Top 10 Best Car Diagnostic Tools 2024

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U480 OBD2 Generic

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  • Useful for reading and erasing trouble code in vehicles, sometimes called car reader.
  • Reads and clears Generic and manufacturer specific diagnostic trouble codes (dtcs) and turns off check engine light.
Ancel AD310 Classic

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  • Easily determines the cause of the check engine light.
  • Well built with a large LCD display (128 x 64 pixel) that has white backlight and contrast adjustment, indicates test results clearly.
  • Equipped with a 2.5 feet long cable and made of a very thick flexible insulator.
Autool CS320

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  • Car Engine Fault Code Reader Works on ALL 1996 and newer vehicles.
  • Supports ALL OBD II protocols: CAN, J1850 PWM, J1850 VPW, ISO9141 and KWP2000.
  • Retrieves generic (P0, P2, P3, and U0), manufacturer specific (P1, P3, and U1) codes, and pending codes.
Foxwell OBD2 Diagnostic

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  • Code reader will work on standard OBD2/EOBD/JOBD & CAN domestic and import cars.
  • This automotive tester with unique one-click I/M readiness status design, which fast to scan vehicle's engine healthy status.
  • Reads/erases engine fault codes and show the DTC definition on the screen.
Intey OBD2 Diagnostic

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  • Easily determines the cause of checking the engine light.
  • Code reader can quickly scan and clear trouble codes: generic codes, pending codes, manufacturer's specific codes and show definitions.

Modern cars, even the most basic models, are governed by complex electrical and computer systems. Engine management solutions allow for more economical running and better performance, and if you look under the bonnet of even your simplest family car these days, you’ll be bewildered by what you see unless you are a mechanic familiar with the modern equipment.

Your writer can remember stripping down his first car – a Mini 1000, 1975 model – including the engine and gearbox, and rebuilding it. It wasn’t difficult, you simply followed the Haynes manual and struggled with the stuck bits! I later tackled some bits of a 1977 Jaguar XJ6 which, compared to the basic entry-level Ford I drive now, was simple.

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This is why it is essential that any problems you need tackling, and your regular service, need to be done by a garage with the correct equipment. It may not need to be a marque dealer – unless you are keeping to a new-car warranty – but one with mechanics qualified in diagnostics.

The following article looks at car diagnostic tools, and these are general rather than make-specific models. They may be used at home, if you are competent and know what you are looking for, or they may also be used by mechanics who need to tackle computer and electronics-related problems. Before we go on to talk about them, let’s have a better look at what makes the best car diagnostic tools do, and why you might need one.


Best Car Diagnostic Tools

1: U480 OBD2 Generic

There is a lot of terminology and jargon associated with these devices, so we’ll try and keep things simple for you. This model is a hand-held design that offers perhaps the most basic of premises: it is designed to check the system and switch off any warning lights that may be showing. Now, there are two ways to look at this: either you know there is nothing wrong with the car and want to reset it, or someone wants to sell you a dodgy vehicle!

In truth, the latter is not happening often as people don’t tend to have these tools hanging around the house, but it is worth looking out for. This is a useful tool. It works with most cars post-1996 that are OBD II compliant – that’s an industry standard for such checkers that will crop up regularly – and it is simple and easy to use. Bear in mind it is an engine code reader, so not suitable for the other electronic areas of the vehicle. It is very cheap.

Key Features
  • Clears generic and some specific codes
  • Engine code reader

2: Ancel AD310 Classic

This model is a little more sophisticated than the one above, and complies with OBD II and a host of other industry standards. It is designed not just to switch off the codes, but to determine what the problem is, and gives you all the relevant information on a large and clear display. It is a robust and nicely-made device that has a hard and shock-proof casing, plus a lengthy cord for versatile use.

This one can turn off those annoying lights that you know mean nothing, but make sure that is the case beforehand. It works with most UK vehicles from 2000 onwards. It can recognise standard error codes and give you the information you need regarding them, and it is so easy to use a beginner can handle it. It is an engine code reader, so not useful for the other systems in the vehicle, but as such is very capable at a decent price.

