Chances are you’re what I like to call “car aware”: you know the basics of how cars function, and you can drive the entire 15 minutes to work without causing a massive ten-car pileup. You know it’s important to keep a car in tip-top shape, and like anyone you shudder when the check engine light comes on. That’s a time when a Bluetooth OBD2 scanner can make life a lot easier.
If that phrase looks like gibberish, don’t worry: this guide explains everything you need to know about Bluetooth OBD2 scanners. There’s a lot of knowledge in here, but if you just want to find out the best bluetooth OBD2 scanner, skip to the end. Ready to dive in?
The Problem: Warning Lights
Normally, to diagnose an issue with your car you have to go to a mechanic. That means putting your trust in a shop based entirely off their Yelp reviews, then paying them a few hundred bucks just to find the problem – a gamble if there ever was one. What if nothing was wrong? What if they fixed something that was so easy you could’ve done yourself, like a loose battery cable?
Sorry, no refunds.
If you wouldn’t call yourself “car aware,” maybe more like “car clueless,” the situation gets even worse. Some shady shops might fib on the details, or exaggerate what needs fixing, just to make a few extra bucks. Using a Bluetooth OBD2 scanner gives you the power to know the problem before you call a mechanic.
If this sounds like an expensive proposition, don’t worry: a Bluetooth OBD2 scanner pays for itself after only a handful of uses.
The Solution: a Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner
Almost every car manufactured after 1996 has an OBD2 port. It’s a small rectangular plug hidden somewhere under your dashboard, and it’s what the guys at O’Reilly plug their code reader into when they diagnose your check engine light. This ability used to be reserved for dealerships and mechanics, but with advances in mobile technology, today anyone can purchase a Bluetooth OBD2 scanner and obtain the same results in the comfort of their own garage.
What Does a Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner Do?
A Bluetooth OBD2 scanner (“code reader”, “scan tool) is a wireless device that searches for a variety of issues with the engine, transmission, and various sensors throughout your car. It plugs right into the OBD2 port of your car and can quickly save you time and money. These days the check engine light covers a wide variety of problems beyond the engine itself, and a good code reader can detect them all.
You won’t have to go looking for your scan tool when you want to use it – just leave it plugged in! It works with your phone, tablet, or a remote controller without wires, so you can leave the scanner plugged in all the time. That way, you’ll be aware of a problem the moment it happens.
Do I Need to Buy Software?
A Bluetooth OBD2 scanner simply relays your car’s data to your phone. You’re going to need an app to use along with it, like Torque, DashCommand, or OBD Fusion, if the scan tool you buy doesn’t come with its own. Of those apps, the most expensive ones cost about $40, the cheapest ones are free, and the best ones for a casual user are about $5.
Since the app is doing most of the work, there’s not much room for error in – or a lot of difference between – most of the scan tools on the market. It really comes down to quality and longevity, and as we’ll see in a moment, it’s important to buy the best one that fits your needs.
Note: For hardware reasons, the scan tools on this list only work for Apple devices if they explicitly say so. Apple devices require a Wifi OBD2 scanner.
What Do Bluetooth OBD2 Scanners Check?
A good Bluetooth OBD2 scanner gives you plain English explanations of the issues it finds, along with the ability to reset the check engine light and other warning lights to see if they come up again. Some common issues checked for by code readers include:
- Check engine light (CEL) codes
- Sensor error codes
- Error history
Tech-savvy users will value the following features of higher-end scan tools:
- Average fuel consumption
- Air intake temperature
- Engine coolant temperature
- Intake manifold pressure
- EVAP system pressure
- Barometric pressure
- Timing details
- Fuel pressure
- Fuel trim
The data you see mostly depends on what car you have. A scan tool can only display the data your car sends it. If you have an older car that doesn’t use the same sensors a newer car has, you won’t be able to access that information even with a Bluetooth OBD2 scanner.
What does a Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner Cost?
On average a code reader costs less than an hour of a mechanic’s time. I’ve compiled a list of the highest-rated Bluetooth OBD2 scanners available with Amazon Prime shipping, so you can have one of these at your door quicker than the mechanic can schedule your car.
Since the cheapest ones are less than $10, let’s start there and work our way to the top.
Best Bluetooth OBD2 Scanners
I’m going to start by telling you why you shouldn’t just scoop up the cheapest tool you can find on Amazon, the one with the two random English words thrown together and an unlikely amount of positive reviews. The price of this miniature Bluetooth OBD2 scanner is less than a CD at Best Buy (rip), and by all accounts that shows from the word GO.
Peruse Amazon and you’ll find the same cheap plastic scan tool is sold by several brands. None of them are compatible with iPhones, which slaps over 50% of the populous right in the face. Reviews say this one lasts about 10 uses before crapping out; some say it even arrives broken every time.
