The 5 Best Car Code Readers of 2021

Pinpoint problems and save yourself a trip to the mechanic

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More than just for mechanics, the best car code readers are a simple way to pinpoint issues with your car before you shell out some serious cash for a mechanic. If you're someone that has bit of a black thumb or just looking to learn more about the inner workings of your car, a car code reader is a great place to start.

While they can't fix your car's mechanical problems, they can tell you where to begin. These tools are a must-have for anyone looking to purchase a second-hand vehicle, allowing you to quickly reveal any glaring inadequacies that the previous owner may have failed to mention.

Make sure to check out our handy guide if you're curious to learn more about what the best car code readers can do for you.

The Rundown
It works on most cars made in the U.S. after 1996 or made in the EU or Asia after 2000.
This small sensor, once installed, transmits codes, errors, and information via Bluetooth to the BlueDriver app.
The rugged rubberized housing gives it a good grip and protects it from bumps and spills.
The BAFX Bluetooth scan tool is easily the smallest and most budget-friendly option on our list.
Best Compact:
Ancel BD310 at Amazon
The Ancel BD310 is a pocket-sized OBD2 scanner that can be used independently or paired with apps on your Android or iOS device.

Easiest to Use: Ancel Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Scanner

Ancel Classic OBD Scanner
What we like
  • Easy to use keypad

  • Compact Design

  • No battery required

What we don't like
  • Low reader accuracy

  • Some compatibility issues

The Ancel Classic OBD Scanner is easy to use even for those who are not comfortable working on cars. It works on most cars made in the U.S. after 1996 or made in the EU or Asia after 2000 and supports multiple languages, including English, French, Spanish, Russian and German. The large LCD display has a white backlight to make it easy to read even in dim lighting. If it turns out that your code isn’t serious, this device can turn off that annoying check engine light. The scanner comes with a 2.5-foot long well-insulated cable that connects with your car’s OBDII data link connector; no other battery or charger is required as it powers up through that link. A three-year warranty means you can rest easy choosing this scanner. 

Bluetooth: No | Built-in Display: Yes | Dimensions: 9.02"x6.34"x1.38" | Weight: 9.6 Oz

Best for Smartphone Users: BlueDriver Professional OBDII Scanner

What we like
  • American made

  • User-friendly

  • Durable

What we don't like
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections are a bit spotty

The BlueDriver OBDII Scanner isn’t exactly the cheapest option out there, but seeing as it’s aimed at those who want more professional readings than you can get from all-in-one units, that’s to be expected. This small sensor, once installed, transmits codes, errors, and information via Bluetooth to the BlueDriver app. This app is the centerpiece of the whole unit, as it’s one the most beautifully designed and full-featured pieces of software we’ve seen. You can take all the requisite actions like calling up codes, searching them, and even setting the app into HUD mode to treat it as an onboard meter. What’s extra interesting about this is the 24/7 support, meaning that you can actually get in touch with an actual human if you need more information on a particular reading. You can even have the app generate repair reports on-demand that are compiled and verified by certified technicians. These repair reports are pulled from a database over 6.6 million vehicle-specific diagnostics, so chances are, you’ll be able to pull one up for your specific vehicle. 

Bluetooth: Yes | Built-in Display: No | Dimensions: 2.2"x1.9"x1" | Weight: 2.08 Oz

Most Durable: Udiag OBD2 Scanner

udiag Obd2 Scanner OBD Car Diagnostic

The Udiag CR600 engine error code reader can read engine fault codes, clear trouble codes, turn off the “check engine” light, as well as view both live and freeze frame data for all OBDII-compliant U.S., European and Asian vehicles. This scanner is small, but mighty, making it very portable and compact enough to hold and operate using only one hand. The rugged rubberized housing gives it a good grip and protects it from bumps and spills. The ​Udiag scanner comes in red or blue instead of a neutral color, so you can show off a little personality with your choice, too. The code definitions can be displayed in multiple languages, including English, French, German or Spanish. 

