Best OBD-II scanner 2022: The best ways to monitor your vehicle health

Cat Dow
5 May 2022

Want to avoid costly garage bills? An OBD2 device might be just the ticket…

Modern cars are awash with fancy new electronics. Whether it’s for safety, comfort or just pure convenience, our cars have some pretty useful features. But you don’t need to buy a brand new car to benefit from these features. Using the vehicle’s on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) port, you can upgrade your current car. A small device can help diagnose a fault without an expensive trip to the dealership, or monitor your driving habits for better fuel efficiency and cheaper insurance.

Since 1996, OBD-II (or OBD2) ports have been a mandatory requirement on vehicles. They standardise access to the car’s central computer, which records and monitors data the car creates. This data includes mileage, speed, braking and acceleration, as well as tyre pressure management and diagnostic trouble codes, or DTCs, for the various electronically managed functions (such as parking sensors, electric windows or fuel injector sensors, to name merely a few).

Until the last decade or so, drivers didn’t have a great deal of choice, facing a trip to the garage each time the engine fault indicator (MIL) appeared. Frustration, combined with falling prices of hardware and increased connectivity via Bluetooth and the internet, has helped establish a healthy market for home diagnostics tools.

Following our buying guide below, we’ve compiled a list of the best devices to suit all kinds of budgets and needs.

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Best OBD-II devices: At a glance

How to choose the best OBD-II device for you

What’s the difference between OBD and OBD-II?

On-board diagnostics (OBD) and OBD-II is all about the evolution of the manufacturing standards. OBD-II is the second generation now-standardised access point, identical in every car.

Can I damage my car with an OBD-II scanner?

Car manufacturers have always been a bit prickly about third-party companies accessing the port and the information from the car’s computer, preferring to champion their own dealership network. Since most home devices are configured to perform read-only functions, you’d need a fair bit of computer know-how and a lot of malicious intent to do any damage to your car.

What features should I look for?

If you have a specific issue with your car that you’re hoping to diagnose, make sure that the device you pick supports that component. It might feel a bit like eating acronym soup, what with the ABS (brakes), SRS (airbags) and TPMS (tyre pressure). However, not all OBD-II devices are created equally, so some don’t cover these components.

If you’re looking for a wireless device, make sure the device is compatible with your phone’s operating system; most are Android-friendly. If you’re looking to clear a malfunction indicator light (MIL), ensure the device enables you to clear codes.

Finally, some devices automatically read the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), while some require you to type it in. Just so you know, since your car can fail MOTs if it doesn’t meet emissions standards, you’ll see a lot being made of “i/M readiness” as a feature – this is a way of checking if your vehicle is ready for emissions testing.

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How much should I spend on an OBD-II scanner?

Working out which OBD device will suit you best means figuring out what your budget is. Prices range from £10 to over £4,000 for the professional tools. If you simply wish to check the error codes to protect yourself from any yarn-spinning mechanics, then a cheaper device should be sufficient.

If you’re more of a home mechanic and looking to tinker yourself, you might wish to invest in something with a bit more functionality. The good news is that prices have been coming down. With a greater range of smartphone apps using your phone’s interface to control the device, the hardware units themselves are often smaller and much cheaper to produce.

What should I avoid?

A word of warning for those cheaper, easy-to-produce hardware units: be wary. Like many electronic products, there’s a fair share of shady brown stuff out there on the market. These devices aren’t legit, often being no more than a plastic shell without any connectivity. Even if they do have the connectivity, there’s a possibility the software in the app isn’t licensed or won’t be compatible with your vehicle.

You might also find that, with some cheaper models, the device may indicate a fault without giving any more information unless you pay for it, thus creating a false impression with the initial purchase price.

Where can I find my OBD-II port?

The on-board diagnostics port can usually be found on the driver’s side of the car, in and about the steering wheel. Look down near your knees  – you might need to get out of the car and crouch, since the port can be tucked away. Be aware that some ports are covered too, so you might see a finger hole inviting you to pull the relevant panel off. If you still have the manual for your car, you’ll find the exact location and how to access your OBD-II port for your specific model there.

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The best OBD-II scanners you can buy in 2022

1. Torque Pro Fault Scanner: The best budget OBD2 scanner

Price: £13 | Buy now from Amazon

The Torque Pro Elm 327 is as basic as it gets. Download the Torque app – the Lite version is free, while Pro is less than a fiver – from the Google Play store (there’s no Apple App Store support yet) and, like all the other devices on this list, simply plug and play. Designed to be compatible with 98% of cars, the Elm 327 is all about giving you confidence at the garage.

This 30-gram dongle is capable of more than it first appears, though you may have to pore over a few YouTube videos to figure out what the information means. It will clear most basic error codes, though it doesn’t have the capacity to configure SRS. That’s understandable, since SRS stands for “supplemental restraint system” and relates to the airbags. There’s also a 12-month no-quibble warranty.

Key specs – Wired/wireless connection: Wireless; Read DTCs: Yes; Clears DTCs, inc. MIL: Yes; Display or smartphone interface: Smartphone; Windows/Apple/Android: Android only; Oil service reset: No

Buy now from Amazon

2. ANCEL BD310: The best all-round OBD-II scanner

Price: £70 | Buy now from Amazon

The Ancel BD310 is a lightweight mid-priced scanner with a stylish design. Providing comprehensive reports, it’s the best all-rounder on this list as it offers the best of both worlds: there’s a wired, screen-based component, but you can also connect via Bluetooth to the Ancel app, available on iOS and Android, where more features are offered.

