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Is It Worth Getting an OBD2 Scanner?

By Joseph Kim
Published on April 1st, 2024

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A triple yes! And I’m not saying this because I want to sell you a product. Rather, it’s my hope to successfully explain how an OBD2 scanner can help you understand your vehicle and avoid unnecessary headaches.

should i buy an OBD2 scanner?

What Are OBD2 Scanners?

An On-Board Diagnostic (OBD2) scanner is basically a tool that allows you to communicate with any OBD2-certified vehicle and retrieve essential diagnostic information, including real-time data, diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs), and other vital parameters.

In simpler terms, think of an OBD2 scanner as your vehicle’s Google translator (except it’s more accurate). When a car’s electronic control unit (ECU) detects an issue with one of its components, it sends a signal to your dashboard, often appearing as a check engine light. But that’s the most it’ll give to the everyday user.

And as you may know, the data behind a check engine light can have thousands of different meanings. It may indicate a faulty spark plug, malfunctioning ignition coil, damaged mass airflow sensor, or a loose gas cap. No one knows…that is, unless you have an OBDII scanner.

how to diagnose a check engine light

In order to translate what the car is trying to tell you, an OBD2 scanner is an absolute must. No matter whether you’re a casual DIYer or a professional mechanic, it’s near impossible to tell what trouble code your vehicle has without a diagnostic scanner.

What Can An OBD2 Scanner Do?

At its core, an OBD2 scanner is a diagnostic device; it’s a tool that helps narrow down the core issue, allowing you to find the problem and fix it. This can be accomplished through various methods, which I’ll briefly explain below.

Retrieves Diagnostic Trouble Codes

Let’s say you’re driving and a check engine light pops up out of nowhere. If you own an OBD2 scanner, you can plug the device into your data link connector (DLC) port and it’ll retrieve the fault codes for you.

For example, let’s imagine you plug your OBD2 scanner into your DLC port. Once connected, the device detects a fault code and retrieves a P0452 fault code. This gives you a good ballpark on where to start your diagnosis. After searching on Google, you find that it has to do with low circuit voltage on your fuel tank’s pressure sensor. So you go buy a new fuel tank pressure sensor at your nearest auto parts store and replace your old sensor.

Once you fix the core issue, you can erase the fault code with your OBD2 scanner. And if that’s your only DTC, you’ve just fixed your check engine light!

Of course, I oversimplified the issue above and in real life it probably isn’t that simple.

But the point is, without an OBD2 scanner, it’d be near impossible to start diagnosing the root issue of your check engine light. That’s why having a scanner around is so handy, especially if you’re keen on fixing things yourself. You can save a bunch of time and money.

Reads Live Data

Sometimes, simply retrieving the DTC isn’t enough to deduce the core issue. And that’s where live data comes in handy.

how to use an obd2 scanner

Let’s say your OBD2 scanner retrieved the P0171 trouble code, which indicates a lean air/fuel mixture. In other words, there’s an unbalanced ratio of air to fuel entering the engine.

Now that you know the reason the code’s popping up, you can use live data to monitor the short-term & long-term fuel trim to identify the component that’s causing the lean condition. For example, if the fuel trims are consistently high, you can further deduce the issue into:

  • A vacuum leak
  • A faulty mass airflow sensor
  • A problem with the fuel delivery system

Once the core issue has been fixed, you can then use live data again to confirm whether the readings are back within their normal range. For a gasoline engine, the air/fuel ratio would be 14.7 to 1.

Without an OBD2 scanner, it’d be impossible to do the above. It’s akin to trying to be a detective without having access to the crime scene. You need to be able to see everything in order to come to the right conclusion.

Performs Service Resets

Most modern vehicles already have this feature installed into its system, but some older vehicles require an OBD2 scanner to manually perform service resets.

For example, if you recently changed your engine oil, certain OBD2 scanners have the ability to manually reset the oil maintenance light.

why should i buy an OBD2 code reader

Other Advanced Features

There are tons of features an OBD2 scanner is capable of, but I won’t go over everything as that’ll bore you.

I do, however, want to mention bi-directional controls. This feature is usually only available on higher end models, but it’s an awesome feature that can save you a bucket load of time.

Let’s say you retrieved a P0401 trouble code, which indicates insufficient flow to the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system.

With bi-directional controls, you can command the EGR valve to open and close as you wish while monitoring live data. This allows you to check the valve’s responsiveness and verify whether or not it’s operating as it should. If it isn’t, you have your answer on how to fix P0401.

