10 Best OBD2 Scanners – (Reviews & Ultimate Guide 2020)

An OBD2 diagnostic tool is a great addition for every car passionate, amateur or professional mechanic. This tools will allow you to check your car’s performance in real-time. Not only will the best OBD2 scanner display the data clearly, but it will also create easy to understand graphs you will be able to save. This data can be used by tuners to increase their car’s performance.

Read the following OBD2 scanner reviews to find out which are the best models available on the market today and make sure you read the buying guide to learn how to properly use one.

Actron CP9690 Trilingual OBD I OBD II Elite AUTOSCANNER Pro Kit with Color Screen

Actron CP9690 OBD1 / OBD2 Scanner

  • Price : $$$
  • Dimensions : 11.9 x 10.7 x 4.3″
  • Weight : 4 pounds
  • Diagnoses : ABS and SRS Airbag coverage
  • For : 1996-2013 GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Hyundai vehicles
  • Language Options : Code Connect data in English only
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Innova 31403 CarScan OBD2 + OBD1 Scan Tool

Innova 31403 OBD2 + OBD1 Scanner

  • Price: $$$$$
  • Dimensions : 10.5 x 15 x 12.7″
  • Weight : 6 pounds
  • Diagnoses : Freeze Frame Data
  • For : all OBD2 (1996 and newer) and some of the OBD1 (1981 to 1995) vehicles
  • Language Options : English, French, and Spanish
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INNOVA 3160 Obd2 Scanner

INNOVA 3160 Obd2 Scanner

  • Price : $$$$
  • Dimensions : 7 x 3 x 10″
  • Weight : 2 pounds
  • Diagnoses : ABS codes and retrieves OEM enhanced and transmission DTCs
  • For : All 1996 and newer cars, light trucks, and SUVs
  • Language Options : English, French, and Spanish
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INNOVA 3100 Diagnostic Scan Tool Code Reader with ABS and Battery Backup for OBD2 Vehicles

INNOVA 3100 OBD2 Diagnostic Scanner

  • Price : $$
  • Dimensions : 12 x 8.5 x 2.5″
  • Weight : 1 pounds
  • Diagnoses : ABS and Battery Backup
  • For : 1996 and newer car, light truck or SUV
  • Language Options : English, Spanish or French
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Launch Tech (301050118) CRP129 Pro-Code OBDII Scan Diagnostic Tool

Launch Tech CRP129 Obd2 Scanner

  • Price : $$$
  • Dimensions : 7.3 x 4.3 x 1.2″
  • Weight : 10.6 ounces
  • Diagnoses : ABS, SRS, Transmission and Engine
  • For : Vehicles 1996 and newer
  • Language Options : English, Spanish, French
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FOXWELL NT301 OBD2 Scanner OBDII Diagnostic Code Reader

FOXWELL NT301 OBD2 Scanner OBDII Diagnostic Code Reader

  • Price : $
  • Dimensions : 8.7 x 3.1 x 6.7″
  • Weight : 1.05 pounds
  • Diagnoses : ABS or air bag system , exhaust gas recirculation , O2 sensors
  • For : Vehicle which has standardized 16-cavity connector
  • Language Options : 3 options
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Autel AL619 Autolink Engine

Autel AL619 Autolink Engine

  • Price: $$
  • Dimensions : 70.9 x 31.5 x 102.4″
  • Weight : 2 pounds
  • Diagnoses : ABS/SRS and Wide Codes
  • For : most 1996 and newer major vehicle models
  • Language Options : Multiple Language
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Best OBD2 Scanner Reviews (Recommended Picks)

1. Actron CP9690 OBD1 / OBD2 Scanner

Actron’s CP9690 scan tool is both easy to use and easy to read. The scanner offers advanced data, like manufacturer specific DTCs, or even to record and playback any stored information and print it through a PC. This model will cover all ABS and SRS codes from most vehicles developed between 1996 and 2013 by Ford, GM, Nissan, Honda, Chrysler, Hyundai, and Toyota. It is compatible with all OBD2 and CAN vehicles produced after 1996, OBD2 compliant vehicles developed between 1994 and 1995, and OBD1 vehicles developed between 1984-1995 by Ford, GM, Toyota, and Chrysler.

