Updated 2019 Best Scan Tools List
In 2019 if you are looking for the best scan tool I have you covered. First off, we need to get some things clear a code reader is a very basic scan tool. It is capable of reading stored DTC’s Diagnostic Trouble Codes from OBD2 vehicles. Code readers are typically the cheapest scan tools you can buy. You can get a basic code reader for less than $30 online here.
There really isn’t that much different between code readers on the market. Just be sure to get a code reader that works with your make, model, year vehicle. For example, it can be very helpful to get a scan tool that is specific to your make of car if you drive a rare car (i.e., a maserati, alfa romeo, or bmw). However, because OBD2 is a standardized system all modern code readers should real all basic codes on cars.
To get you started on just the cheapest OBD2 code readers in 2019 (they are all basically the same) click the link for an Amazon search. Pick the one that works with your make and model.
Best Honda Scan Tool in 2019:
All of these are gaurenteed to work with your honda car and are great scan tool options in 2019. If you are willing to spend a bit more than the cheapest scan tool grab the Foxwell NT510 for any modern Honda. You can use it to read SRS codes and even reset the throttle position sensor. This means that it is bidirectional and has capabilities to interact and communicate with the cars computer system.
Best Toyota Scan Tool in 2019:
For Toyota cars you want to buy the techstream diagnostic system. This is what toyota dealerships use and due to people being able to copy the software and hardware you can have access to the same system. This means bi-directional capabilities and a dealership level scan tool at your fingertips.
The best part? The price. This costs less than a $100 to buy.
Here is one on Amazon that you just need to run off of a laptop PC and connect to your toyota. Just read the reviews and see all the stuff people are able to do with it.
Best Ford Scan Tool in 2019:
For Ford’s and other domestic brands there are certain scan tools that have more capabilities. They call it the Forscan and it is similar to the dealership setup. Here is the link on Amazon, and I recommend using youtube to guide you with the install and using the scan tool. Once again you will need a PC to run this type of scan tool.
Universal Best Scan Tool in 2019:
Do you work on a ton of different cars and are not looking for something that is brand specific? Grab one of these scan tools that are a great option if you work on anything and everything. These come highly reviewed from professionals.
Autel ML529HD OBD2 Scan Tool Upgraded (Cheapest but Still Packs a Punch)
Through my research these scan tools and oscilloscopes have come highly recommended and at a great value. The thing is without the factory scan tool, sometimes only available to the dealerships, you will never have the level of functionality that they do. That is where car repair is heading in 2018 and beyond. However, these scan tools and oscilloscopes will be able to do a lot of what you need to get started, and if a problem arises that you need the dealership scan tool. Well, then you’ll have to pay the dealership to do the diagnosis then you can do the work as they find necessary. No one can tell you what scan tool is best, or what oscilloscope is best either. It depends on the make, model, and year of your car and your level of experience. One thing is clear, to do car repair in 2018 effectively, you will need a multimeter, scan tool, and if you want to be advanced an oscilloscope. Here are my recommendations for the best value in all those categories:
Scan Tools in 2018 Click To Check Price On Amazon (listed from most expensive to cheapest)
Oscilloscopes in 2018 Click to Check Price On Amazon Below
- PicoScope (Pico 2205A 2 Channel) Links To Amazon For Price CheckYou will need a separate laptop to use this Oscilloscope. But this is an awesome starter kit. Many many professional technicians use a PicoScope daily in their shops (granted a more expensive model). But this is a great way to learn to use an oscilloscope.
- DSO Nano Oscilloscope v3 (Link to Amazon for Current Price)
Do you need to be using an Oscilloscope in 2018 to diagnose cars?
First, lets cover what makes a scan tool and an oscilloscope different:
1. Scan tools read DTC’s stored in the cars on board computer. 1996 and newer cars made in the USA all had to have OBD2. There can be some weird discrepancy with cars as the switchover wasn’t perfect and OBD1 existed before a standardized OBD2 was implemented.
Everything in this article is based on you working on a car that is newer than 1996. For cars older than 1996, you have to google “how to read codes on such and such car.” Usually that involves shorting out connectors in the fuse panel (under the hood) and counting flashes of the check engine light.
