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Keeping your emergency car supplies organized can be difficult, especially for rideshare drivers. When you’re driving all day, it’s important to have everything in tow, from jumper cables to tool kits. Luckily, there’s one crucial supply that’s easy to condense: the OBD2 scanner. When your check engine light comes on, you can now carry an OBD2 scanner that fits in the palm of your hand — and all you need is a car diagnostic app to match.
Whether you’re driving for Uber, Lyft, or any other rideshare app, chances are you always have your smartphone with you — and modern OBD2 manufacturers are taking note. After all, doesn’t it just make sense to diagnose your car problems with something that’s already in your pocket?
In this article, we’ll guide you through what a car diagnostic app is and how it can make life on the road much easier. Plus, we’re giving you the rundown on the best app-friendly scanners to get.
What Is a Car Diagnostic App?
Before you understand car diagnostic apps, it’s important to understand what an OBD-II scanner is. Also known as an OBD2 scanner, this scan tool helps you pull trouble codes to determine what turned your check engine light on. These trouble codes, also known as fault codes or error codes, will pinpoint exactly where in your vehicle the issue is stemming from.
If you’re familiar with OBDII scanners, you may have noticed that the majority of leading scan tools are fairly bulky devices. This is where car diagnostic apps come in.
Nowadays, many manufacturers are creating smaller devices, which are essentially plug-ins for your vehicle’s OBD-II port. With this type of scanner, the only screen you’ll need is the one you already have. Instead of navigating a dated, bulky screen on a traditional scanner, you can control all standard functions (and often more) through your vehicle diagnostic app.
Due to the modernity of diagnostics apps, they’re typically only available for OBD2 scanners, which are compatible with vehicle models from 1996 or later. If you have an older vehicle, you’ll need to purchase a standard OBD1 scan tool to retrieve your engine fault codes.
Top 3 App-Friendly OBD2 Scanners
While plenty of scanners work with apps nowadays, it’s important to find one compatible with an app that suits your needs. We identified several car diagnostic app features that are helpful for all rideshare drivers:
- Free app downloads to prevent additional expenses when unnecessary
- Compatibility with Androids, iPhones, and iPads
- Reliable trouble code definitions for efficient repairs
Keep reading to learn about three wireless OBD2 scanners and apps that provide all of these features, plus a little extra.
1. BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBD-II Scan Tool
Even when compared to traditional OBD2 scanners, this modern scan tool topped our list. Once plugged into your vehicle’s OBD-II port, the BlueDriver car diagnostic tool links directly to its corresponding app (called the BlueDriver OBD2 Scan Tool). Here are some of our favorite features that this scanner provides:
- Interactive graphs that display real-time data
- Freeze frame data for the moment an engine issue was detected
- Free exportable repair reports dedicated to your vehicle
- Possible causes and certified repair suggestions for your vehicle
- Smog checks to ensure your vehicle will pass
- Complimentary app updates
If your scanner or any of the features above are malfunctioning, you can contact BlueDriver straight through the mobile app for support. Learn more about the BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro OBD-II Scan Tool.
2. Vgate Wi-Fi iCar2 OBD-II Elm327 Code Reader
The name of this OBD2 scanner may be a mouthful, but it’s one of the most compact and portable versions that we’ve seen. We love that this scanner’s app — the Car Scanner ELM OBD2 — isn’t just compatible with Apple and Android devices. It’s also a functional Windows app, too. Here are a handful of helpful features that this Vgate code reader provides:
- Great performance on both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections
- Detailed trouble code information from its DTC database
- Solid functionality at a low cost (currently $20)
- Real-time data about your coolant temperature, vehicle speed, and more
- Extra features for popular car makes including Dodge, Ford, and Honda
- Multiple languages available on the app
This app does come with a significant downside, though. In order to reach freeze frame data, clear past fault codes, and more, you must upgrade from the free version to the pro version of the app. As an alternative, you can also purchase the Torque Pro app, or the BimmerCode app for BMWs and Minis, right off the bat.
Considering the low cost of the Vgate Wi-Fi iCar2 OBD-II Elm327 Code Reader, an upgrade or purchased app may be easily worth it.
3. Veepeak Mini Wi-Fi OBD2 Scanner
One of the primary reasons that this Veepeak scanner makes our list is because of its compatible app: OBD Auto Doctor. While the scanner itself isn’t the best in the world, the OBD Auto Doctor app is hailed as one of the top engine diagnostic tools available.
Like the Vgate code reader’s app, this OBD Auto Doctor app works with Windows in addition to iPhones, iPads, and Android phones. Here are our favorite features for its corresponding OBD2 car scanner:
- High affordability at its current price ($17)
- Reliable Wi-Fi connection, plus Bluetooth connection for iOS devices
- Detailed graphs and numbers that display real-time data
- Free car performance data via email
- Emissions testing to ensure your vehicle will pass
- Fuel consumption rate readings
This app also has a pro version that you must install if you want freeze frame data and more details on fault codes specific to your manufacturer. Live sensor data is also limited without an upgrade. The only other downside with this scanner is that the Windows and Android apps can only function on Wi-Fi. As such, you won’t be able to use this auto diagnostic tool if you’re stuck on the road.
However, this Veepeak scanner is compatible with a wide variety of apps, including the Torque Pro, EOBD Facile (both free and pro versions), and others.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you know your options for app-friendly OBD2 scanners, you’re prepared to diagnose any car problems that come your way. Need a little extra help? Here are our answers to four frequently asked questions:
1. Will my OBD2 scanner purchase qualify for a tax deduction?
More than likely. This car diagnostic tool can be considered a business expense because it’s directly related to your line of work. We recommend consulting an accountant beforehand to ensure that you can write off this expense. In most cases, OBD2 scanner purchases offer an eligible tax deduction for rideshare drivers.
2. Are there any benefits to having a traditional OBD2 scanner?
The only consistent benefit for rideshare drivers is that traditional scan tools don’t need Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections to function. For mechanics and hobbyists, traditional OBD2 scanners also provide professional-grade functions, whereas app-based scanners are typically simpler.
Otherwise, wireless scanners function almost exactly the same, just without the bulk. Any additional benefits are generally tied to specific models rather than the type of scanner.
3. Where do I plug in my wireless OBD2 scanner?
Wireless OBD2 scanners can be plugged into the same OBD-II port as traditional scanners. This is typically located on the driver’s side of the vehicle, below the steering wheel and above the brakes.
4. Where can I purchase an OBD2 scanner in store?
OBD2 scanners are commonly carried in all auto parts stores. These stores carry the greatest in-store variety that you can find. Additionally, big box retailers with automotive sections, like Walmart and Target, likely have a few OBD2 scanners on hand for you to view and purchase.
Maintain Your Vehicle the Modern Way
Once you have your OBD2 device in hand, your check engine light will no longer be a signal you fear. Plus, you’ll save time and money by avoiding trips to the mechanic, and save room by carrying one of the most compact scanners available. We hope this guide has helped you find the perfect car diagnostic app and scanner combination for your car.
Brett Helling is the owner of Ridester.com. He has been a rideshare driver since early 2012, having completed hundreds of trips for companies including Uber, Lyft, and Postmates. In 2014 he acquired Ridester.com to share his experiences with other drivers. His insights are regularly quoted by publications such as Forbes, Vice, CNBC, and more. He is currently working on a book about working in the Gig Economy, expanding his skill set beyond the rideshare niche. Read more about Brett here.