I’m shopping for an OBD-II port scanner for my car but there are just too many options and prices. Any suggestions?
This question was answered on January 24, 2019. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
Any vehicle built in or after 1996 has a small port, usually under the steering wheel, for diagnosing issues with the vehicle. The OBD-II (OnBoard Diagnostics) port is not just for your mechanic as many consumer products are available that allow you to get more detailed information when your engine light comes on.
Whether you’re mechanically inclined or don’t know an Allen wrench from a socket, an ODB-II scanning device can be very useful.
The engine light on your dash is a general indicator that something is wrong with the operation of your vehicle, but it doesn’t tell you if it’s a minor problem like an emissions issue or something that could be very damaging if you continue to drive.
Whenever you take your vehicle in for service, one of the first things they will likely do is run a scanner program through the OBD-II port to get a code, which points to the specific area of the vehicle that is experiencing an issue.
Having the ability to run a scan yourself and either lookup the error code online or call your mechanic with the code takes a lot of the mystery and stress out of the equation when an engine light appears on your dash.
The port can also be used to monitor how the vehicle is being driven, which is helpful to parents and insurance companies.
If your primary goal is to have the ability to generate an error code, just about any of the plug in style units will do the trick, but I’d highly recommend you stay away from the devices under $30.
As with any new piece of technology, you don’t know what you don’t know and having features and options that you can grow into will allow you to become more intimate with your vehicle’s operation.
There are many handheld devices that include a display that can plug into the port but for most consumers, I like the small modules that connect to your smartphone through Bluetooth.
I personally use the BlueDriver device (https://bluedriver.com) because it’s extremely comprehensive and includes a lot of vehicle specific information such as recalls and service bulletins.
I tow an RV with my truck and have had the ‘mysterious engine light’ appear while on a road trip. When you’re away from your trusted mechanic, it eliminates the need to find someone trustworthy to determine what your issue might be.
Having the ability to use the scanner and send a screenshot of the results or call the people that know my truck the best is very comforting.
At $99, it's one of the more expensive options, but it’s professional grade and leaves nothing out when it comes to diagnosing problems.
If you’re the parent of a new driver that wants to monitor how they’re driving along with diagnostic info, you can look into devices such as Hum+ or Humx from Verizon (https://vz.to/2CKrfrJ)
Because it uses the Verizon network to connect, you don’t have to be near the car to get the information on your smartphone, so it allows you to monitor the health and how or where the vehicle is being driven in real-time.
About the author
Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on January 24, 2019