This tool has a hotkey that allows you to access a database made out of over 26 million verified fixed for the cause that made the “Check Engine” light to illuminate. Once you check the cause, the hotkey will also connect you with a solution to your particular problem. These fixes are specific to the vehicle’s make, year, model, and engine. This is a great feature if you want to make your own repairs or if you want to help a friend. You don’t need to take the car to a mechanic any longer, all you need is to buy and replace the faulty part and the car is fixed.

2. Innova 31403 OBD2 + OBD1 Scanner

Innova’s 31403 scan tool was designed by technicians to read and interpret enhanced and transmission diagnostic codes in all OBD2 vehicles, produced since 1996, and some of the most popular models produced between 1981 and 1995, in the OBD1 category.

This product is able to interpret generic codes like P0, P2, P3 and U0, manufacturer specific codes like P1, P3, and U1, global, permanent and pending codes, as well as the particular code that caused the “Check Engine” light to illuminate.

The tool is able to record, playback and display OBD2 live data graphs. It also allows you to access the trouble code definitions, see full diagnostic reports, the most likely probable causes, recall any stored information and TSB’s.

Once the problem has been identified this model will access a database and search the best fix for your problem. It also has a Freeze Frame Data feature which will allow it to make a snapshot every time the “Check Engine” light appears. This will allow you to check the status of the vehicle at the exact moment a component did not work properly.

This way you’ll be able to replace the broken component by yourself, without going to the mechanic.

3. INNOVA 3160 Obd2 Scanner

Innova’s 3160 scan tool was designed by engineers to read and interpret all the “Check Engine” light warnings on cars, minivans, light trucks, and SUVs produced since 1996. The tool is able to diagnose ABS and STS codes of most car models produced by Ford, GM, Toyota, Chrysler, and Honda after 1996.

This tool features a unique patented screen display and a LED display for drive cycle verification and for quick emissions readiness check. It is able to communicate with all OBD2 protocols and provide valuable live data.

The tool is easy to install and use. All you need to do is to plug the diagnostic tool in the car’s DLC port, connect the tool to a Windows-operated computer, download the diagnostic software on your computer and run it. After running the software you’ll be able to interpret all the OBD2 codes.

A great feature of this model is the customer help and support. If you’re not sure how to interpret some data, you can simply visit Innova.com where you can find RepairSolutions. This page is full of helpful tech tips and advice. Once you connect the device to a PC with an Internet connection, you’ll also be able to update the software.

4. INNOVA 3100 OBD2 Diagnostic Scanner

Innova’s 3100 scan tool can reveal the cause of the “Check Engine” light turning on for every vehicle model, domestic or foreign built after 1996. The tool is also capable of reading, interpreting and clearing ABS light trouble codes for vehicles produced by Ford, GM, Toyota, or Chrysler. Not only that, but this model can also reveal which code might make the ABS or “Check Engine” light turn on, so you can take preventive action.

The scan tool will allow you to see if the car, light truck, minivan, or SUV you’re checking can pass the mandatory emissions test. If the result is negative, you can fix everything by yourself, without going to a professional. This will dramatically reduce the cost of the repair.

The tool is easy to use. After you get the box, connect the diagnostic tool to your car and to a Windows-operated computer. Download the diagnostic software on your computer and run it. Once you run the software, you’ll be able to access all your car’s data in real-time and receive valuable information.

If you don’t know how to interpret the received information, you can check online on Innova’s website for technical tips and advice.

5. Launch Tech CRP129 Obd2 Scanner

Launch Tech’s CRP129 scan tool is able to read and clear all the codes connected to the Engine, ABS, Airbag (SRS), or Transmission (A/T) systems. Not only that, but this small tool is able to retrieve more data from these systems than other models on the market.

This scan tool can be used with great reliability on most Domestic, Asian and European models manufactured after the 1st of January 1996. Unlike most models, this tool is able to check and reset the Electronic Parking Brake (EPB), Oil Service Light, and Steering Angle Sensor (SAS) codes that might appear on your dashboard. Check out our roundups of the best brake controllers here!

