One of the most common questions we’ve been asked is ‘What’s the best OBD2 scanner out there for my vehicle?’.

The answer to that question really depends on the functions you need to perform. There are several types of OBD2 scanners out there, and this article will help explain their functions, as well as explain in detail what you can get out of them. 

Having your own OBD scan tool can help you save hundreds of dollars, as you have the ability to reset codes without having to pay a dealer to do them (say goodbye to per hour labour and other nonsense charges). Also it allows you to have a tool onboard when you are in remote locations so that you can check what the issue is and fix yourself as a light on the dashboard does not tell you much. Also with vehicles these days basically being computers on wheels you need these tools to do basic tasks such as: Battery Replacements, Rear Brake Pad Changes, Service Resets and much more. 

Basic OBD2 Scanners

Examples of basic scan tools

If you need to just scan and clear a nasty check engine light, you should settle for a basic OBD2 scanner. A basic OBD2 scanner scans and clears codes from the engine ECU only, as well as reading the engines live data. This basic Bluetooth scanner is best for tech-savvy(Understand how to download an app onto a phone), who prefer to use smartphones or tablets to scan and clear codes, and view live engine data through cool, customizable gauges and dashboards. This scanner will also work on Hybrid/EV vehicles such as the Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf using special apps/software. Dr. Prius/Dr. Hybrid is a useful app for Toyota Hybrids, while LeafSpy is best for Nissan Leaf.

For those who want a hassle free, plug-and-play scanner, this handheld version would be most suitable. All you have to do is plug it in and you’re away. Among the two scanners mentioned, the Bluetooth version has a larger code database, and is easily upgradable through software updates.

For those who prefer to use PCs and laptops for diagnosis, another option would be to use an OBD to USB basic scanner (although the Bluetooth version will also work on computers). The main reason you would use this ELM327 to USB cable is that you have a certain piece of software that you would like to use. Such as MultiECU. 

It is important to note that a basic OBD2 scanner will only work on OBD2 compliant vehicles. In Australia, these are petrol vehicles made after 2006, and 2007 and newer for diesel. To find out if your vehicle is OBD2 compliant, see our guide here. Note that some vehicles made prior to the mentioned years were already OBD2 compliant. If you cannot work it out please get in touch with us and we will help you out. 

In a nutshell, a basic scanner is, put simply, very basic and has limited functions. Most modern vehicles have more than one system controlled by different ECUs. A basic scanner will not access other system ECUs as it’s only limited to the engine ECU. This is where a full system scanner comes in.

Full System Scanners

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Examples of full system scan tools

Let’s say you’re driving down the freeway, happily going about your business when suddenly the ‘ABS’ light on the dash comes on. Or you had your seats or seatbelts removed for maintenance, and the next thing you know the ‘SRS’ light comes on. You plug in a basic scanner, but it does nothing to make these lights go away. What’s going on, you ask yourself??

SRS, ABS, suspension and many other systems (including that annoying service reset light that the dealer charges $$$ to turn off) not related to the engine can only be accessed by full system scan tools. A full system scan tool can also scan and clear engine codes, as well as view engine live data. Of all the OBD tools out there, a full system scan tool is the most powerful of them all.

Below will list some functions that a full system scan tool can do: (Note not all tools can do all of these and depends on make and model)

  • Scan all ECU’s for codes and clear them and also show data from these ECU’s. 
  • Apply active tests. This is where you can activate systems on your vehicle to help diagnose issues and work out problems.
  • Reset battery management system when a new battery has been put in. Important so the car know to treat it like a new battery and not over charge it.
  • Injector coding when new injectors and put in you need to code this with the digits on the injectors. 
  • IMMO the chip in your car key that allows you to start your car which needs to be reprogrammed when new key is coded.
  • Manual regeneration of the DPF systems as short city drives may cause issues and you need to do a manual burn off. 
  • Reset DPF unit count when you put a new DPF unit in you need to reset the count again.
  • Service indicator resets after a service is done.
  • Plus many many more

As you can see by the start of the list above, what these tools can do is vast and will require some basic knowledge of cars systems etc to use. 

This table below will show you the different scan tools OBD2 Australia offers, each with its corresponding supported vehicle make.

BMW Vehicles (OBD1/2)(hand-held/stand-alone) 
Land Rover/Jaguar (OBD1/2)(hand-held/stand-alone) 
Mercedes Benz (OBD1/2)(hand-held/stand-alone) 
VW/Audi Group (OBD1/2)(hand-held/stand-alone) 
Holden + EU and Japanese Makes(OBD1/2) (Android based)
AU Ford and Mazda (OBD1/2)(Android, iOS and Windows based)
Multiple Makes/Models (OBD1/2)(hand-held/stand-alone)
Multiple Makes/Models (OBD1/2)(Windows based only)
Multiple Makes/Models (OBD1/2)(iOS based only) 
Multiple Makes/Models (OBD1/2)(hand-held/stand-alone) 

What about Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Mitsubishi?

Diagnostics for some older Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Mitsubishi vehicles will only work with Windows based special software. These older models run on their proprietary diagnostic system, which is why there is a need for special software.

Toyota uses software called ‘Techstream’ along with a compatible cable .

For older Subaru, as well as older Nissan (with the standard 16pin port) the K-Line cable will do along with ‘FREESSM’ software for Subaru, and DataScan for Nissan.

Mitsubishi, on the other hand, runs on the MUTT protocol and unfortunately OBD2 Australia does not have scan tools that will work.

Not all vehicle models, as well as functions are available in the scanners mentioned above. It’s always best to check with us first, via email or chat, to see if your vehicle and the function you are after is supported.  

Now that we’ve discussed the types of scanners out there and its functions, the next question is; what will you be getting? Happy shopping!