Having access to bi-directional controls is a huge benefit and can save you a lot of headaches. If a cheap OBD2 scanner can only communicate one-way, bi-directional scanners can communicate two-ways.

What Type of OBD2 Scanner Should I Buy in 2024?

If you’re thinking of purchasing an OBD2 scanner, there are several different types of diagnostic scanners you can purchase.

Basic OBD2 Scanners

Innova OBD2 scanners benefits

If all you’re looking for are essential functions like reading/clearing trouble codes and viewing OBD live data, this may be a good choice for you.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Generally easy to use

Cons:

  • Limited diagnostic features

There are tons of affordable OBD2 scanners on Amazon that fall into this category. Feel free to do your own research.

If you’re looking to purchase a basic code reader from Innova, we recommend the Innova 5210 which currently sells for $99.99. This device reads/clears codes and supports live data.

Click here to learn more about the Innova 5210.

Advanced OBD2 Scanners

benefits of buying an Innova OBD2 scanner

If you’re serious about diagnostics and need rich features to support your diagnostic journey, you’re looking for an advanced OBD2 scanner.

Pros:

  • Powerful features
  • Generally supports both OBD2 & OEM features

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Can be a bit hard to understand at first

If you’re looking to purchase an advanced OBD2 scanner from Innova, we recommend the Innova 5610. This is our best-selling and by far our most advanced OBD2 handheld tool. It currently sells for $349.99.

Click here to learn more about the Innova 5610.

Benefits of Owning an Innova Branded Scanner

If you’re contemplating on buying an Innova branded scanner VS other brands, let me briefly go over the benefits we offer.

benefits of owning an innova scanner

Identifies the Primary DTC

Most OBD2 scanners simply retrieve the DTC and that’s it. The problem with this is simple. Let’s say you have a check engine light, use a generic OBD2 scan tool, and it retrieves 5 different codes, such as:

  • P0067
  • P0083
  • P0112
  • P0139
  • P0171

That’s not very useful, now is it? Unless you’re a mechanic, it’ll take a lifetime to go through each DTC and fix them one-by-one.

Innova scanners have the ability to identify the primary DTC that’s causing your check engine light to come on. If P0171 is the main cause behind your CEL, we will tell you this information.

That way, you only have to fix P0171 and your check engine light is gone. Other generic scanners do not have this ability, as we have our own proprietary dataset.

30+ Years of Rich Diagnostic Data

We’re an American company based in Irvine, Southern California. Since 1990, Innova has been one of the forefront leaders when it comes to providing diagnostic information to the automotive aftermarket audience.

Innova OBD2 scanners

With over 50 million verified fixes and 500 million vehicle scans, we cross-reference reported vehicle fixes with our ASE-certified technicians and provide them right back to our customers. Enjoy utilizing one of the world’s largest holders of automotive diagnostic data.

Comes With the RepairSolutions2 App

With the purchase of any of our branded scanners comes free access to the Repairsolutions2 app (optional). It’s currently the highest ranking repair app in the United States.

Together with our scanners, the app is able to provide you with more in-depth information about your DTC such as how severe the issue is and the layman’s definition of it.

And the best part? Get ASE-verified fix advice for your primary DTC. It gives you direct links to the necessary repair part to fix your DTC. No need to manually search what part to purchase.

Enjoy tons of intuitive features such as predicted repairs or upcoming maintenance list. Access technical service bulletins (TSBs) for free.

Free Firmware Updates

Unlike some scanners that charge annual fees, we provide all firmware updates for free. This potentially makes it a great investment or gift for a DIY enthusiast.

Buy it once and enjoy unlimited diagnosis that isn’t held back by a paywall.

American Support

If you have any questions or problems with our tools, our in-house American support team is here to assist. You can email us, call us, or chat with us in real time!

We’re serious when it comes to customer satisfaction. We have great support documentation, live product training every Tuesday, and a great community where you can connect with like-minded individuals.

All products come with a 1-year warranty. Should you have any issues, we’re here to make it right.

If you'd like to read more about the benefits Innova-branded scanners offer, click here.

Should I Get An OBD2 Scanner?

If you’re in the long game and enjoy fixing stuff yourself, I highly recommend getting one. Not only is it a great investment for your vehicle’s health, it can save you from unnecessary trips to your local mechanic.

An OBD2 scanner isn’t your one-stop miracle fix, but it definitely is a necessary tool to begin your automotive diagnostic journey.

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