The first time you try to launch the tool might take some time, so you have to be patient. This patience will be rewarded because after the install you will be able to use the latest update of the software, with more features than the basic one. Once the first software download is completed, it will connect and launch faster. You will still be able to make further free updates if any appear.

This scan and diagnostic tool works well, just as advertised. It has a fast response time. OBD checks can take some time with other models, but this one completes them quickly and thorough.

6. FOXWELL NT301 OBD2 Scanner OBDII Diagnostic Code Reader

This is a really practical and reliable tool to diagnose your car engine. With FOXWELL’s code reader you will get the perfect product to identify the real condition of your car even before you realize there is one.
There are some very convenient and up to the point features which will help you with your car diagnostic procedures. You can monitor the exhaust gas recirculation, check the status of your O2 sensors and respectively show you which one is bad, and many more. In addition, this product shows live data in text and graph, so you can spot the fault right away. And in case that you cannot read the information shown on your diagnostic tool, your device can record these PIDs and you will be able to print it and show it to your trusted car mechanic. But remember that you can’t work on ABS or air bag system since this code reader works with the engine parameters.

If you still do not know whether your vehicle will be compatible with this unit, make sure to check whether there is a standardized 16-cavity connector in your car. Another thing to get in advance to save you the trouble is a Windows 10 software on your computer as MACs will not meet the diagnostic tool’s specifications.

7. Autel AL619 Autolink Engine

Autel’s car code reader does all the standard diagnostics but there are some features that definitely set it apart from the rest products in its class. With this unit you will be able to read and erase codes, use the O2 sensor test and get the I/M readiness status of your car. Moreover, this diagnostic tool will read the faults of your vehicle and display them on the screen for no more than 30 seconds. With such a fast car code reader, you will not waste your time wondering what is wrong with your car. What is more, you will be able to use this car code reader with any vehicle from 1996 and up, no matter its country of origin.

A top-notch feature of this diagnostic tool is that you can read your ABS and Airbag car codes. And in addition, all the code definitions are stored in the device’s code library, so you will save time to look the codes up on the Internet. Also, the software can be updated for the latest version, so remember to do that right away when you get this diagnostic tool. A good idea would be if the manufacturer has thought of a micro SD card adapter to include in the package.

8. Innova 30203 CarScan Code Reader

Innova’s 30203 scan tool is designed to retrieve diagnostic codes from all OBD2 car models, those manufactured after the 1st of January 1996, and from some popular OBD1 vehicles, manufactured between 1981 and 1995. The tool is able to read and erase ABS and SRS codes on most vehicles produced by GM, Honda, Chrysler, Toyota, or Ford.

Due to the advanced technology employed, this tool is able to record and display the live data straight as easy to follow graphs. This technology also allows the scan tool to display a snapshot of the vehicle’s condition at the exact moment when the code was set. This way, even though some codes were not activated, you’ll be able to check all the systems that were functioning near their maximum capacity or breaking point. This might help you replace some parts even before they break down.

This product is easy to use. You just need to plug it in the car and the rest will be straightforward and intuitive. When you have difficulties reading or interpreting a code, you can check the solution online with Innova’s technicians. This is great if you want to start making your own repairs, it will save you a lot of money in the long run.

9. Actron CP9580A OBD2 AutoScanner Plus

Actron’s CP9580A scan tool is compatible with all OBD2 and CAN cars, SUVs, minivans and light trucks produced after the 1st of January 1996, including Asian models. The tool is capable of reading all domestic ABS codes, and those from Nissan, Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota vehicles produced between 1996 and 2009, as well.

Once you connect the scan and diagnostic tool to your car, it will read and interpret why the “Check Engine” light is turned on. Once it identifies the problem, this model will access a database of over 4.6 million fixes specific to your particular mark, model, year and engine.

This model is capable of displaying OBD2 generic and manufacturer specific codes, it is able to define those codes, both on its screen and on a PC. It is also able to read and display the live engine data and make graphs out of it, for easier understanding, diagnose trouble codes, reveal pending trouble codes, and make a snapshot of the vehicle’s data right at the moment the fault appeared.

A great feature of this model is the prioritized troubleshooting options. You will be able to follow the list without any trouble, and if the first option is not suited for your situation, you can always choose another.

