How to Choose OBD2 Scanner for Vehicle Owners and Repair Technicians
If you love your vehicle, chances are you need to pick up an OBD2 scanner. These handy devices can detect and diagnose issues with your vehicle before they would otherwise rear their head. In other words, they’re basically a driver’s best friend.
Even a skillful eye and a trained ear cannot notice the early symptoms of many vehicular issues and maintenance problems. Hidden mechanical issues such as an aging windshield wiper motor, or a dried-out hinge, can cause serious headaches if left unchecked. Fortunately for you, OBD2 devices can help you spot out these problems before they cause any major issues.
To help you learn about the many benefits of OBD2 scanners and how they can make your life as a driver or repair technician easier, we put together this quick guide. Read below to find out how you can get your hands on the right OBD2 scanner for your ride and, most important, why your car needs one in the first place.
OBD2 101: What Are They?
Otherwise known as On-Board Diagnostic (OBS) Scanners, these devices are automotive tools for self-diagnosing and reporting mechanical issues within a motor vehicle. Cars are complex systems that, within them, contain many subsystems. For each of these, long-term problems can arise if they aren’t sniffed out fast enough.
This is where the OBD2 comes into play. First developed in the 1980s, the OBD2 has largely replaced the original OBD scanner utilize digital communications technologies to inform drivers and technicians about the nature of the problem detected, rather than simply illuminate an “idiot light,” as they’re sometimes affectionately called.
There are few aspects of vehicle ownership more important than finding problem areas before they arise, and quickly taking care of them. By purchasing and installing an OBD2 scanner, you can drive with confidence knowing that you’re protected. In this sense, you can think of OBD2 scanners as an onboard computer that helps make your ride safer and more affordable.
Why You Need an OBD2 Scanner
Every vehicle owner or technician can benefit from an OBD2 scanner. All modern OBD2 devices come with an array of helpful sensors and gadgets to alert you find problems with the ignition, transmission, emission system, fuel supply, and more.
They say you can’t put a price on peace of mind, and that’s where OBD2 scanners provide incredible value. Rather they wrack your brain about whether your brakes are starting to wear down, you can simply install an OBD2 scanner and drive worry-free until you receive a diagnostic trouble code.
Are OBD2 Scanners Compatible with My Car?
If you drive a car built after 1996, then you can rest assured that your car is fully compatible with OBD2 technology. Beginning in 1996, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started mandating that all road vehicles be built compliant with OBDII (or OBD2) standards. Therefore, all new vehicles today are fully compatible with OBD2 technology.
The Benefits of OBD2 Scanners
You may be wondering why the EPA has taken a leading role in promoting the use of OBD2 scanners. The answer is that there are countless environmental, financial, safety, and psychological benefits that come with OBD2 usage.
For one, nobody likes to spend money on car repair. The last thing that drivers need these days is another reason to part with their hard-earned money. For this reason, OBD2 devices are a smart investment, since they can keep you from having to splurge on major repairs or car part upgrades.
However, some of the benefits of OBD2 scanners aren’t so clear-cut. Below, we’ve listed some of our favorite reasons why we think you can benefit from investing in an OBD2 scanner:
- Understanding Your Car: OBD2 scanners are useful tools for discovering more about how your vehicle works, where its problem areas lie, and its various quirks. The extra knowledge you will gain about your car will go a long way in earning you respect among those who work on cars for a living.
- Ease of Use: Compared to the original OBD scanners, these devices are simple, plug-and-play gadgets that don’t require you to be a tech wiz to wrap your head around. Simply “set it and forget it” while the technology works its magic.
- Environmental Stewardship: OBD2 scanners monitor and record your vehicle’s emissions and alert you to sudden increases in emissions output. This can also help you detect escaped gases that can degrade the environment.
- Pinpointing the Root Cause: Cars are complicated. For any problem, there can be countless potential problems. With an OBD2 scanner, you can rest assured knowing that you have found the root cause of the issue and can tackle it without having to tinker around under the hood.
- Saving Money: Finally, OBD2 scanners can help you hang on to your cash. As every car owner knows all too well, minor repairs cost less than major ones—a lot less. OBD2 scanners help you take care of small malfunctions before they can cause costly, long-term damage.
How To Find the Right Scanner: A Step-by-Step Guide
Now that we know the ins and outs of OBD2 scanners, and how you can benefit from them, let’s get down to business and go over how you can find the best scanner for your needs. By following these six easy steps, you can pick up a scanner that will take care of your ride for years to come.
Step 1: Setting Your Budget
The first step in finding an OBD2 scanner is to set a hard budget and ensure that you work within it. After all, OBD2 devices are supposed to save you money, not break your bank. Therefore, you’ve got to find out how much you’re willing to spend without sacrificing quality.
