More than just for mechanics, the best car code readers are an easy way to diagnose your car’s problems before paying serious cash to a mechanic. If you have a black thumb or just want to learn more about the inner workings of your car, a car code reader is a good place to start.
While they can’t fix your car’s mechanical problems, they can tell you where to start. These tools are essential for anyone looking to buy a used vehicle so they can quickly uncover any obvious flaws that may not have been mentioned by the previous owner.
Be sure to check out our helpful guide to learn more about what the best car code readers can do for you.
Easy to use: Ansel Classic advanced universal OBD II scanner
The Ansel Classic OBD scanner is easy to use even for those who are not used to working with cars. It works on most cars made in the US after 1996 or in the EU or Asia after 2000 and supports multiple languages including English, French, Spanish, Russian and German. The large LCD screen has a white backlight, which makes it easier to read even in low light. If it turns out that your code is not serious, this device can turn off the annoying Check Engine light. The scanner comes with a 2.5 meter long, well-insulated cable that plugs into the vehicle’s OBDII data link connector; no other batteries or chargers needed as it starts from this link. A three-year warranty means you can choose this scanner with confidence.
Best for Smartphone Users: Blue Driver
The Blue Driver OBDII scanner isn’t exactly the cheapest option available, but since it’s aimed at those who want more professional readings than what you can get from all-in-one units, that’s to be expected. This small sensor, once installed, sends codes, errors and information via Bluetooth to the Blue Driver app. This app is the centerpiece of the entire device as it is one of the most beautiful and complete software we have seen. You can perform all the necessary operations such as returning codes, searching for them and even put the app in HUD mode to treat it like a built-in meter. Most interesting is the 24/7 support, which means you can actually contact a real person if you need more information about a specific measurement. You can also set the app to generate repair reports if necessary, which are prepared and verified by authorized technicians. These repair reports are pulled from a database of over 6.6 million vehicle-specific diagnoses, so you can probably collect one for your vehicle.
More durable: Using OBD2 scanner
The Using CR600 Engine DTC Reader is capable of reading engine DTCs, clearing DTCs, turning off the “Check Engine” light, and viewing real-time and static frame data for all US vehicles that are European and Asian OBDII compliant. This scanner is small but powerful, making it highly portable and compact enough to be held and used with one hand. The sturdy rubber case gives it a good grip and protects it from bumps and spills. The Using scanner is available in red or blue instead of a neutral color, so you can also show the personality you want. Code definitions can be viewed in multiple languages, including English, French, German, or Spanish.
Best Bluetooth: Bluetooth OBDII Scan Tool for BAFX Products
If you need a no-nonsense car code reader, the BAFX Bluetooth Scan Tool is easily the smallest and most affordable option on our list. This reader may not have a built-in display, but it can still provide readings to your favorite OBD reader app on your Android or iOS device.
Like most of the readers on our list, the BAFX Bluetooth Scanner is compatible with virtually any vehicle manufactured after 1996 and can provide real-time information on EOT, RPM, 02 readings and more. Provided you are not using this player in a professional environment, the BAFX Bluetooth Scan Tool is a good option for most users.
The best compact: Ancel BD310
By far the smallest model on our list, the Ancel BD310 is a pocket-sized OBD2 scanner that can be used independently or combined with apps on your Android or iOS device. The BD310 has a remarkably simple user interface with a total of 4 buttons for menu navigation on the integrated LCD screen.
This capable code reader provides advanced diagnostics, including readings for engine speed, coolant temperature, fuel economy and SMOG availability. It’s important to note that while this scanner can be used independently, we recommend pairing it with a smartphone for better navigation, as the BD310’s built-in buttons are a bit clunky for all navigation.
The Ancel Classic OBD scanner (see Amazon) is our top pick because it’s a solid and readily available piece of hardware. Whether you’re a professional mechanic or just looking to troubleshoot a used vehicle problem, this scanner is a great option despite the slightly higher price tag. However, the BlueDriver Professional OBDII scanner (see on Amazon) with smartphone compatibility makes it more convenient and just as easy to use, but it may not be suitable for a professional environment.
Learn more about our trusted experts
Patrick Hyde has over 4 years of experience writing consumer electronics and technology, including automotive code readers.
Do code readers work in all cars?
OBD2 car code readers work on all cars with built-in diagnostic software. OBD2 is a universal interface in most cars first introduced in the 1980s. While it won’t work on all older cars, you should be covered as long as your vehicle is somehow new. Almost all newer cars support it.
Are Auto Code Readers Worth It?
Car code readers are relatively inexpensive, making them a worthwhile investment if you want to diagnose a problem with your vehicle without having to go to an expensive mechanic. The auto code reader allows you to read and clear codes, view basic parameter IDs, and control and reset standby supervisors. This will give you a good way to find out if the problem is something you can easily fix before going to the dealer, which could save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
Who makes the best car code readers?
We like the Ansel Classic Advanced Universal OBD II scanner for its ease of use. It’s a great choice for beginners and will work on most cars built in the US after 1996 or in the EU/Asia after 2000. The LCD screen is large and easy to read and is backed by a three-year warranty.
What should you look for in a car code reader?
Easy to use
If you’re new to driving a car and have never used a car code reader before, it’s probably a good idea to buy one that’s easy to use. These scanners can have some pretty advanced features so it’s important to find one that doesn’t get confusing and helps you figure out what’s wrong with your vehicle without too many steps.
Codes and sensor readings
What kind of codes – manufacturer, generic, etc. – and vehicle sensor readings are needed for the reader to interpret? Make sure to choose a model that is compatible with your specific car.