Understanding OBD2 Scan Tools in 2023  

Published: 5/19/23

OBD2 scan tools are important for both skilled mechanics and people who just want to try fixing their own car. These devices give information about the health and performance of a car. This page talks about OBD2 scan tools, and how to choose one.

What Does an OBD2 Scanner Tell You?

With an OBD2 scanner, you can look at diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) and info from your car's onboard computer in real time. When you plug the reader into your car's OBD2 port, you can get information about the engine's performance, emission levels, sensor data, and more.

This enables you to identify and troubleshoot potential issues, such as engine misfires, faulty oxygen sensors, or transmission problems.

Difference Between an OBD2 Reader and an OBD2 Scanner

People often use the terms "OBD2 reader" and "OBD2 scanner" equally, but there are some differences between the two.

An OBD2 reader shows DTCs and gives a brief explanation of the meaning of the code and that’s about it. These devices may only cover the engine.

OBD2 scanners offer more advanced features, such as viewing real time data from the vehicle, known as live data. They may also scan more systems unique to each vehicle, beyond the engine codes.

Both types are usually at minimum able to read and erase engine codes.

Is It Worth Buying an OBD2 Scanner?

OBD2 scanners may be useful for people who are not car experts. Consider the following:

  • Cost savings: An OBD2 scanner might be able to find small problems that you can do yourself, such as tightening or replacing a gas cap.
  • Saving time: An OBD2 reader lets you quickly find problems and decide if they need to be fixed right away or can wait.
  • Learning opportunity: Owning an OBD2 scanner provides a chance to deepen your understanding of automotive diagnostics and gain hands-on experience with your vehicle.

Will Any OBD2 Scanner Work on Any Car? 

OBD2 scanners work on most US cars made after 1996, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Localization: Every country has its own communication protocol, so make sure the product works in your country. A scanner that works on US vehicles may not work on ones in France.
  • Coverage: When it comes to manufacturer specific features, no tool works on every vehicle on the road. For example if a tool says it can reset maintenance lights (the oil light), it may not work on a broad range of early 2000 vehicles because those vehicles did not have computers that could reset those lights and it could only be done manually.
    The more ‘high end’ the feature is, such as ABS brake bleeding, the more likely there will be gaps. Some tools are better at certain makes than others. It is important to verify the feature you want works on your vehicle by checking the coverage checker for that tool.
  • Software and Updates: Check if the scanner's software is upgradable, as it ensures compatibility with future vehicles and provides access to the latest diagnostic capabilities.

Dongles vs Handhelds vs Tablets

Dongles are usually seen as a younger generation product who are more smartphone savvy and don’t mind using a phone to view their diagnostic information. Usually these products are smaller but generally less reliable as they are not designed to plug into and unplug from many vehicles. Most dongles are not small enough for vehicle covers to completely cover them while driving, so this is something to be aware of.

Handhelds are generally seen as DIY tools are they are seen as more reliable, don’t need batteries, don’t need a phone, and plug and play. Generally their advantages are they work extremely fast on a broad range of vehicles, have advanced features, and don’t require a smartphone to work. They usually do not have apps, however some do.  Handhelds range from simpler readers to advanced scanners that are nearly pro level tools.

Tablets are generally seen as pro tools are they are usually much more expensive and come with more features. However their major downside is they must be charged prior use and take time to boot up.

In Conclusion  

OBD2 scan tools are powerful devices that offer valuable insights into your vehicle's health and performance. By investing in an OBD2 scanner, you gain the ability to diagnose issues and potentially a chance to save money.