Today’s new cars are packed full of technical innovations and functions. But as with any new technology, some growing issues do occasionally occur. In such instances, you may be presented with one or more unexpected error messages or warning lights flickering on the dashboard. Naturally, any warning from your car can cause alarm to both you and your passengers. But thanks to some of the best OBD2 scanner devices on the market, you can often successfully diagnose — and sometimes even fix — the cause of the fault without visiting the dealership. In virtually every instance, you’re given an accurate answer as to whether or not you should be booking an appointment at the workshop. In this article, we will take a look at some OBD scanner devices and discuss their advantages and disadvantages.
When it comes to OBD2 scanners, you may be wondering what exactly is the best? Naturally, the answer varies based on personal preference. However, with the Carly app, you have one of the safest solutions for onboard diagnosis analysis. The Carly app specializes in diagnosing cars and, in addition, offers many other useful functions such as coding and the used car check. In terms of price, Carly is, in contrast to other diagnostic devices, relatively cheap too. All you need is the Carly adapter for €59.90 and the license, priced between €21 and €80, depending on which car brand you have and which currency you purchase in.
Read on for an informative overview of what we consider the best OBD2 scanner, with our easy-to-follow guide.
What Is a Diagnostic Device?
A warning message or light on any car’s dashboard is an instant trigger for most to visit their nearest service station. However, these warning messages are generated from a wide variety of parameters, some of which aren’t as serious as you may think. The root cause can sometimes be as simple as a loose plug. Such minor errors can be fixed with just a little skill and technical understanding.
A diagnostic scanner is a small device that connects to the car’s “brain.” It does so with an adapter via a cable. There are also devices that eliminate the need for cables; instead, they use Bluetooth. As soon as the device links with the onboard computer, the fault memory can be decoded and read via the scanner. Of course, for the most accurate understanding of what’s going on with your car, it’s always advisable to read the notes and information from the respective manufacturers’ manuals to correctly interpret the error reports and error codes displayed. Undoubtedly one of the most significant advantages of selecting the best OBD2 scanner is that it can very well save you from a costly trip to a garage. However, before making a purchase decision, you should take a few aspects into account.
Selecting the Best OBD2 Scanner — What are the Most Important Criteria?
If you’re new to the automotive diagnostics game, you might want to bear in mind that such devices do typically require a basic understanding of how cars work. You should take this into account when buying a device. If you do not have any specialist knowledge, but want to start out, then a beginner-friendly unit with fewer functions should be chosen. Further criteria to be considered are:
Is the Best OBD2 Scanner Device Compatible with Your Car?
Most device models available to purchase in stores are general-purpose devices that read the most common error codes. These scanners often read errors from a broad cross-section of automobiles. However, it’s impossible to design a device that covers every vehicle out there. Therefore, it’s advisable to check the manufacturer’s information before buying. If not supported by the run-of-the-mill diagnostics devices, you may need to purchase a scanner specific to your brand or car model.
How Much Are You Willing to Spend?
The best OBD2 scanner devices are available from as little as €35. Often, however, inexpensive diagnostic devices are specially developed for one make of car. On the other hand, the more expensive devices are designed for different brands and types — especially useful if you have multiple cars or plan on changing your car at some point. In addition, the higher-priced variants feature a more comprehensive error analysis.
Which Kind of Device Should It Be?
1. Tablet Device with Its Own Display
When it comes to scanners with displays, there are multiple on the market. The classic variant can be connected to the car’s ODB2 port via a cable, which then reads out the fault codes using its preinstalled software. Most devices of this variant can be operated via their touchscreen, just as you would a phone or tablet. As mentioned earlier, some of these models can easily connect via Bluetooth, eliminating the need for a cable.
Most tablets-style devices offer numerous setting options, as well as thorough and deep error analysis and an extensive range of functions. When purchasing these OBD2 scanner devices, however, you should know that a basic level of technical know-how is required in operation.
2. Laptop Variant
Another option is to purchase special software for the laptop — however, this method can be pricey. The setup is simple enough though, and you can use your existing computer. The laptop must be connected to the car with a cable to diagnose the problem. Many of these programs allow the users to change certain parameteres of the car, otherwise known as coding. This allows the user greater control and customization of their car’s settings and includes such things as accessing daytime running lights, or blinker intervals.