Key Features
  • Year 2000 and on
  • Long cord
  • Memory stores codes

3: Autool CS320

This model, from the Autool Brand, is a hand-held design that offers perhaps the most basic of premises: it is designed to check the system and switch off any warning lights that may be showing. It works to all the European standards and has a memory that stores the right codes, so it can easily recognise the problem it is looking at and point you in the right direction.

In truth, the latter is not happening often as people don’t tend to have these tools hanging around the house, but it is worth looking out for. This is a useful tool. It works with most cars post-1996 that are OBD II compliant – that’s an industry standard for such checkers that will crop up regularly – and it is simple and easy to use. Bear in mind it is an engine code reader, so not suitable for the other electronic areas of the vehicle. It is very cheap.

Key Features
  • Clears generic and some specific codes
  • Engine code reader

Key Features – clears generic and some specific codes, engine code reader, cheap

4: Foxwell OBD2 Diagnostic

There are some models that offer a little more than simple engine code reading. This one, from Foxwell, can provide you with all the information you need on the usual diagnostic codes, is easy to read and comes with a long lead so can be very versatile. It is made from durable and tough material so can be used in a tough environment, is easy to calibrate, and has all the usual generic and some specific codes stored so you can get to them quickly.

It will turn off the required warning lights, too, but it also has useful function using LED lights; it can check emissions, so you know whether your vehicle is running within the required limits. It has a built in speaker for audible code reading, and a large easy to read coloured LCD screen that is used to portray the information you need. It’s a little more expensive than some, but offers a more comprehensive service too.

Key Features
  • OBD II,
  • Speaker
  • Coloured screen
  • Smog test diagnostics

5: Intey OBD2 Diagnostic

By now, you’ll have worked out that most of these devices do pretty much the same thing. That’s true of this one, which is specifically an engine code reader for bringing up diagnostic codes that are stored in the memory, and which can be easily read out from the large screen. It’s a hand-held, easy to use model that can also switch off the lights that are showing warning erroneously, and it is simple to set up and go.

This model is OBD II compatible, and will operate with most models that are UK issued and post year-2000, later in the US, and it also complies with many other industry standards. It has freeze-frame operation and live reading, is usable with generic and manufacturer codes, and does pretty much what all those above do, and it is very cheap indeed.

Key Features
  • OBD 2
  • Generic use
  • All the features

6: NI100 Diagnostic Scanner

This is another model that offers a little bit extra. It is an OBD II compatible device that can diagnose most generic and some specific warning codes, and can be used to turn off the warning lights that are reading wrongly. It is easy to use, hand-held and comes with a lengthy cable, and it is suitable for most vehicles made from 1996 onwards. It is compatible with many industry standards, and a popular model.

This one can also help you know if your car will pass the emissions smog test. It does so by way of an instant check that is very easy to utilise. It has ten diagnostic modes, so is very versatile, and can also be used to check a vehicles VIN number, which is useful for when you are buying a car and want to know it is the real deal. It has a battery health function, can be used in several languages, and although not the cheapest here is one of the best.

Key Features
  • Smog test
  • VIN checking
  • Battery indicator

7: Autel Autolink AL539B

This very neat, compact and comprehensive diagnostic tool offers all the usual functions and is applicable to cars made from 1996 onwards complying with OBD II. It’s very robustly made, easy to use and offers the function of checking for the engine codes, and turning off the warning lights as usual. It is quick and easy to use, and comes with a long lead for ease of use, as well as added versatility.

This one also acts as a multimeter, which is a neat touch, and checks voltage and currents, so it can also detect if the problem is caused in that area rather than in the computer diagnostics. It works with most 12v applications, can be used in a variety of languages in addition to English and is made from quality and durable materials. All in all, a decent model that may cost a little more than sum but will be worth it.

Key Features
  • Diagnostics
  • Multimeter
  • Robust

8: Foxwell Professional OBD2 Scanner

This is the second model we have featured from this brand, and it is a cut above the norm in that it offers more than the usual scanner will offer. It comes with excellent credentials, and is designed for either professional or DIY use; it is very useful indeed for checking what the problem is before you take the car to the garage for fixing, which can put you a step ahead when it comes to cost and time saving.

It has a powerful internal chip that can download to all regular platforms, a large readout that gives you all the information you need, can be used to reset the codes and lights, and will give you very fast diagnosis thanks to its powerful processor. It is compatible with most makes and models for UK market from 2000 onwards, does not need batteries and is usable in several languages, and comes with a 3-year warranty for added peace of mind. All in all, an excellent choice if you are willing to pay a bit more for a quality tool.