Providing it works long enough to do its job, the Excelvan apparently works well. People say the features are numerous and easy to understand. And hey, some of the reviewers weren’t even paid to say nice things! What a treat.
Like floor jacks, torque wrenches, and mechanic’s creepers, there’s no reason to cheap out on a new Bluetooth OBD2 scanner. As the saying goes, you’ll spend less money in the long run if you buy a quality item the first time.
- Small size
- Low cost
- Easy to use
- Low quality
- Mass production
This code reader is slightly more expensive than the last. It’s still as small and cheap as the Excelvan, but it’s far more popular and backed by a lot of (real) positive reviews. This Bluetooth OBD2 scanner has all the features of the Excelvan and then some, and the newer version connects to both Apple and Android devices – but for twice the price.
According to reviewers, you need to be sure to update this scan tool right off the bat and periodically going forward. That’s standard fare for most things these days, but an old software update could cause this product to appear nonfunctional out of the box, so it’s worth mentioning.
These days it’s nice when a company stands behind their products. The Veepeak Bluetooth OBD2 scanner comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is worse than 365 days but better than 0. More importantly, the vendor is said to be responsive and easygoing when it comes to replacing defunct units, even outside the guarantee window.
That’s a major factor with these cheaper code readers, though the Veepeak is every bit as rebranded as the Excelvan.
- Low cost and small size
- Wide array of features
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Apple connectivity doubles the price
- Lacks functions of more expensive code readers
For another step in the right direction, the KOBRA Bluetooth OBD2 scanner comes with a 1-year money-back guarantee. That’s 12 times as long as the Veepeak, and judging by the product photos, the KOBRA is 12 times as durable as well.
It doesn’t have the small form factor the Veepeak is known for, so if your OBD2 port is somewhere near your knees (which it is in many cars) there’s a chance this code reader will get in the way. That means you’ll have to unplug it when it’s not in use, and if you’re anything like me, there’s a high chance of it getting misplaced.
Reviewers say KOBRA doesn’t have the stellar customer service of Veepeak, but they do say the warranty is honored if you follow through with the process.
On the upside, the KOBRA does most everything the more expensive scanners do, and it does them well. If you’re planning to use your new scanner on multiple vehicles or for a long period of time, the 1-year warranty and the durability of this scan tool will be your biggest selling points.
But read the next two before you add this one to your cart.
- Lots of functionality
- Durable design
- 1-year warranty
- Larger form factor
- Lots of negative reviews
- Worse customer service
This scan tool doubles the price of the previous ones, so what gives? Do you get double the product? This is the #1 Best Seller in Code Readers and Scan Tools on Amazon, and there’s a reason for that.
Their well-written product details should tell you everything you need to know: BAFX is an established company that stands behind its scanners with a 2-year warranty. They guarantee their Bluetooth OBD2 scanner will work with your car, and with a 4-star average from over 9000 reviews, that’s a promise you can trust.
One verified purchaser reports that BAFX replaced his scan tool when it was over 5 years old. He said it started having issues after all that time, and he emailed the USA-based customer service team just for kicks. Less than 24 hours later a conversation began which ended in the replacement of his Bluetooth OBD2 scanner with a brand new one. Does customer service get any better than that?
The functionality of the BAFX is equal to that of the previous scanners on this list, since it uses the same apps to relay the information to your Android device. It’s a bit large, but the durability and customer service of the BAFX are what put it ahead of the rest.
Believe it or not, the next one is better.
- 2-year warranty
- Impeccable customer service
- “Works with all cars” guarantee
- Durable construction
- Android only
Ozzy Gear Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner – BEST SCANNER
Most of those translucent blue plastic scan tools are made by one big Chinese company and rebranded for various third-party sellers. That’s not the case with BAFX, and it’s not the case with Ozzy either.
The Ozzy code reader comes with a remote, a case, and a lifetime warranty. They put those words in the product description, in plain English, for all the world to see. Reviewers say they stand behind their promise that if you’re not satisfied for any reason, or if the scan tool breaks for any reason, they will offer you a full refund or a replacement product, no questions asked. Wow!
This code reader runs off the same apps as most of the others, so it’s best suited for use on a Kindle HDX or other tablets. One user even explained how he uses a cheap prepaid phone, a vent-mount phone holder, and this reader and has a dedicated diagnostic setup in his car at all times. That’s pretty cool if you ask me.
I can’t find any other Bluetooth OBD2 scanners that offer a lifetime warranty; even professional scan tools that cost way more can’t offer that kind of guarantee. On top of that, it’s got a small form factor. It would be a toss-up between Ozzy and BAFX, but the unbeatable warranty earns Ozzy the win.
- Great functionality
- Small form factor
- Case and remote included
- Lifetime warranty
- Slightly higher cost
- Lacks the functionality of premium code readers
Premium Code Readers
So far, we’ve covered Bluetooth OBD2 scanners designed for the casual user and the shade-tree mechanic. What if you need more functionality? What if you want to monitor finer details in real time? Take a look at these next scan tools which offer expanded features at a higher price.