However if you’re working on a 1965 Shelby GT 350, obviously you won’t have any storage system for trouble codes tripped by the on board computer. You still have electronics in the form of headlights, relays, and distributors– just, no on board computer that senses problems in the engine. No need for a scan tool, just your hand tools, a good ear, and a multimeter.
2. Oscilloscopes in the simplest form simply graph voltage on the vertical (Y axis) against time on the horizontal or (X axis). The definition according to dictionary.com “…a device for viewing oscillations, as of electrical voltage or current, by a display on the screen of a cathode ray tube.”
There are both analog oscilloscopes and digital oscilloscopes. However, for this article we will only be focusing on digital oscilloscopes recommendations. They’re the industry standard now for automotive repair, and I now refer to them in this article as DSO (Digital Storage Oscilloscope).
**Updated** While surfing I met a lexus factory service technician. He had been at the dealership for the last 10 years, and says while they do offer lexus factory oscilloscope training he has never needed to actually use an oscilloscope at his job.
Why do dealership technicians at lexus rarely, if ever, use oscilloscopes?
The factory scan tools have gotten so advanced that he literally described it as a “plug n play” type scenario. If diagnosing a sensor or electrical problem he just said you follow the flow chart and look for specific voltages at certain places. The factory scan tools have gotten so advanced that they can detect bad voltages and bad sensors themselves.
Question: Why then do you still recommend learning and buying an Oscilloscope?
Answer: Unless you’re going to work at a dealership and only specialize in one type of car you will never have access to all the different factory scan tools that allows diagnosis to be that easy. You will need to learn how to use an oscilloscope because it will allow you to diagnose any car and any electronic sensor. It is up to you whether you want to be stuck following around a factory scan tool, or want to master a great skill (the oscilloscope).
Question: Should I invest in an Oscilloscope and which one should I buy?
Answer: If you’re an old school mechanic that works on mostly older cars, you probably don’t need to learn to use an oscilloscope. But if you want to be working on cars past 2018 then, yes, I highly recommend buying and learning on an oscilloscope. You can use them to diagnose everything from a misfire to a faulty knock sensor.
In this article, through my research, I will try to point you in the right direction of what to buy in 2018. And what type of Oscilloscope, Scan Tool, and Multimeter you should buy based on your budget, goals, and experience.
This is just based on my research, and what I would buy if I was starting out as a technician, DIYer, mechanic today.
If the article is too long for you to read here is the list of products I highly recommend in 2018. Everything on this comes approved by technicians that use these tools all the time to diagnose cars.
Start with the most important basic tool Mechanic and Technician needs to have, a quality Multimeter (all links below open tabs to Amazon to Check Price):
Multimeters in 2018:
- Fluke 117 Multimeter (if you want top of the line digital)
- Tekpower 7-Function Analog Multimeter (Less Expensive / Analog) click here to read my article about analog vs. digital multimeters.
- An Add On Time Saver for Any Technician (not necessary, but an awesome tool. Power Probe III W/ Lead Set Kit
Scan Tools in 2018 (from most expensive to least) Click To Check Price On Amazon
Oscilloscopes in 2018 for New Technicans or Budget DIYers: (links to Amazon)
- PicoScope (Pico 2205A 2 Channel) Links To Amazon For Price Check (Roughly $240)You will need a separate laptop to use this Oscilloscope. But this is an awesome starter kit. Many many professional technicans use a PicoScope daily in their shops (granted a more expensive model). But this is a great way to learn to use an oscilloscope.
- DSO Nano Oscilloscope v3 (Link to Amazon for Current Price)
Want to know more about choosing what is right for you?
YouTube has now become a sort of proving ground for the different types of mechanics / technicians. There are now many channels where advanced technicians are showing off their diagnostic skills using specialized oscilloscopes. To them diagnosis of modern cars with only a scan tool and some basic tools is simply foolish.
I agree with that statement. If you want to be a fully capable modern technician. You need to understand and use an oscilloscope as well.
However, if you’re mostly a hobbyist or DIYer, you don’t need to spend thousands on an oscilloscope / scan tool in order to be competent mechanic. You simply need to be aware of the limitations of only using a Scan Tool / Multimeter. You will need to work extra hard to be sure you are confident in your diagnosis. If you are charging people $130 per hour in labor, I would argue you need to be pretty good at using an oscilloscope.