10. Actron CP9575 OBD2 AutoScanner

Actron’s CP9575 scan tool is compatible with all vehicles produced after 1996 that have OBD2 and CAN. The tool is not only capable of reading and displaying generic and manufacturer-specific diagnostic codes, but it is also capable of advanced features. These features will allow you to receive real-time data, freeze frame data, drive cycle mode, and emissions checks.

This model is capable of displaying the status of your vehicle’s inspection monitor and that of the maintenance monitor, which have to work properly for your vehicle to pass the mandatory emissions tests.

This tool’s software can be updated regularly over the Internet so any new codes will be included in its database. The codes are not only stored there for recognition. They are also interpreted and defined. This way, any time the “Check Engine” light illuminates, you’ll be able to learn why very quickly. The device’s software can be changed, so it can be accessed in either English, Spanish, or French.

This model offers several great features. You can use it to read and display the emissions levels, your pending DTCs, and the freeze frame data. This data will display the exact moment when something went wrong and the “Check Engine” light was displayed.

OBD2 Bluetooth Adapter Buyer’s Guide

OBD2-Bluetooth-Buying-GuideIf you’re the curious type of person and you always want to learn about how things work, you definitely need a scanning tool. The OBD2 Bluetooth scan devices will allow you to see what’s going on with your car as a whole. You’ll be able to check your engine running parameters, your sensor readings, and many other functions, and look at them as a whole by checking the live graphics the compatible app will make for you.

You might think that purchasing a scan tool is expensive and it’s not worth the price, but you will be able to clear your “Check Engine Light” with it. Most of the times the light turns on because your headlights need changing or your filter is not functioning properly any longer. This will actually save you money in the long run because you won’t need to go to a mechanic to tell you these things. There are online tutorials on changing basic car components you can watch so you’ll be able to save even more if you make the change yourself.

Ultimately, the scan tool is a great device for anyone who enjoys getting the most out of their vehicle and boosting its performance.

If you want to buy an OBD-II Bluetooth device you should know what you shook look after in one. Read the following buying guide to find out all there is to know about scanning tools and read our OBD2 Bluetooth reviews to find the right fit for you.

The Top Things to Consider When Buying an OBD2 Bluetooth Adapter

You can use the OBD-II for extra performance. Even though most OBD-II systems are sealed and won’t allow any kind of chip replacement, they provide valuable real-time data very useful for tuners. Some power loaders will actually be able to reprogram the parameters of the OBD-II system to increase the performance options. The only thing you should keep in mind is that your car must be able to pass the emission standards after the tuning.


Not only does the scan tool be compatible with your car model, but it also has to be compatible with your device, as well. All the scanning tools will work with most car models manufactured after 1996, so chances are your vehicle will be among them. But not all devices are compatible with all the operating systems.

  1. Android Operating System
    android-for-obd2-bluetoothMost scanning devices are compatible with the Android Operating System. Some of them are developed with specific Android apps you have to use to get the right reading, while others can be used with third-party apps. If you get a model that has a specific app, you’ll be able to use it for free, since it’s price is included in the cost of the device. If it uses a third party app, you will be able to download one from Google Play Store. The price for these apps varies greatly, so you’ll be able to download some for free, while others might cost over 50$. This price is usually set by the performance. Some apps will be able to show you only a part of the car functions, while others will show all of them. The best Android-based apps will be able to make easy to follow graphics on all the functions.
  2. Windows Operating System
    Windows-for-obd2-bluetoothNot many manufacturers decide to make their devices compatible with Windows-based devices. A small fraction of these manufacturers will make the tool work on the mobile version of Windows, though, so you need to check before buying one if you intend to use it with a mobile device. The software needed to make the tool compatible with your device can be downloaded for free or for a small fee.
  3. IOS
    ios-for-obd2-bluetoothThis might come as a surprise, but IOS, the operating system used by Apple on all their devices, including their laptops is the least compatible with scanning tools. The reason behind it is the fact that it’s more difficult and more expensive to develop IOS compatible devices and apps. Even though this is the case, you can still find enough models which will be compatible with your devices. The apps you need to run can be found on iTunes, usually free or for a small fee.obd2-bluetooth-adapter-operating-systems

Device Price

The ObD2 scan tools market is a very large one. Similar to the other markets, you will find all sorts of models that come at different prices. They might seem to do the same thing, but that’s not necessarily true. Just like any other product, you might think that the more expensive products will be able to perform better than the cheaper ones, but that might not necessarily be true.

