offer by far the greatest range of functions. In addition, they are compatible with practically every type of car.

Moreover, a standalone diagnostic tool is also particularly useful if you want to diagnose older vehicles since their interface can only be accessed with this tool.

On the other hand, modern vehicles (manufactured in 2001 or later) have an OBD2 interface. This interface can be accessed either with a mobile app, software, or a diagnostic tool.

In conclusion, having your own equipment to read out your car helps you save a lot of time and money. “When a warning light comes on, it is often just small things. Instead of having to go directly to the workshop, you can use a diagnostic scan tool to find out for yourself where exactly the error lies.” Sven Mischke, auto journalist.

Can I carry out diagnostics for all car brands?

In principle yes. However, it depends on the scan tool that you are using since not all devices are compatible with every car brand in the world.

The devices that can diagnose almost every car are often truly professional devices and therefore expensive. So, you must think carefully about what exactly you need.

If you have a workshop and are a professional mechanic, you naturally need heavy-duty scan tools that give you the widest possible range.

However, as a private user, you can decide if you just want a basic scan tool that allows you to read/clear trouble codes and perform basic functions, or one with more advanced functions that can even let you code your car!

The OBD2 interface

As previously mentioned, all vehicles built-in 2001 or later have an OBD2 (onboard diagnostics) interface. To establish a connection between the car and the diagnostic tool, an OBD2 scanner is required which is plugged into the corresponding output on the car. These scanners usually have Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to connect to the device or app.

These OBD2 scanners are available from $20 upwards. However, we don’t recommend you to get a cheap code reader since they usually don’t have an original chip. So OBD2 errors can occur. The motto “Those who buy cheap, buy twice.” applies here!

Via the interface and the OBD2 scanner, hundreds of functions can be performed, for example, reading and clearing codes, data on fuel consumption, torque, or acceleration data.

It is also possible to send data to the car and thus code it. The OBD2 interface is key for this communication and the available features will depend on the scanner you choose!

What types of car diagnostic tools are available?

car diagnostic tool

There are various types of standalone diagnostic tools and code readers:

  • Small, handheld scanner with a small screen and buttons
  • Small devices with slightly larger touch screens
  • Large handheld scanner (comparable to an external navigation system), which also have a larger screen
  • Large diagnostic tools, which are more reminiscent of a robust laptop and have many special keys for standard functions

Here too, it all depends on your taste and your wallet. Usually, the larger devices with big screens and touch functions are the most expensive. The prices range from $50 to $7,500 or more.

Some of these diagnostic devices only work with cables, others with the OBD2 scanner and/or Bluetooth. Usually, for older model series, a connection is only possible with the right cable. Real professional devices often come with dozens of possible cables and connections.

What to look for when purchasing a car diagnostic tool?

The choice is enormous, so it is important to think carefully about what is important to you in terms of functionality and diagnostic functions. In principle, there are various criteria that can be used to decide on the right device. Among others these include:

  • The general range of functions
    • What diagnoses can be made? Is the tool more than just a diagnostic trouble code reader?
    • Is it also possible to read and evaluate real-time data?
    • How is the data shown?
    • Is coding also possible?
  • The size and quality of the screen
    • Is the screen easy to read?
    • What is the resolution?
    • Do you want a touch function or rather “real” keys?
  • The scope of delivery (extra cable, etc.)
    • What exactly is included?
    • Do you need any other accessories? 
    • Are connections for rarer or older models included?
  • The price
    • What do you want to spend?
    • Is the price worth it?
  • The type of connection (by cable, OBD, directly via Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi)
    • Do you prefer a wireless connection?
    • Can it also be by cable?

The car diagnostic tool test

car diagnostics

As mentioned at the beginning, we have an expert jury. It is made up of two professional mechanic members, a car journalist, a gas station operator, and a well-versed “normal” person. They took a closer look at a total of 25 best car diagnostic tools. All devices were tested on three different VW, BMW, and Toyota cars. All models are from the years 2017-2019.