Key Features
  • Powerful processor
  • Quick results
  • Works with computers

9: Autel Diaglink

We have also featured one from Autel before, but this one is well worth including as it offers a lot more than the usual. What you normally get is an engine code checker, so you can manage those glitches and see any faults before turning off warning lights. This does all of that, but much more besides. Whereas most on this list are for engine faults only, this model offers a comprehensive check of systems that are electronically controlled throughout the vehicle.

So, you can check your airbag operation, gearbox status, that your ABS circuits are not faulty and more. It can check for service intervals, and on the braking system goes as far as checking if the calipers open and close correctly. It is easy to use and read, and offers a level of operation that is of use to professionals. In short, this is a very handy tool to have around if you run one or more modern but perhaps ageing cars – it reads most models that are from 1996 and onwards – where things may go wrong regularly, and although among the most expensive here, it is a very impressive diagnostic tool.

Key Features
  • usual diagnostics
  • all electrical systems
  • Checks gearboxes
  • Checks ABS

10: Launch CRP123 Reader

Our final model is a great choice too, and while easily the most expensive of these – and by quite a margin – it is also the most capable. Whereas you can buy a cheap model – of which we have included a few – for a very low price, all it will really be useful for is turning off warning lights that are annoying you. This, like that above, offers a genuine full diagnostic operation that includes a wide range of electrical and computer systems incorporated throughout the vehicle.

In addition to reading engine codes and checking the VIN code – a very useful feature – this model, with a large and clear screen, can offer you full diagnostics on your gearbox, ABS, SRS, transmission systems, airbags and more, and can be operated in various languages and is compatible with Windows operating systems for downloads. It can read on cars from 2006 model year onwards – there is a version for older vehicles – and is undoubtedly the most up to date and capable diagnostic tool on the list.

Key Features
  • Comprehensive diagnostics
  • Professional tool

That’s our list of the top diagnostic tools so which is for you? Let’s have a quick look at what you need to look for.

How It Works

The computer rules our lives in more ways than we might believe. Whether you drive a small family hatchback or a prestige car there will undoubtedly be computer systems on board. These can be for everything from engine management through to lesser systems, and they do go wrong!

With my Mini, as mentioned earlier, there were really only a few things to go wrong, and they were all relatively easy to fix. If the computer system on your modern car starts playing up, you need to know what is causing it.

For example, a common problem on many cars is that warning lights will show when, in fact, there is no actual problem. This can be down to faulty or dirty sensors – common with ABS warning lights, for example – or may even be as a result of a change of battery, in which the computer resets itself and becomes confused, believing – perhaps – that a service is due when it is not.

Your garage will use a diagnostic tool to find out what the problem is, if it is real, and how it needs to be fixed, and will then perform the routine necessary. There is a warning to be made here: don’t buy a car showing any warning lights as they may mean something serious, no matter how much the salesman tells you it is just a ‘computer glitch’. It may be, and often is, but that can’t be deemed without a thorough investigation.

So, diagnostic tools; are you looking for one for home use? Or perhaps you are a mobile mechanic who is looking to add to your tool kit? Either way, let’s have a look at the top 10 on the market right now, and see if the right one is there for you.

Important Features

Usually we would give you a short list of things to consider here, but the fact is most of the diagnostic tools in our list of 10 do exactly the same thing: they scan the engine codes for problems, and reset warning lights as a result.

If you want more than that, you might want to consider one of the models that also checks the other electrical systems, including the ABS and airbag, which only a couple offer.

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So, which is for you? Let’s have a look.

Let’s Sum It Up!

If you are looking for an engine code reader, to perhaps reset a warning light that comes on in your older modern daily driver on a regular basis, then choose any of the cheaper models that appear early on the list. After all, that is all you’re going to use it for, and you will get one with change from a £20 note.

If you are into DIY mechanics and do the upkeep of your modern, post 1996 car yourself, you need number 9 on the list, the Autel Diaglink. It is the only one that will check your external electrical systems, including ABS, for those models, and will do the trick very nicely and gets our vote as the best car diagnostics tool.

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