  1. Cheap Models
    Cheap models will most likely be able to connect to a singular operating system, so that might be a problem if you intend to change your reading device in the future. After connecting and installing them you will be able to use them through third-party apps. They will be able to read and clear all the basic codes, and some of them might even be able to read the manufacturer specific codes. One of the problems you might encounter with cheap models is that they can consume a lot of power, so leaving them plugged might damage your battery.
  2. Medium-priced Models
    Most medium-priced models will most likely connect to two operating systems. After connecting and installing them, you will be able to control them through a third party app which might cost you, but some of them will be delivered alongside a specific app. They will be able to read basic and specific codes, and some of them might even read and clear enhanced codes, such as ABS, Transmission, and Airbags. You can leave most of them connected at all times, they will not damage your battery.
  3. Expensive Models
    Expensive models are compatible with all the operating systems. This might not be an advantage for most people since the regular user doesn’t usually have devices with more than two different operating systems. After connecting and installing them you will be able to control them through a specific app, which will provide increased an increased accuracy for the reading. Even though the specific apps are really accurate, some third-party apps are superior. They allow you to check more functions and develop easy to read graphics. Most models are able to read and clear enhanced codes and provide valuable data. You can leave all of them plugged in and they won’t damage your battery.

Specific or Third-Party Apps

obd2-bluetooth-appsEven though the scan tool is the working device, the app is responsible for the interpretation of the data. Without the app, you couldn’t see the results. Many manufacturers don’t bother with developing a specific app for their device, but some do. Which is the better one?

  1. Specific Apps
    Specific Apps are specially designed to work with a single tool. This makes the app’s accuracy extremely high. It will generally pick up data third-party apps will most likely miss or exclude from their reports. But a developer that specializes in scanning tools production might not be the best company to develop software as well. That’s why some of the specific apps are accurate but don’t have as many features as the third party ones.
  2. Third-party Apps
    Third-party apps are developed to be compatible with many scan tools. They will install rather quickly and make pretty accurate readings. The readings they make on the same vehicle will be different if they are used with different devices, but still accurate enough for you to find out the car’s problems.

Free or Paid Apps

Choosing which app to use is always difficult, even though there are some renowned companies on the market. You should choose the right app for your device, no matter the cost.

  1. Free Apps
    Free Apps will allow you to interpret the basic readings. Some will even allow you to read and clear your “Check Engine” light. But why would you decide to use this kind of app if you purchased a device that’s able to read and clear enhanced codes? It will only stop it from doing its job properly.
  2. Paid Apps
    There are many types of paid apps. Some cost 5$, while others cost over 50$. The price difference is determined by their features. The 5$ app might allow your device to read and clear basic and manufacturer specific codes, but the 50$ one will definitely allow you to read all the enhanced codes, as well. You should check out the apps that are able to do the same things as your device. There’s no point in spending extra money on features you won’t use, but there’s no point in saving some money from the app, but not allowing your device to function properly, either.


obd2-bluetooth-warrantyIf you have the possibility of purchasing a model with warranty over one without at a similar price, don’t waste your time thinking too much about it, just get the one that comes with one. We’ll explain why this is important.

  1. Limited Warranty
    Many producers offer a limited warranty for their product. The duration of it might be different from one producer to another, but it’s better to have one. These Bluetooth scanners are usually very durable, so you’ll be able to use them for a long time. If, however, a model is defective, you should be able to change it.
  2. Lifetime Warranty
    If you have the possibility to buy a model that comes with a lifetime warranty, do it. Keep in mind that these devices are diagnostic tools you should be able to use for a long time. If you have a garage or a used car dealership, these devices will prove invaluable, so you should have the possibility to get them repaired at all times.

How to Buy the Best OBD2 Scanner – Which?

