The Best OBD2 Scanner Guide- 2016 Reviews

ODB2 Scanner Review GuideMore and more, today’s car owners are learning that they can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by diagnosing and analyzing the control and power systems in their vehicle. Many dealerships and unscrupulous service stations charge $100 or more to read and interpret OBD II data from your vehicle. With a home OBD II scanner, you can quickly and easily receive the same information, often allowing you to make easy and less-expensive repairs yourself.

Over 40 years ago, auto manufacturers realized that drivers and mechanics could benefit from emerging computer technologies to record and track a number of subsystems in the car. While the original OBD sensors were primitive and crude, all of today’s modern vehicles now are required by law to have advanced OBD sensor systems installed.

Compare: The 10 Top Rated OBD II Scanners of 2016

What is a OBD II Scanner?

The first sensors were very crude, little more than a wire and a lamp that lit up when there was a problem. Known as an “idiot light”, these indicators were useful in telling drivers and vehicle operators that a problem existed, but were far too simplistic to pinpoint the cause of the difficulty. Once the On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) standards were updated in 1996 to become known as OBD II or OBD2, every vehicle manufactured in the United States became required to have an OBD unit installed.

Many people like to think of the OBD II unit as the “black box” of their cars. It contains a running log of operations, including temperature and fuel readings, speed, direction and location logs, as well as testing for emission leaks and levels. An OBD II scanner is a handheld device that plugs into your vehicle’s OBD II unit and instantly downloads all of the latest logs, readouts and recorded information about the operation of your car.

Problems are identified by Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC), which the scanner can translate into English or can be used to look-up more information in reference materials. With an OBD II scanner, any vehicle owner or operator can make periodic check-ups on the health and operation of their vehicle, and rapidly identify and resolve problems as they arise.

With a convenient handheld scanner, anyone at home can now plug into their vehicle’s OBD II unit and rapidly identify and diagnose problems. OBD II systems are now used to monitor vehicle emissions, and many states today rely on feedback from OBD II during inspections to ensure compliance with emission regulations.

What are the different types of OBD II Scanners?

Federal law and industry standards mean that pretty much all OBD II units in modern vehicles are interoperable. While all OBD II scanners can connect and download information from the OBD II unit, some scanners simply display a DTC code which must be researched separately while other more advanced models explain and identify the problem immediately. Some advanced models can be connected to computers to download, save or further analyze data, or to provide firmware updates to the scanner itself.

All OBD II scanners can download data from the OBD II unit in the vehicle but some scanners can also display and record data in real-time, critically essential for some tuning and adjustment jobs. OBD II scanners work with every vehicle made in America after 1996 and with most modern vehicles made in Europe and Asia.

What are the advantages of owning a OBD II Scanner?

It is a function of cars that over time different pieces or systems in the car begin to wear out, malfunction or break. Today’s advanced vehicles are loaded with sensors that can rapidly identify problems, but are often restricted to little more than illuminating a “check engine” light on the dashboard. With an OBD II scanner, anyone can quickly plug into the OBD II unit, download the sensor information, and accurately identify the problem.

Many dealerships and service stations charge $100 or more to perform the same task that a home OBD II scanner can do in mere minutes. Many vehicle owners find that some repairs and fixes are simple and easy to do themselves once they’ve confidently identified the source of the problem, saving them hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in fees to dealerships or garages.

Which models are the contenders for the Best OBD II Scanner?

Autel MaxiScan MS300 CAN Diagnostic Scan Tool for OBD2– The Autel MaxiScan is an ultra-portable scanner designed to quickly download and identify vehicle-generated error codes. With its cheerful bright red design, the MaxiScan is portable to carry in a pocket or glove compartment, while powerful enough to show vital diagnostic information in seconds.

INNOVA 3100 Diagnostic Scan Tool – The INNOVA 3100 is an excellent hand-held OBD II scanner that can instantly download and display emissions and other vital diagnostic information. When connected to the vehicle, data is automatically refreshed every 30 seconds, giving owners access to more dynamic aspects of their vehicle’s performance. With a battery back-up, the INNOVA 3100 can be transported elsewhere and connected to a computer for storing and analyzing downloaded data.