If there is one type of mechanic that won’t be making the big bucks in 2018, it is the guy or girl who can’t diagnose electrical issues. You simply CANNOT be a technician that just throws parts at a car anymore. You will stand out like a sore thumb, and the more honest, knowledgeable technicians will greatly improve their business.
What kind of scan tool and oscilloscope should you buy? Ask yourself these questions:
1. Do you want to make a career out of auto repair / you’re getting started around 2018?
2. Is your budget more or less than a 1,000 dollars?
It can be overwhelming, even before you look at the large price tags (sometimes upwards of $5,000 dollars). I will take you through how to decide what grade of tool you need, and whether buying an oscilloscope even makes sense for you. Let us jump right in!
There are hundreds of brands, copies of those brands, and thousands of different options they can have. That is why I have dedicated an entire page to Scan Tools & Scopes, to give you the best options in 2018.
The main thing you need to figure out is what is your budget, and what level of technician work will you be doing. For example, your favorites on YouTube will speak a lot to what kind of route you should take.
Do you mostly watch Scotty Kilmer’s videos, or are you watching Scanner Danner’s Channel. Would you consider yourself a new age technician, or a down and dirty old school grease monkey. Grease Monkey? Just buy yourself a simple Scan Tool. ScannerDanner fan? Better start saving for that nice oscilloscope, tablet, and code reader in one.
Some other questions to ask yourself…
Do you mostly work on cars newer than 2005 or so? If yes, you should learn to use an oscilloscope.
Or do you stay away from new cars like the plague because they have tons of pesky electrical problems? Stick with Scan Tool.
Are you just getting into the automotive repair world in 2018? You will need: Oscilloscope, Multimeter, A Scan Tool.
Or have you been working on cars since the 1960’s? Just keep wrenching, you’ve got your ears to guide you (well hearing aids).
It should be pretty clear to you based on your answers to these questions what you should be looking at buying.
Do you have hundreds of dollars, or even thousands to spend on the latest equipment?
Or are you just looking for something to clear codes on cars, and help point you towards what needs replaced (you got it from there).
When a car comes in with a misfire are you one to think “cool, I get to use my cool electronic diagnostic equipment.”
Or do you go grab your long 1/4″ socket extension and start listening to injectors click?
Honest answers to these questions are the only way to really point you in the right direction, and find you the best value for your dollar. It also depends on whether you want to make Automotive Technician your career, or if this is a weekend hobby for friends cars.
I think you can already guess, but if you are more of a hands on type technician then you really only need a pretty basic scan tool with certain new features. These can be found for anywhere from $50 or less, to upwards of $400-800 dollars, depending on the features.
I personally am more in this category, and this is where I have the most experience.
You can get by pretty well with a good multimeter, and a decent scan tool that has certain new features (ABS, SRS, Live Data, etc).
However, every technician even that wants to get into using an oscilloscope should have a decent scan tool as well as a multimeter.
Uses of an Oscilloscope for Automotive Repair & Diagnosis:
- Oscilloscopes can be used to test all of the electrical or electronic components in any vehicle. It can take the guesswork out of electrical repair, as you can visually see electronic impulses sometimes as fast as (1/1000th of a second) displayed on a screen so you can analyze them. You can diagnose a misfire, by analyzing a graph. By knowing you what looks normal, and what the car you’re looking at is displaying. You can find out a ton of helpful information fast, and take the guesswork out of automotive repair.
- Why is this so useful? On modern cars there are sensors for everything, and sometimes it won’t be as clear as just reading a check engine code and replacing some parts. It may not be clear at all what is wrong, and it will take the exact measurements that an oscilloscope can give you to really pin point what is wrong.
- This sets you apart from your simple shade tree mechanic. This is the new age of fixing cars, and an understanding of electronics and electrical components will be mainstream in the coming years. As cars continue to become more and more electronic, the tools needed to diagnose them will also become more and more electronically based.
For examples of YouTubers who are pushing Scoping as the newest means of making accurate diagnosis, check out these channels.