Best OBD2 ScannerIf you’re passionate about cars and you like working on them yourself, you need an OBD2 scanner. This device is guaranteed to make your life easier and more enjoyable. You can use a scanner to check why your “Check Engine” light is on and to reset it. The best OBD2 scanner will not only read the trouble code that determined the light to turn on, but it will also interpret the code for you, so you’ll be able to change the faulty part all by yourself, without help from a professional. Most of the times the “Check Engine” light turns on it’s not a serious matter. Some sensor might not work properly, or a filter needs to be changed. These changes are not hard to make, even for a person without mechanical experience. Some diagnostic tools will also be able to reset your “Engine Oil” light or to change the Inspection or Maintenance intervals, but we recommend you don’t change those unless you have an informed opinion and some experience with car mechanics.

If you decide to buy an OBD2 diagnostic tool, read our OBD2 scanner reviews to learn what to expect from the best models on the market, and read the following buying guide to know how you should use one.

How To Use Only 4 Steps to Reset a Check Engine Light

Check Engine lights usually turn on when there’s a problem with your car’s emission control system, or with the engine. But the problems are more often small rather than large ones. That’s why you should own a diagnostic scan tool. You can use one to have the codes generated by your car scanned and interpreted so you can determine the cause. You will be able to reset the light before you fix the problem. This is how you do it.

  1. Find The OBD2 Connector

    This connector is usually found somewhere you can reach while seating in the driver’s seat. Some vehicles have the connector situated under the steering column, on the left or on the right. Others have the connector placed near the ashtray or under the dashboard. You should be able to identify it quickly once you see it.

  2. Connect The Scanner

    Once you have identified the connector, take your scanner’s cable and connect the device to your car. Turn the ignition switch to the “ON” position. Make sure you remove or turn off all accessories after doing this.

  3. Read The Codes

    After you turned off all your accessories, turn on the scanner. Once it’s turned on, press the “Read” button. Some models do not have the “Read” button, but they will have a similar one you can use. Many manufacturers use hotkeys, so if you can’t find the right button, read the instructions manual.

    After the scanner reads the codes, you might have to write them down in the order they appeared, if the diagnostic tool doesn’t have a memory function. You will need these codes as a reference to find out what’s wrong with your car.

  4. Erase The Codes

    When you finish writing the codes, or if your device memorized them, you can erase them. If your scanner has a freeze frame function, make sure to check it before you erase the codes. This will show you the exact code that determined the Check Engine light to turn on.

To erase the codes, press the “Erase”, “Clear”, or “Yes” buttons on your scanner, depending on the model.


How To Get More From an OBD2 Scanner

OBD2 Scanner ReviewsSome scanners are only able to read and interpret generic or manufacturer-specific trouble codes. But you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on a diagnostic scanner that’s capable of doing only that. The best OBD2 scanner will be able to do more, a lot more than that.

If you want to get more out of a scanner, look out for the following features.

Freeze Frame Data
This feature will allow you to see what went wrong at the exact moment the Check Engine light turned on. This is important because once you connect a scanner to your car, several trouble codes will appear. The most important one for you is obviously the one that made the light turn on, but the scanner will interpret the data differently.
If for example, the light turned on because of a light sensor, but your emissions are high, it might put the emission problem above the sensor. You will have to fix both, but the sensor will turn on the Check Engine light again soon, so it’s better to fix it first.

Oil Inspection and Oil Service Lights
Different lights, different sensors, different problems. Most diagnostic tools won’t be able to reset these lights for you, but some can. This is a nice feature if you want to have a clear dashboard, especially if you run a used car showroom.

Inspection Service Interval and Inspection Mileage
We suggest you don’t use these features if you don’t know what they’re about. But for amateur mechanics and professionals, these features are a great addition to a scanning tool. They might prove useful if you’re trying to sell used cars, as well.

Memory Card
A memory card might not seem such a great feature, but having one in your device will prove very useful. You won’t have to lose time writing down the codes the scanner displays. They will be memorized in the card. Even more useful, you will be able to keep track of the codes generated by multiple vehicles over the time. This will be very useful for someone who has more cars or has to take care of a car park. Keeping track of their problems will allow you to take preventive measures, so nothing serious will be damaged.

Airbags Resets
This feature will be useful for every used car salesman, amateur or professional mechanic. Damaged cars will often need their airbags replaced, but even after you replace the airbag, you still need to clear the code.

