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When the check engine light comes on in your vehicle, it’s natural to get nervous. You begin to wonder if your car is safe to drive. What if your brakes are about to go out? What if your transmission needs to be replaced? Have your airbags stopped working?
It would be great if there were a way to soothe this anxiety, a way to know exactly what’s wrong with your car without having to take it to a mechanic. Luckily, such a tool exists. It’s called an OBD2 scanner, and in this guide, we’ll examine what they are, how they work, and our three favorite OBD2 scanners for rideshare drivers.
- What Is an OBD-II Scanner?
- Autel Autolink AL319
- Innova 3100j CanOBD2 Diagnostic Tool
- BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBDII Scan Tool
What Is an OBD-II Scanner?
To start with, what the heck does OBD2 stand for? Properly known as an OBD-II scanner, the “OBD” stands for “Onboard diagnostics.” The “II” just means that it’s the second (and latest) industry standard for these car diagnostic tools. OBD-II was first introduced in 1996 vehicle models, and it continues to be the onboard diagnostics standard today.
Okay, so that’s what OBD-II stands for, but what exactly is an OBD-II scanner? Why would you want to buy one? Essentially, an onboard diagnostic scanner lets you “look under the hood” in a digital sense.
It allows you to see trouble codes (also known as error codes or fault codes) and figure out what’s wrong with your vehicle. It also lets you clear codes that are causing the check engine light or other warning indicators to come on. Some of the more advanced models even allow real-time diagnostics.
Once you’ve read the data from your OBD-II scanner, you can decide if you need to take your car to a professional or if you can just fix what’s wrong yourself. OBD-II scan tools are perfect for anyone with a DIY mindset. They’re especially useful for rideshare drivers, as driving for a rideshare app means you’re going to put more miles on your car than the average person (which increases the likelihood that you’ll see some sort of diagnostic code).
So that’s what an OBD-II scanner is. But which one should you buy? To save you the trouble of browsing all the listings on Amazon and other online stores, we’ve done the research for you. Here are our three favorite OBD-II scanners currently on the market.
1. Autel Autolink AL319
To start things off, we have the Autel Autolink AL319. Don’t let the long string of numbers and letters intimidate you — this scanner is easy enough for any driver to use. The Autel Autolink works on most vehicles (domestic and imported) made after 1996. This means that whether you have a Ford, Toyota, or BMW, you can rely on this scanner to tell you what’s up with your car. It can even show you manufacturer-specific codes, which can help you avoid a lot of confusion.
In addition, the Autel Autolink includes code definitions, meaning you’ll never have to search the internet or thumb through your car’s user manual to look up a code. You can also use the Autel Autolink to perform your own emissions tests (though you’ll still have to go to an official testing center if your state requires emissions inspections).
The Autel Autolink AL319 is available on Amazon for $34.88, making it the cheapest option on our list. The only downsides to this scanner are its interface (which feels dated), its lack of a touch screen, and its lack of Bluetooth or WiFi connectivity. Still, it’s a solid code reader for the money, and it’s perfect for rideshare drivers on a budget.
2. Innova 3100j CanOBD2 Diagnostic Tool
Up next, we have the Innova 3100j. In many ways, it’s similar to the Autel Autolink. However, at $126.99, it’s around four times the price. So what do you get for the extra money? Is it worth it?
To start, this scanner shows a lot more information than the Autel Autolink. It can perform battery and alternator tests, helping you zero in on the cause of specific problems. It also has a mode that will show you conditions such as fuel trim and engine coolant temperature at the time that the check engine light came on.
This scanner can also diagnose the anti-lock braking system (ABS) codes for most GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda vehicles that are model year 1996 or newer. Finally, it can even show you info about Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) codes, which relate to problems with your car’s airbag system.
It’s not perfect, of course. It still has a very outdated looking interface, and it lacks a touch screen. Furthermore, it may be overkill for many drivers. If you don’t work on your own car, then much of the information the Innova can show you will have little meaning or use to you. If you do like to work on your own vehicle, however, then this could be the scanner for you.
3. BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBD-II Scan Tool
The final entry in our list is quite high tech, especially compared to the other scanners we’ve looked at. As the name implies, the BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional works using Bluetooth. We should clarify that you still have to plug the device into your car — it can’t diagnose your car using Bluetooth.
What it can do, however, is connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, allowing you to turn your iPhone or Android device into an OBD-II scanner. This means that you don’t have to fumble with a cable or a clumsy interface. Instead, you can use the convenience of your phone to read error codes, view graphs of live data, and even get free repair reports tailored to your vehicle.
The only downside to this scanner is the very thing that makes it so appealing — it requires you to use your smartphone. Most of the time, this won’t be an issue, but it could pose problems if your phone is dead. Aside from that, we can’t find another reason not to recommend this scanner.
In fact, it’s our top pick. At $99.95, it isn’t cheap. However, it is less expensive than the Innova 3100j, and it offers a much more convenient user experience than both the Innova 3100j and the Autel Autolink. If you can afford it, we highly recommend investing in one of these scanners. Plus, you can almost certainly write it off as a business expense if you’re a rideshare driver.
Find the Best OBD-II Scanner for Your Needs and Budget
Having an OBD-II scanner can help you save time and money. It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but you’ll be happy you have it the next time your car’s check engine light (or another mysterious symbol on your dashboard) comes on.
We hope this guide has helped you understand the ins and outs of OBD-II scanners, as well as choose the best one to fit both your budget and needs. If you want to learn about some other essential tools for Uber and Lyft drivers, check out these guides:
- The Best Car Phone Holders for Uber and Lyft Drivers
- The 7 Best Lyft and Uber Light-Up Signs to Make Sure Your Passengers Can Find You
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.