The 6 Best Car Code Readers of 2020

Diagnose problems and save yourself a trip to the mechanic

More than just for mechanics, the best car code readers are a simple way to diagnose 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. Tools like the Ancel Classic OBD Scanner at Amazon or Nexpeak OBD Scanner at Amazon 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. it's 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.

Easiest-to-Use: Ancel Classic OBD Scanner

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. 

Best Value: NEXPEAK OBD2 Scanner

This error scanner from NEXPEAK has all the core features you look for in a unit: error code lookups for check engine lights, a monitor for MIL codes, and even the ability to check the battery health of your car. It hooks up with the standard six-pin connector and it’s compatible with basically every U.S. car made since 1996, so chances are, your vehicle is compatible and covered. There are 10 standard OBD2 modes including read/erase fault codes, auto VIN acquisition, EVA testing, advanced onboard monitoring, and more. The 2.8-inch color screen offers a bright interface for running tests and reading codes, and with an STM-32 chip operating the unit, it runs a good deal faster than many of the competitors. There’s lifetime free data updates, a built-in memory card to store diagnostic data, and you can even upload to computers — though the manufacturer states that it will only work with Windows. 

Best Budget: Veepeak OBDCheck VP39

Veepeak has a few different offerings at the low end of the engine code reader range, but few options are as affordable as the OBDCheck here. The VP39 works with most OBDII protocol vehicles, so you’ll be covered with most U.S. vehicles after 1996 and most Canadian vehicles after 1998. The unit offers check engine light functionality, freeze frame options, I/M readiness, and VIN call-up capabilities. The unit also features a bright DTC-definition display and an easy-to-use interface. There are some shortcomings, as it doesn’t read ABS, airbag readiness, or oil change lights, but that's to be expected at such a price point. What is great is you get a 30-day money back guarantee if you aren’t satisfied with the readings, and there’s even a one-year warranty protecting against manufacturer defects.

Best for Smartphone Users: BlueDriver Professional OBDII Scanner

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. 

Most Compact: Udiag OBD2 Scanner

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. 

Best Bluetooth: BAFX Products Wireless WiFi OBD2

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.

Final Verdict

The Ancel Classic OBD Scanner 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, 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.

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.