Bluetooth: No | Built-in Display: Yes | Dimensions: 2.56"x0.71"x4.53" | Weight: 11.2 Oz

Best Bluetooth: BAFX Products Bluetooth OBDII Scan Tool

What we like
  • Plays well with third-party apps

  • Offers a variety of diagnostic functions

What we don't like
  • No support for iOS devices

If you need a no-nonsense car code reader, the BAFX Bluetooth scan tool is easily the smallest and most budget-friendly option on our list. This reader may lack an integrated display, but is still capable of providing readouts to your OBD reader app of choice on either your Android or iOS device.

Just like most of the readers on our list, the BAFX Bluetooth scanner is compatible with just about any vehicle manufactured after 1996, and can provide you with real-time data on EOT, RPM, 02 readings and more. Provided you aren't using this reader in a professional environment, the BAFX Bluetooth scan tool is a solid option for most users.

Bluetooth: Yes | Built-in Display: No | Dimensions: 4.41"x3.23"x1.38" | Weight: 3.1 Oz

Best Compact: Ancel BD310

What we like
  • Small and Light

  • Works as a handheld or with a phone

What we don't like
  • Interface is rudimentary

By far, the most compact model on our list, the Ancel BD310 is a pocket-sized OBD2 scanner that can be used independently or paired with apps on your Android or iOS device. The BD310 features a remarkably simple interface, with a total of 4 buttons for navigating menus on the built-in LCD screen.

This capable code reader provides advanced diagnostics including readouts for engine RPM, coolant temperature, fuel consumption, and SMOG readiness. What's important to note is that while this scanner can be used independently, we highly recommend pairing it with your smartphone for better navigation as the buttons built into the BD310 are a bit clunky for navigating everything.

Bluetooth: Yes | Built-in Display: Yes | Dimensions: 9.5"x6.1"x1.5" | Weight: 11.2 Oz

Final Verdict

The Ancel Classic OBD Scanner (view at Amazon) is our top pick on the list for being a solid and accessible piece of hardware. Whether you're a professional mechanic, or just trying to troubleshoot a second-hand vehicle, this scanner is a fantastic option despite the slightly higher price tag. However, the BlueDriver Professional OBDII Scanner (view at Amazon), with its smartphone compatibility makes it more affordable and just as simple to use, but just maybe not as well suited for a professional environment.

About Our Trusted Experts

Patrick Hyde has 4+ years' experience writing about consumer technology and electronics, including car code readers.

FAQs

Do code readers work on all cars?
OBD2 car code readers will work on all cars with onboard diagnostic software. OBD2 is a universal interface in most cars that was first introduced in the 1980s. While it won't work on every old car out there, as long as your vehicle is somewhat new, you should be covered. Almost all newer cars will support it.

Are car code readers worth it?
Car code readers are relatively inexpensive, making them a worthwhile investment if you want to pinpoint an issue with your vehicle without having to take it to an expensive mechanic. A car code reader allows you to read and clear codes, view basic parameter IDs, check and reset readiness monitors. This gives you a good way to tell if the problem is something you can fix easily before shelling out to a car shop, potentially saving you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

Who makes the best car code readers?
We like the Ancel Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II scanner because of how easy to use. It's a great choice for beginners, and it works for most cars made in the U.S. after 1996 or the EU/Asia after 2000. The LCD display is large and easy to read, and it supports a three-year warranty.

What to Look For in a Car Code Reader

Ease of Use

If you’re just getting into cars and haven’t had a car code reader before, it’s probably a good idea to purchase one that is simple to use. These scanners can have pretty advanced functionality, so it’s important to find one that isn’t too confusing and will help you figure out what’s wrong with your vehicle without too many steps.

Price

Car code readers can come in at many different price points. It’s important to keep in mind the features you need to get the best value for your money. If you know you’re going to be using the reader a lot, though, it may be worth it to spend a little extra to get the bells and whistles of the fancier devices.

Codes and Sensor Readings

What kind of codes—manufacturer, generic, etc.—and vehicle sensor readings do you need your reader to be able to interpret? Make sure you choose a model that's compatible with your particular car.

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