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Bought A Non-American OBD2 Scanner? You May Want To Reconsider

By Joseph Kim
Published on December 18th, 2023

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Let me first start off by saying this article wasn’t written to attack non-American OBD2 companies. Some foreign companies actually do make decent diagnostic products that are affordable and work extremely well.

Rather, this article was written to inform you - the consumer - about the potential problems you may encounter when using foreign OBD2 scanners. Think of it as reading an unbiased research paper. Now let’s dive in.

Stolen OEM Data

When it comes to providing OEM diagnostic data, diagnostic companies can't just take data freely. We need consent & approval from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as Ford, Toyota, GM, and others. This is sensitive data that affects hundreds of millions of people, so it is strictly regulated by law.

Unfortunately, only well-known brands like Snap-On, Bosch, or Innova publicly announce its legal data contraction from OEMs. Innova contracts 100% of its data legally with OEMs every year. If you're buying outside of these brands, it's important to do your due diligence at confirming whether they obtained their data legally.

For example, several non-American OBD2 companies have been sued by big brands such as Mitchell, Snap-On, GM, Ford, and so on. And the main reason behind these court headaches? It has to do with proprietary data theft. You can Google it yourself!

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Problems With Using Stolen OEM Data

Stolen OEM data is exactly what it sounds – it’s stolen. It's data that hasn’t been obtained legally. As such, there are no guarantees on how accurate or safe the data they use is.

Think of it like this. It’s like buying your favorite Häagen-Dazs ice cream. One is an authentic ice cream brand you trust, while another is a cheaper knockoff brand (Haben-Daz, for instance). Both ice creams taste the same, but there is no guarantee on whether the knockoff brand is using the same safe ingredients as Häagen-Dazs.

In the same sense, a foreign OBD2 code reader using stolen OEM data may have the same diagnostic data as an authentic US-based scanner. But whether that data is reliable and safe is a gamble.

Furthermore, using stolen data is ethically questionable. This is not an ethics research paper so I won’t delve deeper into the topic, but it’s still something worth pondering upon.

Why Do Companies Steal OEM Data?

It's simple. Contracting OEM data legally is really, really expensive to license. We have to pay for this data every year. This is one of the main reasons why many OBD2 companies charge expensive annual firmware update fees.

Have you ever wondered why foreign OBD2 brands are able to offer their products at such a cheap price? What if they just stole the data? Aha?

As mentioned earlier, you should do your due diligence when purchasing an OBD2 scanner. Most reputable companies will outright tell you that they legally contract their OEM data.

Data Security & Privacy

When you connect your OBD2 scanner to your vehicle, data is being actively transferred between the scanner and the vehicle’s computer. And whether this data is being stolen, leaked, or vulnerable to hacking depends on what OBD2 scanner you bought.

US diagnostic companies are bound by US regulations. When it comes to data privacy, there are tons of laws we have to follow and adhere by to ensure your data is safe. As such, the possibility of your data getting leaked is quite low.

Foreign diagnostic companies, on the other hand, have more room to be flexible. Especially when it comes to basic scanners, they may not have a robust security system in place, which makes them vulnerable to external hacking. Your data may also be used for other unknown reasons.

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Inaccurate Promises

Sometimes, foreign OBD2 companies offer enticing deals like free lifetime updates with advanced functions, which can be quite misleading. While it’s true they offer “lifetime” free updates, we’ve noticed some discontinue their products after a few years. So technically, they kept their promise.

But for you, the customer? It almost feels like getting scammed. This is unfortunately the reality when it comes to most OBD-II scanners sold by foreign companies. They use platforms like Amazon as a testing ground to sell their products, luring customers in with awesome deals. And once they’re done and decide to move on, support for the product becomes obsolete.

It's not just us saying this out of thin air. This person bought a foreign scanner back in 2019 and couldn't use the device to scan his car after just 1-2 years.

Language Barrier

It may be hard to use a non-native OBD2 scanner simply due to how it’s written in broken English. If you’re an experienced mechanic who has used diagnostic scanners for years, you may be able to navigate your way through. But if you’re a beginner? You may have trouble navigating around.

For instance, you may get diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) for your check engine light easily, but the instructions to clear the error code may be very confusing. When it comes to complicated gadgets like OBD2 scan tools, simplicity and ease of use are extremely important.

Of course, it’s not to say that all American companies do a great job at explaining things, but it’s generally more easy to read and understand.

False Reviews

It's not a surprise anymore to hear about fake reviews online, and unfortunately there are tons of fake reviews spiraling around foreign OBD2 scanners on platforms like Amazon.

Here's an example. If you use Amazon, there are times when foreign sellers somehow manage to get access to your personal email. Once they obtain your information, they'll send you an email with something along the lines of:
"Hello dear, we have a new product available on Amazon and we like to try it out for free. We will reimburse all the money back to you in amazon gift card. Please buy the product, leave a 5-star review, and we'll reimburse your money."

Here's an actual email I received from a foreign seller recently.

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It's an unfortunate situation, really. The internet is being flooded with wrong information, and it'll probably only get worse as online shopping gets bigger.

Yet, there are a surprising number of people who accept to write a positive customer review in exchange for a free product. After all, who doesn’t like free stuff?

So if you're on the market for OBD2 scanners, keep an eye out for suspiciously positive Amazon reviews. Not every review you see is a true reflection of the product's capabilities.

Product Support

This is probably the most frustrating part of dealing with a foreign OBD2 company. It’s near impossible to talk with them by phone, and even if it were, the language barrier can be a hassle to overcome.

Email communication is somewhat bearable, but it still is an exhausting experience when they don’t get what you’re asking for.

You as the customer deserve a seamless product experience. If you need product support, you should be able to reach someone to get a fast and accurate answer. If you have a problem, there should be someone who can resolve your concerns at lightning speed.

American companies like Innova or Snap-On typically boast a strong customer service setup that effectively caters to their customers' needs. Most reputable companies in the States hire their customer service team in-house, which means they are people who live in one of the 50 states. They grew up in an American household, studied at an American institution, and know how to communicate clearly with you.

For instance, Innova offers customer support not only for English speakers, but also for Spanish speakers.

So Should I Not Use A Foreign OBD2 Scanner?

When it comes down to using foreign OBD2 scanners, we generally encourage customers to thoroughly research the pros and cons themselves. Don’t take our word for it and explore what other people have to say as well. If the pros outweigh the cons, by all means follow what your heart tells you to do.

The whole purpose of this article is to provide you valuable insights, so that you can make a more informed decision when it comes to purchasing an OBD2 scanner.

Hope this article was helpful!

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