Code Reader - Which one?

I’ve decided to join the 21st Century and get a code reader. What features should I be looking for? Is there a brand/model that you prefer?

Do you want an all in one unit, or one that links to your laptop or phone?

My $40 unit died. My new one has live stream data. And can read codes. Which is a move up. What do you want reader to do?

Phone or Android tablet app code readers are very good. Both wired and Bluetooth versions. Some are designed as tools and some as accessories. Some are better than others depending on the cars you own and want to work on. All will read and reset universal P codes and take live data. Not all will read codes from other modules. These things are cheap enough to own more than one. I do.

Torque Pro is a pretty good Bluetooth app that is both good and popular. A free version is available to test out. Reads codes, resets errors, takes data, makes an instrument panel or trip computer if you want. The app is $5 or so and the OBD2 dongle is about $15 at Amazon. The dongles, ELM327, are generally good for any of the Bluetooth capable apps. Some enhanced module reads are available, but are limited to certain manufacturers.

Some apps are better for different models of cars. For Ford cars and trucks, ForScan can’t be beat. FREE Windows 10 software and a $50 USB cable will get you access to every module on the CANBus. There is also an Android app. You can read, write to the modules and take real-time data.

OBDEleven is an $80 app and Bluetooth dongle combined specifically for VW-Audi cars. Reads everything, does service procedures as well as reads codes and takes live data. It is the one to own if you have a VW or Audi.

OBD Fusion is another one I like. Same functionality as the others. Mileage computer, extra instrument display plus the diagnostic functions. OBD Fusion supports enhanced diagnostics for Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda, Toyota, Lexus, Scion, Nissan and Infiniti vehicles.

Start with an app search for the cars you own and want to service.

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Tester

Gosh, that’s like asking “I need tires, what kind should I buy?”

I admit I might not have any useful advice, because in 30 years I’ve never found a “code reader” useful. But for others who may want to chime in:

What kind of car do you have?
What do you need to do?
What kind of problems do you have?
Do you know what functions you need to perform?

I used that with a Bluetooth plugin to reset my MKZ’s hybrid battery ‘birth date’ to restore it to full power. Very powerful program.

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I started out with a simple code reader, until one of my ABS sensors stopped working. So then bought the BlueDriver adapter, with free software download, which pointed out the bad ABS sensor immediately. It’s up to $119 now. I am very happy with it.
BlueDriver Scan Tool | BlueDriver

I recall the less expensive Torque Pro adapters at that time provided less functionality. That may have changed.

I have a sense that BlueDriver makes their own adapters, while there are many aftermarket adapters for Torque Pro.

The prices of the aftermarket adapters have come down considerably, so it would be good to look into what the difference between all the aftermarket adapters ($10-$25 range) and the BlueDriver ($119).

I would not buy a “scan tool” which lacks buttons and a screen, and instead requires you to load an app on your phone to interface with. I would get a real scan tool, which works as a standalone device.

The one I use is made by Konnwei, model KW850. I have owned it for about 2 years now, and it has been a very useful tool. If you search for this model online, you will see that it is available on Amazon and on Ebay for about $70. This scan tool allows you to view and reset PCM trouble codes, check emissions test readiness, view live data, and run two bi-directional tests: a test of the battery and charging system, and a test of the evaporative emissions system. It does NOT support ABS or SRS troubleshooting.

Hi Bcohen:
Your reply got me curious.

Assuming one already has a smartphone, what disadvantages a phone interface has over a standalone scan tool? It seems like anything you can do with one, you can also do with the other.

I have this one its made by Bosch I believe…
Amazon.com: Actron CP9680 AutoScanner Plus OBD II Scan Tool for All 1996 and Newer and Select 1994-95 vehicles - Includes ABS and Airbag Features for Select Applications : Automotive

The android tablet or phone app readers give you hands free, large color screens, storage ability and email built in. Not to mention internet search a… in the same machine.

Why would you want a standalone device without all that for more money?

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Surprising. I wouldn’t have expected an experienced mechanic to say that. Since the diagnostic codes provide clues to what the problem is, how do you diagnose computerized cars? I’m presuming you mean you use more sophisticated electronic tools, not just an off-the-shelf run of the mill scan tool. I’ve never used a scan tool either, but that’s b/c my cars are 30 and 50 years old, none of them are OBD II.

If you break your phone, you break your scanner.

If you lose your phone, you lose your scanner.

Tester

If you buy the app once, it is always available on the Play Store for download on your devices. Break or lose your phone, the new phone can download the app for no further cost. The OBD dongle will work with the new one as well. Same for your tablet.

Additionally the most expensive app I have purchased has more functionality than the most expensive of the 5 Best OBD Scanners listed in the article and costs less than half as much.

If I break my phone, I buy a new one. If I lose my phone, I buy a new one. I think most people would do that.

Absolutely. There’s a treasure trove of things that you can mess around with, with ForScan. I changed the Sync 3 theme on my Mustang to that of the Ford GT. I also eliminated the hyper flashing that resulted in swapping in LED turn signals.

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LOL! I didn’t realize I was asking that kind of question.

The newest car I have is a 2006 Ford. It’s had CEL for about a year - Exhaust sensor - replaced, but still throws a CEL But I just had a leaky power steering sensor and I think it would have warned me about that if I hadn’t already had the CEL! So, I want to be sure I am clearing the codes.

But that is not to say I won’t be getting newer cars in the future. I also think monitoring the engine in real time might be useful.

Not a big fan of apps on smartphones.

Thanks everyone. I’ve got something to work with now.

Then you want a true scanner.

If you have a Windows OS, here’s the one you want.

Tester

$300 for TOAD and you ONLY get engine and transmission codes??

Pass.