How to Read and Understand OBD Codes in 9 Steps

OBD2 ScannersIf you ever had the Check Engine light turn on, your first reaction was probably to worry about your car, the safety of driving it, and the money you’re going to spend on the mechanic. But what does the light mean?

Your car’s CPU is a complex machine that receives a lot of information from different sensors, so you can’t tell what’s wrong right away. The easiest way to determine what’s wrong is to have a code reader. This tool will allow you to see exactly where the error is.

The first thing you need to do is to get the codes.

  1. Getting a Scan Tool
    If you want to obtain the trouble codes, you’ll need the proper tool to do it. You can find OBD2 diagnostic tools online or in auto-parts stores. Some models can be used directly from your phone through a Bluetooth connection, but the most simple and reliable are able to connect your car to a laptop through a USB cable. The scanning tools are designed to read and interpret certain sets of codes, so you’ll need to find the right device for your car. If your vehicle was produced before the 1st of January 1996, you will need to buy a tool that’s able to read the OBD1 set of codes. If your car was produced after this date, the device will have to be able to read the OBD2 set of codes. This code system was designed to constantly monitor your engine’s performance and your car’s emissions. Most diagnostic tools available now on the market are able to read and interpret this system’s codes.
  2. Locate the DLC
    After you buy the appropriate device you need to find your car’s Diagnostic Link Connector or DLC. The DLC is somewhat triangular and has 16 pins. You should be able to reach the DLC from the driver’s seat. It is usually located underneath the steering wheel, on the left or right side of the steering column. Some car models might have it located near the ashtray or under the dashboard. If you can’t find it, check the owner’s manual.
  3. Connecting the Scan Tool
    Once you locate the DLC, you can connect your scan tool to it. After you connect it, turn the ignition to the “ON” position, but don’t start the engine. You will notice that the scanner will begin reading the data from your car’s CPU. Some scanners might light up and show some welcoming messages, while others will show a loading bar. The first time you connect a device to your car’s computer is the longest, so make sure you have patience.
  4. Getting the codes
    When the booting process is done, open scanner’s menu. You should search for “Trouble Codes” or “Codes” to open the right menu. Depending on the scanner and on the vehicle you might have to choose between systems like Engine, Transmission, Brakes, Airbag, and more. When you pick a system, you’ll be able to see two or more types of codes, again depending on the scanner. The most common codes are Active and Pending. Active codes are the ones that represent the malfunctions that turned your Check Engine light on. Having the codes active but the light off means that despite the malfunction, the code’s setting conditions have not occurred for more operations of the vehicle.
    Pending codes mean that the OBD2 system failed to operate the emission control system at least once. If the operation fails again, the Check Engine light will turn on and the code becomes an active one.
  5. Understanding the Letters in the Codes
    Now that you have the codes, you need to understand what they mean, so you can make the necessary changes and repairs. Every code will begin with a letter. That letter represents the system the code is referring to.
    P – Powertrain. This category covers the engine, fuel system, ignition, transmission, emission, and more. It’s the largest category.
    B – Body. This category covers the seatbelts, airbags, power seating, and others.
    C – Chassis. This category covers the ABS, axles, brake fluid, and more.
    U – Undefined. This category of codes covers all the other aspects of your car.
  6. Understanding the Numbers in the Code
    If for example, you have a code that looks like this P0xxx, P2xxx, or P3xxx, it’s a generic code that will apply to all vehicle makes and models. A P1xxx code will be manufacturer-specific, such as Ford, Nissan, Honda, or Toyota. The second number will tell you what system the code is referring to. P07xx is a generic code referring to the transmission system. The last two digits represent the specific problem the code is referring to. You should check an online chart for more details on each specific code.
  7. Reading an Example Code
    Let’s say that the code displayed by the scanning tool is P0301. This code indicates a misfire condition on the first cylinder. The letter P sets the code in the Powertrain category. The 0 indicates this is a generic code. The 3 represents the malfunctioning area is the Ignition System. The 01 reveals that the problem is a misfire condition in the first cylinder. This problem could be related to a vacuum leak, a defective plug wire, or a worn out ignition coil. The code does not point out which of the components are defective, it only indicates that the cylinder as a whole isn’t working properly.
  8. Making the Right Diagnosis
    Making the right diagnosis based only on OBD2 codes takes practice. A worn out alternator, for example, might set off codes in different systems that work normally. You need to understand that the codes alone will not magically reveal what parts need to be replaced. If, on the other hand, the codes indicate a malfunctioning sensor or filter, just change it.
  9. Resetting the Check Engine Light
    Even if you don’t make the repairs, you will still be able to reset your Check Engine light with most scanning tools. Keep in mind that the light will only stay off for a limited amount of time.

