Top Product: Ancel AD310 OBD-11 Scanner | $35 | Amazon
Few things are as efficient in instilling fear as seeing your check engine light come on. All of a sudden you’re faced with a potential issue in your car, the bill that comes along with it, and not even knowing that’s actually wrong in the first place. It’s a lot of stress, but you can help alleviate some of that with one of the best code readers, which can help you figure out what’s wrong.
“Most car owners don’t realize that they don’t have to bring their car straight to the mechanic when the check engine light comes on, says Chris Burdick, founder, and managing director of Automoblog.net. “Almost every car owner can buy an inexpensive device called an OBD-II scanner to figure out what’s wrong with their car themselves. If your car is a model year [sic] 1996 or newer, it definitely has one.”
Not a Magic Bullet
Remember, even the best code readers can’t actually fix anything, they’re just there to help you figure out what’s gone wrong, so you can hopefully go to your mechanic with a little bit more information. “People assume reading codes means “diagnostic.” Sure, you have access to live data, but does the average driver know what to do with that info? I’ve seen so many people assume the mechanic is out to screw you and will spend big bucks throwing parts at codes and not fixing the symptoms of code,” Jennifer Balido, a mechanic with over 20 years of experience cautions.
You might be okay with changing out parts on your own, and that’s fine if you know what you’re doing, but you have to keep in mind that cars are incredibly complicated, so don’t try and fix everything by yourself. That’s not just a safety thing either, it’s about efficiency. If you fix a part that happens to have broken you may think you’ve solved the issue, but if that part only broke because of a larger issue within the engine, then you’re actually just going to be wasting money and may have to replace it again sooner than you’d like. Mechanics really know what they’re doing, so don’t play mechanic unless you are one.
Best Car Diagnostic Col: Ancel AD310 OBD-II Scanner
“If you’d like more of a budget option, the Ancel AD310 Classic OBD-II Scanner simply reads and gives you the error code so you can then Google the result and determine what you should do next.” - Chris Burdick, Founder, Managing Director, Automoblog.net
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Best Bluetooth Reader: BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBD-II Scan Tool
“A Bluetooth scanner is one of the most user-friendly options. Because it uses your phone’s screen, it’s more cost-efficient than similar quality readers with their own screens. It’s very user friendly so even novices will be able to figure it out without trouble. It’s good for people with smartphones who want an intuitive tool.” - Melanie Musson, Automotive and Insurance Expert for AutoInsurance.org
Wireless Budget Code Reader: Veepeak Mini OBD2 Scanner
“I bought this for on the fly code reading in my own vehicle... I can check and clear codes from the dash, monitor every bit of info traveling through my car. Super cool... I have the app set to boot up at start and the Veepeak automatically connects within 15 seconds. [The] best part is I have the same app on my phone. I can also take the Veepeak out and check someone elses car whenever I want. Great product! Very Happy!” - Abiel Hoff, Amazon Reviewer
Let a code reader do the work of understanding what is going on with your car. And maybe even use it to begin repairing your car if that’s the route you want to go.
Whatever you do, just remember that a code reader isn’t a magic fix, but diagnosing and confirming the problem is required.
This deal was originally published by Chaya M. Milchtein on 10/30/2020 and updated with new information by Jason Coles on 02/02/2021.