This scan tool is marketed as a “car health monitor.” It has its own proprietary app and iPhone and Android compatibility right out of the box. Nice!
The FIXD app is designed to give a clear and concise picture of what’s wrong with your car. The app can handle multiple cars at once (with extra sensors, of course), making it easy to monitor the health of the family’s fleet from one device.
There’s a “Maintenance Price Estimator” in the app, along with maintenance reminders, to keep you abreast of the cost and schedule of regular services. Reviewers say the app is easy to use, but it requires your VIN number which caused some users to experience problems.
The FIXD scan tool lacks the ability to read more advanced codes like those for airbags, TPMS, or ABS warnings. Worryingly, a cursory search of Amazon reveals what looks to be the exact same product being sold by a company called Carista. The difference is FIXD doesn’t make you buy their app AND their code reader, because that’s just silly.
This is marketed as a luxury item to monitor your car’s health, but its limited features don’t justify the price.
- Proprietary app included
- Apple + Android support
- Support for multiple cars
- Higher cost
- Lacks more advanced features
- Warranty unclear
The BlueDriver scan tool also has its own proprietary app and iPhone and Android compatibility. To add to that, BlueDriver maintains its own database of repair estimates, so the app can ballpark the cost of repairing any issue this code reader finds. It can also scan advanced codes, like ones for airbags and ABS, that the FIXD can’t read. Pretty nifty.
The BlueDriver Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner App includes most of the features of the $40 apps you’ll find on the app store, including advanced diagnostic modes like Fuel System Test and Misfire Test. Over 70 parameters are logged in real time, including oil temperature, boost pressure, fuel usage, and more. It can even clear more advanced transmission and airbag codes that other scanners can’t touch.
Another neat feature is the built-in Smog Check, which allows you to simulate a smog test. This code reader could save you all the hassle of driving to the smog testing facility, failing the test, and paying the mechanic to tell you why.
One reviewer said he found a $1,700 problem in his car just one week before his warranty expired, thanks to the BlueDriver code reader. If that’s not worth a hundred bucks, I don’t know what is.
- Proprietary app
- Apple + Android support
- Database of repair estimates
- 1-year warranty; 6-month money-back guarantee
- Higher cost
Those Scan Tools Aren’t Tough Enough for Me
What’s that, you say? You work at a high-volume dealership? You want to be able to bleed the brakes of a semi without getting in the cab? You want to recode an entire ECU? Say no more.
This Bluetooth OBD2 scanner makes those other ones look like they’re trying too hard.
The Elite is made for consumer automobiles, and its sister version (MS908CV) works on semis and heavy machinery. Both can reassign security keys and reset immobilizers, and both include a variety of automated brake and clutch bleeding procedures as well as air suspension calibration and even ECU reprogramming. Hell, it can honk the horn and spray the windshield. It might even buy you dinner afterward.
This code reader comes with free updates, a cloud-based data management suite, and remote-access technical support. Both models arrive in the form of a rugged tablet that you could drop or run over (don’t try), preloaded with Autel software, with a quad-core processor and a 32GB solid state hard drive.
This is a basic Bluetooth OBD2 scanner in the same way that Olive Garden is authentic Italian food. It does everything a dealership can do and more, and since it costs more than a used Prius it’s the heaviest hitter on our list of code readers and scan tools.
Note, this isn’t a professional’s guide to code readers. If you’re a mechanic who needs a Bluetooth OBD2 scanner for your job, this isn’t the resource for you. Do some research on the technical reasons why a Veepeak or Ozzy can’t hold a candle to this.
- Does literally everything
- Rugged form factor
- 1-year warranty
Which Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner Should I Buy?
Congratulations! You’ve learned a lot about Bluetooth OBD2 scanners, code readers, and scan tools. Take your newfound knowledge and save some money the next time a warning light appears in your car.
For standard users it’s a toss-up between the BAFX and the Ozzy, but the Ozzy is our Top Pick as the best bluetooth OBD2 scanner thanks to its lifetime warranty. For advanced users, BlueDriver is the way to go. For professionals, you might as well go big. It’s going on the company card, right?
Standard Bluetooth OBD2 Scanners
If you enjoy throwing away money, buy the Excelvan.
For a cheap code reader to use a few times, buy the Veepeak.
For a more durable offering with a 1-year warranty, get the KOBRA.
If you want the best bang for your buck, get the BAFX.
If you want the best bang for your buck with a lifetime warranty, get the Ozzy.
Premium Bluetooth OBD2 Scanners (with Apple + Android Compatibility)
To easily monitor the health of one or several cars, buy a FIXD.
To read more advanced codes like airbags and TPMS, get the BlueDriver.
Professional Bluetooth OBD2 Scanners
If you want to honk your horn and reprogram your ECU, get the Autel.