A catalogue of criteria was drawn up in advance for testing the equipment. Two or three additional criteria were added during the testing, as they arose. The following criteria were particularly important to the jury:

  • Scope of the diagnosis
  • Accuracy of the diagnosis
  • Database of error codes
  • Additional features
  • General user-friendliness
  • Quality and resolution of the screen 
  • The durability of the case and screen
  • The updated policy of the manufacturer
  • Scope of delivery

After all devices and performance tests had been carried out, we evaluated the test results. Here are the Top 10 best car diagnostic tools for you in reverse order. Let’s start with 10th place.

The 10 best car diagnostic tools

#10: NEXPEAK NX 501

Description

The Nexpeak NX 501 scan tool makes a robust impression. The screen is small with its 2.8”, but quite easy to read.
This car diagnostic tool can only be used for reading the fault codes. The connection is established via the OBD2 interface. All cars are supported with an OBD port which can be usually found under the steering wheel. Additionally, NEXPEAK offers unlimited free updates.

Features

  • Reading and deleting trouble codes
  • Unlimited updates
  • Battery monitoring

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Reliable reading of errors
  • Supports all manufacturers and models
  • Very small range of functions

Price

Around 70 USD

#9: LAUNCH CRP 429

Description

The Launch CRP 429 reliably performs a complete system analysis. It reads out all control units without any problems, can retrieve live data, and recognize subsystems. The design is attractive, and the keys are well made. A report can be generated and sent by email.

Features

  • Reading and deleting diagnostic trouble codes
  • Large internal database
  • Display of the diagnostic history

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Ordinary scope of functions
  • Reads lots of different data, also from subsystems
  • Data can be sent via email
  • Relatively expensive scanner

Price

Around 350 USD

#8: MaxiDiag MD806 Pro (Autel)

Description

A very solid device from Autel with all car brands supported. In addition to reading out errors, this device can do a lot more, such as calibrating the steering angle sensor, displaying live PID data from multiple sensors, or even unit tests to check the EVAP system.

Features

  • Reading and deleting errors — even manufacturer-specific ones!
  • Special features such as relearning the parking brake pad or DPF regeneration

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Wide range of functions
  • Lifelong free updates
  • Not inexpensive

Price

Around 260 USD

#7: LAUNCH X431 PRO mini

Description

In addition to the standard reading of errors, this diagnostic tool can monitor live data, perform a system calibration, or perform automatic scans. The high-quality colour monitor ensures clarity. Updates are included for 2 years. Approx. 80% of all vehicles are compatible and the connection is via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

Features

  • Steering angle calibration
  • Reset of the electronic parking brake
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System reset
  • Fuel injector coding

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Ordinary range of functions
  • 2 years of free updates
  • Expensive

Price

Around 740 USD

#6: LESCARS Auto Diagnostics

Description

Small, but powerful. All errors are displayed in plain text on the small but detailed monitor and they can also be reset. With only 4 keys you can easily find your way through the menu. Works especially well with cars from Audi, VW, and Skoda. About 130 system components can be monitored.

Features

  • The output of errors in plain text
  • Especially useful for Audi, VW, and Skoda models

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Good fault diagnosis
  • Good monitor (monochrome)
  • Limited range of functions

Price

Around 70 Euro

#5: VIDENT ilink 440

Description

Our selection for fifth best car diagnostic tool is an all-rounder that is compatible with all car models. It reads and erases OBD2 errors without any problems and disables the malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) for the engine, transmission, airbags, and ABS. Real-time output of data is also possible. The 2.8” colour monitor is clearly legible, even if it is a little small.

Features

  • Supports Electronic Parking Brake (EPB) functions
  • Battery configuration
  • Recording live sensor data

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • 3 years of free updates
  • Very robust workmanship
  • The screen is a bit small

Price

Around 110 USD

#4: ANCEL FX2000

Description

Besides the diagnosis of the usual protocols, the FX-2000 also performs a complete diagnosis of the ECU systems (SRS, ABS, and transmission). Live data is displayed in a visually appealing graphic. The 4” colour screen offers a good quality display and the keys ensure easy handling.