Actron CP9580A Enhanced AutoScanner Plus – The Actron CP9580A is one of the most advanced home OBD II scanners available on the market today. Able to quickly connect to any modern vehicle’s OBD II unit and download stored data or display live information, the Actron can sort through DTC codes and prioritize problems while generating solutions. With printer support and trilingual capabilities, the Actron OBD2 Autoscanner can allow any vehicle owner to rapidly identify, monitor and repair the vital operating functions of their vehicle.

Considerations for Choosing the Right OBD2 Scanner

  • Information and Display – Some home scanners do little more than show you the Diagnostic Trouble Code and not much else, while other scanners give you rich feedback about the status and condition of your vehicle.
  • Battery and Power – While all OBD II scanners can be powered via the vehicle’s on-board systems, many OBD II scanners contain a battery back-up function for offline use.
  • Diagnostic Features – All OBD II scanners will download the standard set of data, including emission readings and DTC codes. Other scanners can show real-time functioning of the vehicle while the motor is engaged, allowing vehicle owners to make adjustments and check vital system read-outs during operation.
  • Data Options – Many of today’s OBD II scanners can connect via cable to a computer, allowing for better visual displays of important diagnostic information as well as greater information about the cause and remedy for any ongoing problems.

Information and Display

The Autel MaxiScan MS300 – Once this scanner is properly connected, the results will be displayed instantly on the easy-to-read LCD display of the MaxiScan. Using the dedicated SCROLL button, users can quickly page through both DTC numerical codes as well as their short English definition.

The INNOVA 3100 – The INNOVA 3100 comes with a very large and easily legible LCD display that displays several lines of text or codes. Vehicle owners can quickly verify if cars are emissions compliant, as well as read and identify Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC). The INNOVA 3100 can display the DTC code definitions in three languages, including French and Spanish.

The Actron CP9580A  – The Actron CP9580A has a very generous LCD display that will rapidly show plain English definitions and other information about all DTC codes. The Actron unit can be connected to the vehicle while in operation to show live graphs and other dynamic feedback, and can “freeze” data at the touch of a button for lengthier analysis.

Battery and Power

The Autel MaxiScan MS300 – The MaxiScan is powered entirely through the vehicle’s DLC (Data Link Connector), so it does not come with its own power supply. Lithium ion batteries are required to operate the unit, and do not come included with the MaxiScan.

The INNOVA 3100 – When connected to the vehicle, the INNOVA 3100 is powered by the onboard system. A battery back-up, not included with the device, allows for off-line reading and uploading the information to a computer.

The Actron CP9580A – The full-sized Actron CP9580A requires four AA batteries for operation, which are not included.

Diagnostic Features

The Autel MaxiScan – This model will instantly download the stored DTC and other log codes from your vehicle’s OBD II unit. The information is displayed both in DTC numerical code format as well as a short English description. For more information on each DTC, an included CD-ROM can be used on a computer with more in-depth explanations.

The INNOVA 3100 – The INNOVA 3100 can quickly download all diagnostic and emissions performance information via the OBD II port, and can refresh that information every 30 seconds while remaining connected. The INNOVA 3100 can identify and erase ABS and Engine Light trouble codes.

The Actron CP9580A – Using the manufacturer’s patented CodeConnect software, the OBD II error codes and other diagnostic information can be prioritized and explained in natural language by the Actron CP9580A in English, Spanish or French.

Data Options

The Autel MaxiScan MS300 – The MaxiScan displays the recorded DTC codes from the vehicle’s onboard OBD II unit. Currently, there is no way to store, record or print this information for archival purposes.

The INNOVA 3100 – The INNOVA can be connected to a PC via USB cable. The manufacturer provides an included CD with software that runs on Windows computers, allowing for firmware updates and more in-depth information on DTC codes.