Although these software solutions can diagnose a wide range of vehicle models, the range of functions varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Another downside is that an internet connection is often required, and the cables supplied allow a limited range of motion and may prevent you from diagnosing certain issues “on the fly”. These points may not make them the best OBD2 scanner option for an amateur.
3. App Variant
One of the more straightforward versions is to use your own smartphone as an OBD scanner device. Numerous manufacturers now offer specially-developed apps (e.g. Carly). Of course, it’s not as simple as downloading an app and expecting your phone to communicate with your car’s computer — you’ll still need your mobile device to be connected to the OBD port using a suitable adapter.
Before purchasing an app, it’s best that you check that your vehicle is compatible, as many app manufacturers only offer their diagnostic software for newer models.
Range of Functions
Not only are there different diagnostic devices, but they also differ in their range of functions. It’s best that you think carefully about what you want to achieve with these diagnostic tools before committing to one.
You should always check which diagnoses are to be carried out with the respective devices. And if there are other features such as reading or evaluating real-time data? Is coding a possibility?
Simple, inexpensive diagnostic devices can often only read out the faults in the engine control unit. But to solve your issues you may need a device that can clear error codes from the vehicle’s memory. It’s also essential to pay attention to the language settings of the device, as it makes no sense if it doesn’t display English, while the best OBD2 scanner devices support multiple languages.
Of course, personal taste predominates here. There are OBD scanner devices with colored displays or simple black and white representations, with large screens the size of tablets. Also not to be neglected is the screen resolution. All of these factors can have an impact on legibility of the displayed data. Bear in mind where you will be working too. In bright sunlight it may be difficult to read a basic display with insufficient backlighting.
If you choose an OBD scanner device that has to be connected to your car with a cable, the manufacturer’s compatibility must be checked. In some cases connection cables or external plugs have to be purchased separately, whereas a more expensive device that include all the necessary plugs could work out cheaper in the long run.
You want to ensure that your device is kept up-to-date, so it’s a good idea to check what policies and practices the device manufacturer has regarding updates. Consult instore or online whether the device is updated regularly, and whether these are associated with additional costs or are made available free of charge. Some of the best OBD2 scanner devices are updated at least annually.
Another purchase criterion should not only be your own requirements and wishes, but also your knowledge.
OBD Scanner Devices for Everyone
If you do not have any in-depth knowledge of your car, or of automotive tech in general, but still want to know what that check-engine light means, a cheap car diagnostic device is perfectly adequate for easily decoding that error message.
OBD Scanners for Hobbyists with Basic Knowledge
If you know your way around a socket wrench and aren’t afraid to tackle small jobs, then a stand-alone OBD scanner with a tablet may just be the right one for you. Here, you not only get information about the fault, but can also clear the error code yourself using various options.
OBD Scanners for Professionals
Professional devices are comparatively expensive. Depending on the equipment and range of functions, it’s not uncommon for such devices to be listed in the four digits. But in return for their high price, they offer you a wide range of functions, access to numerous databases, and allow you to tweak multiple settings on your own car. But there’s a catch. Often, these devices are not available for purchase to private individuals, and instead are only accessible to workshops.
Due to the multiple points addressed, we’ve compiled some devices and apps for you.
The Best OBD2 Scanner Devices in Comparison
For this compilation, we’ve taken into account the range of functions, the usability of the devices and apps, the update options, the scope of compatibility, and their ease of use. We’ve also tried to describe at least one manufacturer of each device in more detail. Finally, we will name the device that is — in our opinion — the best option.
In addition to German and English, this diagnostic software is also available in 11 other languages. Immediately after purchase, you receive a download link from the manufacturer for installation on your laptop. Once the software is installed, the laptop must be connected to the OBD device to scan and read out any error messages. To achieve this you must purchase an extra cable and/or adapter.
Among other things, the software offers the following range of functions:
- Reading and deleting the stored error codes (sporadic and / or permanent)
- Reading various sensor data and parameters
- Status query
- Performance measurement and performance control of the vehicle during operation (e.g. fuel consumption)
- Monitoring of various engine control systems
- Reading out the vehicle identification data (VIN, CVN, CALID, etc.)