You may also like: digital multimeters for checking a car battery

Best OBD2 Scanners Comparison Chart

INNOVA 3160 Obd2 Scanner
$$$$7 x 3 x 102 poundsABS codes and retrieves OEM enhanced and transmission DTCsAll 1996 and newer cars, light trucks, and SUVsSAE enhanced Live Data - views, graphs, records, and plays back live PCM data streams on screenEnglish, French, and Spanish
Launch Tech CRP129 OBDII Scanner
$$$$7.3 x 4.3 x 1.210.6 ouncesABS, SRS, Transmission and EngineVehicles 1996 and newerGraph, record, and playback crucial dataEnglish, French, and Spanish
Innova 31703 OBD2 + OBD1/ABS/SRS Scan Tool
$$$$14.2 x 12.5 x 4.86 poundsABS and SRS codes
1996 and newer GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda vehiclesDisplays, records and plays back OBD2 live data graphing Displays Freeze Frame DataEnglish, French, and Spanish
Actron CP9690 OBD I/OBD II Scanner
$$$11.9 x 10.7 x 4.34 poundsABS and SRS Airbag coverage1996-2013 GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Hyundai vehiclesRecord, playback and graph live engine data Capable of printing data to PCCode Connect data in English only
Actron CP9580A AutoScanner Plus
$$8 x 7.7 x 1.81.3 poundsABS Coverage Scan , freeze frame data, drive cycle mode state OBD checkOBD-II and CAN vehicles 1996 and newer and expanded AsianABS code coverage record and playback data stream and on screen graphingENGLISH
Innova 31403 OBD2 + OBD1 Scan Tool
10.5 x 15 x 12.76 poundsFreeze Frame Dataall OBD2 (1996 and newer) and some of the OBD1 (1981 to 1995) vehiclesDisplays, records and plays back OBD2 live data graphing on the toolEnglish, French, and Spanish
Foxwell Enhance OBDII Diagnostic Scan Tool
$$$$$8.7 x 3.1 x 6.12 poundsOil Inspection , airbagsGlobal OBDII/EOBD cars, SUVs, minivans,light-duty trucksOn-screen Oil Light Reset tool Reading/clearing codes, live data Live data graphingEnglish, French, German, Spanish, Dutch
Actron CP9575 AutoScanner
10.3 x 6.5 x 1.611.2 ouncesRead and display I/M monitorsALL 1996 and newer vehiclesVisual indication Reads and displays freeze frame data. Read and display pending DTCs.English, Spanish and French
INNOVA 3100 Diagnostic Scan Tool
$$12 x 8.5 x 2.52 poundsABS , State Emissions , Battery1996 and newer car, light truck or SUV , most GM, Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota vehiclesQuickly reveals the cause of "Check Engine" light warnings * Features a patented all-in-one screen and LED displayEnglish, Spanish and French
PowerLead Cadt OBD2 Scanner
$9.4 x 5.6 x 2.41.1 poundsEngine, Auto Transmission, ABS, SRS(air bag),Body, EPS, BODY, IMMOBILIZERBMW between 1997 to 2014Live data stream and graph display and vehicle version informationEnglish

Wrap Up

If you love to take care of your car, or if you have to take care of cars for a living, owning and using an OBD2 scanner will definitely improve the quality of your life. The best OBD2 scanner will be able to let you know which of your car’s systems has problems and will suggest the best way to fix it. Not only that, but it will also be able to turn off the Check Engine light if it’s on.

If you’re interested in buying a diagnostic tool, read our OBD2 scanner reviews to find the right model for your car.

Comments (2)

  1. Thea January 22, 2019
    • Car Outfitter April 20, 2019

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