Features

  • O2 sensor test
  • Advanced scanning mode
  • Record and evaluate real-time data

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Almost all vehicles are supported
  • Eight languages to choose from
  • Free lifetime updates
  • Works only with 12V vehicle batteries

Price

Around 160 USD

#3: ICarsoft CR Pro

Description

The ICarsoft CR Pro supports about 40 car brands and is an all-in-one device for error analysis and troubleshooting. Via the OBD interface all relevant engine, transmission, airbag, and ABS data, etc, can be readout and processed. The 4” screen is sufficiently large. Updates are available free of charge.

Features

  • 40 manufacturers are supported
  • Can view live data
  • I/M readiness test
  • O2 sensor test
  • Evap system test etc.

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Wide range of tests for many systems
  • Battery monitoring
  • Free updates

Price

Around 290 USD

#2: LAUNCH CRP MOT II

Description

The Launch CRP MOT II has been specially designed for the European market and includes 11 different functionalities. All major brands are supported. The scope of delivery includes a Bluetooth OBD2 adapter and other connection cables. The exceptionally large 7” screen with the touch function allows excellent operation of the device.

Features

  • Oil reset
  • Electronic parking brake reset
  • Battery Management System reset
  • Calibrating steering angle sensor
  • DPF reset

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Printing of data is possible
  • Free updates for 12 months
  • Instructions in German will be sent by email
  • Also Wi-Fi compatible
  • Very high price

Price

Around 890 Euros

#1: AUTEL MaxiCheck MX808

Description

Autel’s scanner tool wins the top spot in the best car diagnostic tool test! The diagnostic test can be performed for all vehicle manufacturers. The large 7” color display provides a good overview and the quad-core processor ensures very fast data processing. Reading and overwriting error codes, live data retrieval, and many other unique features make the Autel MaxiCheck MX808 a worthy winner.

Features

  • Read and delete errors
  • Display of live data
  • Vehicle search via VIN number
  • Support for DPF regeneration
  • Injector coding
  • And much more

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Great performance
  • Good features
  • Attractive menu navigation and graphics
  • One year of free updates
  • Expensive

Price

Around 480 USD

A better alternative to a standalone car diagnostic tool: OBD2 Scanners

Bluetooth OBD scanner

If you are looking for more professional alternatives, higher-end diagnostic tools, or an OBD2 scanner that does even MORE than just diagnostics, we have also listed the top three best diagnostic scanners for mobile phones.

The best part is that advanced automotive scanners are not necessarily more expensive. You can still get some for a pretty affordable price!

TOP 3: OBDLINK

This app works with a special OBD2 scanner that works as a fault code reader and can also clear a check engine code. The user interface is clearly arranged and fully configurable. 90 different values can be read and processed in real-time. All analysis and data can be saved as a CSV file or sent by email.

TOP 2: TORQUE PRO

The Torque Pro app has a huge feature set including code reading. The database of OBD2 errors alone is unparalleled. The real-time analysis goes as expected. With this car diagnostic tool, you can upload its data to the manufacturer’s website for in-depth analysis. They have over 1,000,000 installations.

TOP 1: CARLY

car diagnostics

Carly users confirm that you could save about $500 a year in maintenance and repair costs by using the app and the Carly Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner.

With Carly, you can read engine codes such as the check engine light (and also manufacturer codes depending on your vehicle model).

These vehicle manufacturer codes are also important since they give you information about other critical systems. For example, you can read out transmission, airbags, malfunction indicator lights, ABS codes, and more vehicle systems!

If you don’t know what the fault codes stand for, don’t worry! With Carly, you can see the code definitions by clicking over each diagnostic code. You will be redirected to Google with the code’s information where you can find its information right away.

Furthermore, the wide range of features allows you to carry your own car maintenance, emissions tests, and a used-car check.

Moreover, if you are an auto enthusiast you can also customize your car through coding and see real-time parameters!

Additionally, its intuitive interface, appealing graphics, and much more have convinced us. The Carly Bluetooth OBD2 scanner works with all car brands and most models in 2001 or later, and the Carly app is compatible with iOS and Android devices.

So far, over one million people use the Carly app and OBD2 scanner around the world. Usually, for all the advanced functions that Carly offers, you would need a professional scan tool or expensive scanner which could cost over $3,000. Thus, considering this, the Carly OBD2 scanner and app are in an affordable price range!