- Exporting of test values in Excel (CSV) format
All cars registered in the EU from 2001 with a petrol engine and all diesel engine cars from 2004, regardless of make and model, are supported, as are all US-registered cars from 1996 onwards.
3. KONNWEI KW850 OBD Scanner for Amateurs and Beginners
One of the best OBD2 scanner devices for those looking for an entry-level model, the Konnwei KW850 is perfect for most. In addition to gasoline engines, it is also suitable for diesel engine vehicles too. It supports all US models from 1996 and those from the European and Asian markets from 2003. The small diagnostic device offers you
- Diagnosis and problem analysis for engine systems
- Diagnosis and problem analysis for the emissions control system
- Diagnosis and problem analysis for fuel vapor retention system
However, functionality can be considered limited. The KW850 reads out error codes but is limited to the engine system. It is connected to the OBD port in the car with the cable supplied. The error analysis can be read on a small display. Test reports can be printed out via the connection to the PC using the supplied USB cable.
2. iCarsoft CR PRO Universal All-In-One Diagnostic Device for Advanced Users
The universal diagnostic device is suitable for error analysis and troubleshooting. It supports around 40 vehicle brands and models. These include VW, Toyota, Seat, Skoda, Renault, Porsche, Peugeot, Opel, Mercedes, Honda, Fiat, Ford, BMW and Audi. Rather than a touchscreen, it is operated using buttons.
The following error analysis functions are available with the iCarsoft CR Pro:
- Errors from the engine control unit
- Gearbox failure
- Airbag failure
You can also reset the error memory or re-code it. This enables the following:
- Resetting of the oil service interval
- Carrying out maintenance on the electronic parking brake (EPB)
- Initiating and controlling the regeneration of the diesel particulate filter
- Calibrating the steering angle sensor
- Electronic throttle control settings
- Performing a battery test
- Registering a new battery in the battery management system after a battery change
In addition, the iCarsoft CR Pro allows you to read out certain portions of live data while the vehicle is in operation. This includes engine speed, vehicle speed, coolant temperature, intake air temperature and data on the intake air flow rate.
As with the best OBD2 scanner devices, all diagnostic data can be printed out, with the logs available in German, English, and Dutch.
Power is supplied by the car battery. All data is clearly displayed on a 4-inch TFT display. In addition to English, the menu language is also available in German, Dutch, French and Spanish. To top it off, updates are available free of charge, and can be installed via the supplied microSD card.
1. LAUNCH CRP MOT II — A Professional Device for Home
The launch CRP MOT II offers you 11 of the most common service functions for 40 different car brands. It is connected directly to the car using the plug supplied. The following data can be read out:
- Complete control unit diagnosis
- Motor fault reading
- Transmission error reading
- ABS fault detection
- Airbag error detection
It also supports you with the following functions:
- Resetting the oil change interval
- Creating/changing settings for ABS brake bleeding
- Learning the immobilizer (depending on the vehicle type)
- Performing a battery test
- Registration of a new battery in the battery management system after a battery change
- Changing/controlling the function of the throttle valve
- Calibration of the steering angle sensor
- Crankshaft position sensor learning
- Resetting the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
The Launch CRP MOT II can also be used to read data while driving. This includes:
- Engine speed
- Vehicle speed
- Position O2 sensor,
- Coolant temperature
- Slow correction, quick correction
- Temperature of the intake air and the air mass flow rate.
A free manufacturer update is available every 24 months. The device is connected to the vehicle using one of the adapters supplied.
Included in the purchase are:
- A 16 pin OBD extension
- A 38 pin adapter for Mercedes Benz
- A 20 pin adapter for BMW
- An OBD connection cable for adapter
- A power adapter
- A USB cable
A 7-inch touch display is used to interact with the device. The operating instructions are available in German. Due to the large range of functions, the price is on the high side, at just under 1,000 euros. The 40 supported vehicle models include the most common European brands, as well as Isuzu, Vauxhall, and GM.
Finally, we come to mobile apps: ideal if handling and purchasing an external diagnostic device or laptop is too cumbersome or expensive for you. In the next segment, we’ll introduce you to the app variants. before, naming the best app in our opinion.