Telematics data lets drivers see how harsh braking and acceleration affects their vehicle and fuel consumption, through the live data feed. The Ancel BD310 doesn’t automatically detect the VIN, and there’s also no way of adjusting the brightness of the screen. That said, the price includes a vent mount, warranty and lifetime customer service, making it very good value.

Key specs – Wired/wireless connection: Both; Read DTCs: Yes; Clears DTCs, inc. MIL: Yes; Display or smartphone interface: Both; Windows/Apple/Android: All; Oil service reset: Yes

Buy now from Amazon

3. Veepeak Mini Bluetooth Scan Tool: The best for flexibility

Price: £14 | Buy now from Amazon

Another budget-friendly buy, the Veepeak Mini Bluetooth Scan Tool works for both petrol and diesel OBD-II ports. Compatible with both Windows and Android, the Veepeak is more of a middle man, since there’s no Veepeak app. It is, however, compatible with other apps such as DashCommand, Dr Prius and Torque Pro (see above), so drivers will need to factor the cost of any app into the total price.

The Veepeak Mini is lightweight and compact, making it handy enough to keep in the glovebox. If you have any car trouble away from home, you can get a reading there and then, enabling you to make a decision immediately. Reassuringly, Veepeak Mini comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee too.

Key specs – Wired/wireless connection: Wireless; Read DTCs: Yes; Clears DTCs, inc. MIL: Yes; Display or smartphone interface: Smartphone; Windows/Apple/Android: Windows and Android; Oil service reset: No

Buy now from Amazon

4. Autel ML629 OBD2 Scanner: The best for checking brakes and airbags

Price: £125 | Buy now from Amazon

Autel is a brand synonymous with automotive diagnostic tools. The company has a wide range of OBD-II devices, from basic cheaper options through to comprehensive professional machines. There’s also compatibility with a broad number of car models. The Autel ML629 is a mid-range product, where a consumer-friendly price point meets a fair amount of functionality.

The ML629 has a wired connection and a robust design, and with soft buttons to navigate around the full-colour screen, it’s easy to use. The instructions aren’t the clearest but, with a bit of patience, the ML629 is fairly intuitive. Its library of DTCs isn’t just limited to ABS (braking) and SRS (airbags), but also covers engine and transmission. It’s also useful that Autel enables you to print off the information.

Key specs – Wired/wireless connection: Wired; Read DTCs: Yes; Clears DTCs, inc. MIL: Yes; Display or smartphone interface: Display; Windows/Apple/Android: Windows and Apple; Oil service reset: Yes

Buy now from Amazon

5. NEXAS NexLink: The best for iPhone users

Price: £23 | Buy now from Amazon

NEXAS is another company with diagnostic scanning credentials from the commercial side of the automotive industry. The brand has created the NEXAS NexLink, a Bluetooth dongle. This one, however, is compatible with iOS as well as Android and Windows. Made from more robust plastic and weightier than some of the other dongles featured here, the build quality is better. That said, this quality is reflected in the price.

Like the Veepeak Mini, the NEXAS NexLink doesn’t have its own app, so you’ll need to factor in the cost of DashCommand, Torque Pro, Carista or OBDFusion to get the full benefit of this little device. NEXAS claims that the Nexlink is “hacker-proof” due to a unique security mechanism. The device also supports motorcycles, giving it a wider appeal.

Key specs – Wired/wireless connection: Wireless; Read DTCs: Yes; Clears DTCs, inc. MIL: Yes; Display or smartphone interface: Smartphone; Windows/Apple/Android: Al; Oil service reset: No

Buy now from Amazon

6. iCarsoft CR V2.0 Diagnostic Scan Tool: The best for bigger budgets

Price: £145 | Buy now from LJM Direct

The iCarsoft CR V2.0 is an effective tool that covers a broad range of systems checks, including Oil Service Reset, Electronic Parking Brake (EPB) and Battery Management System (BMS), among others. Supporting petrol, diesel and some electric vehicles, it can store up to ten manufacturers’ data in multiple languages. You get to specify which, as you select them during setup.

Though the device is only Windows-supported, it automatically detects the device’s ID on the scan tool and the car’s VIN when connected to the OBD-II port. This makes it very easy to use. The iCarsoft CR V.20 is practical, too: the 4in screen is sufficiently big, the colours bright and the build quality feels durable. While it’s a pricier option, if you have multiple cars in the house and you like to be hands-on, this offers great value.

Key specs – Wired/wireless connection: Wired; Read DTCs: Yes; Clears DTCs, inc. MIL: Yes; Display or smartphone interface: Display; Windows/Apple/Android: Windows only; Oil service reset: Yes

Buy now from LJM Direct

7. Autel MaxiDiag MD808 Pro: The best for going pro

Price: £299 | Buy now from Amazon

The five-foot extension cable with the MaxiDiag MD808 Pro definitely makes things a lot easier when you’re trying to figure out what’s up with a malfunctioning car. Though 1.75kg is a fair amount of heft for a handheld device, the cable aids your ability to prop the device on the engine bay. The colour display is easy to navigate and can be seen in most daylight conditions too.

The price tag on the MaxiDiag will be prohibitive for most drivers. If you’re simply wanting to save money on needless dealership trips, other devices can do that for less. The MaxiDiag MD808, however, comes into its own for home mechanics. The ability to read DTCs and reset a variety of systems across a broad range of cars, the MaxiDiag is incredibly comprehensive. For that reason, it’s worth properly reading the manual before use.

Key specs – Wired/wireless connection: Wired; Read DTCs: Yes; Clears DTCs, inc. MIL: Yes; Display or Smartphone interface: Screen; Windows/Apple/Android: All; Oil Service Reset: Yes

Buy now from Amazon

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