There is a wide range of OBD2 scanners that come in a wide variety of price ranges. Most scanners start at 20 dollars and go up sharply from there. It’s possible, then, to find a scanner to fit just about any budget. The key, however, is to settle on a budget that can afford you the best scanner without hitting your wallet too hard.
Before you narrow down a price point, we recommend shopping around online for highly-rated scanners. If you’re shopping on Amazon, we suggest searching for scanners with four stars or higher and with at least 100 verified reviews. This way, you know whether that discount scanner is worth your money or a piece of junk that’ll break on you within a few weeks.
Step 2: Know Your Ride
Although all vehicles are compliant with OBD2 standards, not every scanner is compatible with every vehicle type. Before you find a device that you’re interested in, ensure that you look into the make and model of your vehicle(s), so that you don’t end up buying a useless scanner that won’t work for your needs.
If you drive a truck, we suggest looking for scanners that have the keyword “truck” included in the product name. This is an easy way to find a model that you know is suited for your vehicle type. The same is true of classic cars, tractor trailers, sports cars, and more.
To be on the safe side, pick out a scanner that is custom-made for your vehicle type, if possible. For instance, a Toyota Corolla may be best-suited for a scanner that specifically mentions this vehicle make on the box or within the product name. If you don’t take this precaution, you may end up having to waste time exchanging the product with a different one.
Step 3: Ensure Compatibility
Always read the fine print when it comes to finding the right OBD2 scanner. Often, the models that the scanner is compatible with will be written out in the fine print at the bottom of the box, or within the Product Details section of the website you buy it from.
Choosing the right OBD2 scanner also requires you to check whether your computer’s operating system is compatible with the on-board device.
OBD2 scanners need to be compatible with your home computer’s operating system because the device will communicate with the computer via Wi-Fi or another form of wireless communication—this is how you receive and read detailed reports about your vehicle’s emissions and maintenance status.
Even if you’re the farthest thing from a tech guru, this step shouldn’t be too difficult. All you have to do is make sure that your home computer or mobile device is running one of the several popular operating systems, including:
- Mac iOS
- Windows 7,8, or 10
- Mac OSX
- Windows CE
If you’ve got a computer sitting at home (even if it’s a decade old), a smartphone, or a tablet computer, you can find an OBD2 device that’s compatible with it. Just make sure that your device is compatible with whatever you have at home, since some devices are made specifically for Mac computers or Windows PCs.
Step 4: Pick Your Features
The next step is to settle on the features you think you would benefit from the most. To do this, ask yourself what you care about the most regarding your vehicle, and what you would like to know about it. Then, compare this with the various features bullet-listed on the box or Product Description of the OBD2 device.
If your car’s backup battery is a little iffy, or if you want to find out whether your car’s SRS system is firing properly, make sure your product includes these diagnostic features. Since not every OBD2 device has the same diagnostic, code-reading, or analysis features, it is important that you check and double-check the item to see whether it can do what you want it to.
Usually, the product will list its features directly on the box or somewhere in the product description. Look for keywords like “transmission, ABS, SRS, battery backup,” and more to see whether your car’s problem areas are covered by the device.
Step 5: Iron Out the Details
Don’t pull the trigger just yet. One of your last steps is to make sure that all of the technical specifications of the OBD2 device suit your preferences. This includes, firstly, whether the device is upgradeable. These days, technology can become obsolete quickly. To prevent this from happening to you, ensure that your device can update or upgrade wirelessly to keep it from failing on you.
If the device is upgradeable, check whether it costs anything to upgrade. Most reputable OBD2 devices won’t charge you to update wirelessly. If it does, then this might end up costing you an arm and a leg in the long-term. Since OBD2 scanners are supposed to save you money, you’re better off looking for devices that can upgrade free of charge. We also recommend looking for models that have easy-to-follow instruction manuals in case you run into problems.
Step 6: Test ‘em Out
Once you’ve found a device, or several devices, that suit your needs, test them out! Most manufacturers have lenient return policies, so there’s no risk involved in trying them out. However, make sure you can return the device if you find that it doesn’t live up to your expectations.
When giving your OBD2 device a test-run, ensure that all its features stated on the box work, and make sure that it is compatible with your home PC or smartphone. If you find yourself constantly having to tinker with it or figure out how to work it, exchange it for another. After all, OBD2 scanners are supposed to give you peace of mind and save you time, not cause stress or hassles.
Get the Right Scanner for Your Ride
By following the steps outlined above, you can find an OBD2 scanner that saves you time, money, and a whole lot of headaches. The key is to do your research before you buy and to find a device that’s compatible with your smartphone or home computer.
With the right OBD2 scanner in your corner, you can treat yourself to some much-needed peace of mind every time you hit the road.