The Best OBD2 Scanner Diagnosis with an App
There are now numerous apps for troubleshooting automotive problems. The advantages these have over external OBD scanner devices are:
- You don’t need to buy an extra device.
- All you have to do is get an app and install it on your mobile phone.
- Some apps are free of charge (but with a limited scope of functions)
- Error codes are easy to read on the mobile phone and can be looked up on the internet if necessary.
- They are often the cheaper than an external device
- As with the best OBD2 scanner devices, you get regular updates
3. PACE Link One Vehicle Diagnostic Tool
The PACE Link One vehicle diagnostic device is suitable for all gasoline-powered vehicles built from 1996 onwards. To operate this, however, all necessary vehicle parameters must be entered in the app, although this does not apply to some newer models. In addition to common error messages, the app shows the engine load, the coolant temperature, the vehicle speed, and the fuel tank level. The app doesn’t offer coding, nor can errors be corrected. The app is only used to provide error information. However, the manufacturer promises lifelong updates. In addition, the app has an electronic logbook and gives driving tips while on the move for those wanting to save fuel. The Pace Link One app is available for both iOS and Android. However, an OBD2 adapter is required for operation, while the app can only be used while connected to the internet.
2. Torque Pro
This app has been developed for Android, and works together with an OBD adapter. After installation, the vehicle data must be entered. This includes the engine;s cubic capacity, the fuel tank capacity, and engine power.
Live information can be viewed via the app. These include:
- Outside temperature
- Oil temperature
- The vehicle position/vehicle inclination on the road
- Fuel consumption
- Rotation speed
In addition, Torque Pro also offers the option of decoding error messages. In the event of possible faults, the corresponding code is automatically issued immediately — provided that the mobile phone is connected to the car via an OBD2 adapter. The list of supported car brands ranges from Ford, GM, Opel, Chrysler, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Audi, Jaguar, Citroën, Skoda, Kia, Mazda, Lexus, Renault, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, BMW to Seat and Dodge.
However, neither PACE Link One or Torque Pro, offers the functionality of deleting or correcting errors or even coding certain vehicle parameters, as some external devices presented can. However, fear not, there is a solution that offers both.
1. Carly OBD Scanner: Car Diagnostics and Coding
The Carly app offers extensive error analysis, diagnostics, and coding of almost all car brands produced since 2001. These include cars from Toyota, BMW, VW and Lexus. The app is available for iOS and Android devices and works with the OBD2 scanner from Carly.
The Carly app offers extensive error analysis that can offer safety guidelines, ensuring that you know if the car can still be moved or if you should visit a workshop immediately.
The functions of the Carly app at a glance:
- Fault diagnosis: information on fault codes for the engine and transmission and warning notices regarding continued travel
- Clearing of errors
- Storage of error history
- Live parameters
- Live values displayed while driving, including outside temperature, speed, engine speed, oil temperature, etc.
- Monitoring of the emissions values
- Used car check (with this function you can uncover odometer manipulation when buying a used car)
- Resetting of maintenance intervals
- Registration of a new battery in the battery management system after a battery change
- Coding of certain vehicle settings such as the lighting settings, the blinker intervals, and manual control of the exhaust flaps, to name but a few
Conclusion OBD Scanner Devices
In summary, we’d say that the best OBD2 scanner devices are no longer suitable only for tinkerers and professionals. Even newcomers to the field of error diagnosis can receive support. They’re ideal if it is only a matter of fault identification, and thus speeding up troubleshooting when visiting a workshop. The purchase of a professional device should, however, be carefully considered and correspond to your own skill levels and purposes. If the use of an external device is too cumbersome, we recommend purchasing a diagnostic app and corresponding device. In addition to simple analysis tools, there are advanced and professional apps that allow troubleshooting as well as error readout. We were particularly impressed by the Carly app, a car diagnosis product that goes as far as to issue warnings about continuing your journey. And, with its numerous options (including resetting of maintenance intervals), coding options (blinker intervals, control of exhaust flaps…), storage of the error history, and live parameters, the app impressed as a full-fledged professional OBD diagnostic device.