The Actron CP9580A – The Actron CP9580A can be connected to a computer for printing or for connecting to the manufacturer’s website, which offers proprietary software to customize, use and update the firmware.

Conclusion: Our OBD2 Scanner Reviews Are In

Autel MaxiScan MS300 CAN Diagnostic Scan Tool for OBDII – Best Cheap OBD2 Scanner

Autel MaxiScan MS300 CAN Diagnostic Scan Tool for OBD2This bright-red scanner fits easily in the palm of your hand and can be clipped to a keyring or kept in a glove box. Within seconds, the MaxiScan can be connected to the OBD II port and all of the valuable diagnostic information can be downloaded, allowing vehicle owners to make accurate assessments and targeted repairs. With it’s hassle-free and simple interface, the MaxiScan makes quick work out of downloading key diagnostic information from your vehicle’s OBD II unit.

Pros:

Small, powerful and light, the MaxiScan is a great gift or vital tool to be kept in a vehicle. When a “check engine” light or other dashboard indicator identifies a problem, the OBD II scanner can be plugged in to rapidly download the same information a qualified mechanic would be able to access with a much more expensive machine.

Cons:

Some people find the connection sequence protocol a little tricky until they get the hang of it. The firmware on the MaxiScan cannot be updated or “flashed” from a computer, and the included CD-ROM is far slower and more cumbersome to use than a standard online search.

Learn More

INNOVA 3100 Diagnostic Scan Tool/Code Reader – Best OBD2 Scanner for the Money

INNOVA 3100 Diagnostic Scan ToolThe INNOVA 3100 is a great mid-range home scanner for OBD II vehicles. It can quickly display VIN number, emissions readiness status and any identified DTC codes in both numerical and English format to allow vehicle owners to make quick and accurate diagnostic readings of their vehicle.

With a large, rugged design and ability to update its firmware, the INNOVA 3100 is a home scanner built to last for years of service.

Pros:

The large LCD screen and intuitive controls make using the INNOVO 3100 simple and easy. Engine and ABS errors can be quickly identified and the warning light reset with a touch of a button. Can be connected to a PC to store information and keep detailed logs over the life of the vehicle. Auto-refreshes every 30 seconds when connected to a vehicle to provide dynamic feedback.

Cons:

Doesn’t work on Apple or other operating systems. Innovo charges money for more in-depth interpretations and solutions for downloaded DTC codes.

Learn More

Actron CP9580A Enhanced AutoScanner Plus – Best OBD2 Scanner Overall

Actron CP9580A Enhanced AutoScanner PlusThe Actron CP9580A is a top-quality handheld home OBD II scanner that can be used to download both stored data as well as display live feedback from any modern vehicle’s OBD II unit. With the patented CodeConnect software, the Actron CP9580A can prioritize error codes and display useful information in plain language for rapid identification and repair.

With a large, easy-to-read screen packed full of useful information, the Actron CP9580A scanner can be used by any vehicle owner to read, analyze and repair the important operating systems monitored by the OBD II.

Pros:

Fits conveniently in one hand to allow for quick connection to a vehicle. With its live function, you can see the engine performance and other vital information while the car is running. Can be connected to a computer for more information about error codes and suggested solutions, and even includes manufacturer-specific codes for most modern vehicles.

The manufacturer’s PC software allows for greater control and flexibility using the Actron CP9580A. Firmware can be updated if connected to a computer running the controlling software.

Cons:

The PC software only operates on some Windows operating systems, and is not currently compatible with Windows 8.

Learn More

In Conclusion

Vehicle owners and operators know that it can be very frustrating and time-consuming to deal with potentially serious engine, ABS and operating warning lights and indicators. A big problem, if left untreated, could lead to a serious malfunction, but some warning lights only identify small problems and can be left ignored.

After careful consideration, the Actron CP9580A AutoScanner is our pick for the best all-around home OBD II scanner. With a multitude of diagnostic functions, including real-time analysis of motor and emissions functions, the Actron gives any vehicle owner a powerful tool to measure and repair vital operating systems.