I kind of see this guy as the guru when it comes to Auto Repair. I reached out to him about what Oscilloscope he recommends (August 2018) and this is what he responded / for link to current price of a Uscope on Amazon click here:
He hates people that just throw parts at cars, and reminds you of that in every video he does.
Does he kind of come off as arrogant and a little conceited? Yes.
Do I think he cares? No.
In this video he uses a Snap On Vantage Pro Oscilloscope. He also shows how a Craigslist hack mechanic failed to diagnose this car properly, and threw parts at it. He gets the car after that guys failed repair didn’t work, and this person luckily knew the mechanic wasn’t doing a good job.
Watch as he diagnosis the problem quickly with an Oscilloscope, and just how much information you can get from it.
Like any good mechanic / technician we have all been blown away by what some hack has done to a car before we see it. He makes many good points that you really can’t replace parts morally without being positive you know what you’re replacing is bad first.
How can you do that? Testing your theories with a DSO (digital storage oscilloscope) first, to make sure you’re absolutely positive before telling the customer what the car needs.
Does it even take the much extra time? No. It can be faster than swapping coils once you get the hang of it.
Does it take investing in expensive tools, and spending a lot of time learning how to use a DSO? Yes.
Top Youtubers’ using oscilloscopes to diagnose car problems:
Another amazing resource on YouTube for anyone that wants to get into advanced automotive diagnosis techniques.
He mostly uses a scope from Snap On called the Verus. Last time I checked this tool cost around 5-6,000 dollars.
It is the top of the line for oscilloscopes in the automotive repair world. The Verus actually combines a top of the line scan tool, oscilloscope, and tablet computer.
If you can afford one of these, or your boss can, these are the top of line and the most well reviewed for getting into scope diagnosis / a do it all tool.
One of his favorite components of the Verus tool, is the troubleshooter part of the Snap On. This includes guides for specific vehicle’s that throw certain codes.
For example, in the video he explains he was working on a car and he was confused about the DTC.
He pulled up the troubleshooter and it told him to check if the windshield washer fluid was leaking.
It is known to leak onto the onboard computer and cause problems.
He checked that, and that was clearly causing the problem. Saving him a ton of time, therefore he was able to make more money. All due to the onboard troubleshoot Snap On database.
There are always people selling their used Snap On Oscilloscope for great deals on eBay. I recommend searching on eBay and finding a solid used one that meets your needs. No need to buy a brand new one off the truck, unless you really are starting a new shop / have lots of money to spend.
I set up two preprogrammed searches for you to check what is available right now:
Most relevant video to this discussion: “Choosing an Automotive Scan Tool” posted with Eric The Car Guy on Eric’s Channel:
There is just so much to learn from him on his channel, and he even partnered up to do some repairs with Eric The Car Guy. I will cover his recommendations for Scan Tools / DSO’s later in the article.
Another great channel showing the use of a scope as a primary diagnostic tool. He may be missing a couple of teeth (and speak pretty slow– watch the videos x2 speed,) but I promise you this guy can teach you a lot. He loves making videos for the sake of helping people learn. In this video he is using the KTS scope which I will discuss later.
Most relevant video to this discussion: “Do I NEED a lab scope in my shop?” Spoiler, YES, he believes you do. In this video he takes you through a diagnosis, where without using a Scope you could easily miss diagnose the car and lost a lot of money / time. He uses a PICO scope in this video.
Great channel that also utilizes a scope to diagnose repairs. He uses top of the line equipment and also has a background in wrenching. Meaning he doesn’t rely on the computer too much, but also knows how to use the technology to find the fault fast.
Just watch all these people and see if you jive with any of them. Or if you like the idea of fixing cars using this kind of technology.
An older guy who has obviously been working in a shop for a long time. His experience shines through his videos, and in this video he discusses why it is so important to be able to verify problems with a scope.
Watch as he compares the old school way to diagnose a bad coil, and the new school way. He argues there is really only one way to be a good automotive technician (understanding the use of a scope).
Digital oscilloscopes also come in two different varieties.
- Those with the software already loaded on them and the processor is contained in itself. Think something that looks like a gamboy that you hold in your hands while using it (no need to bring along a separate laptop computer). Example Snap On Verus which functions as an oscilloscope, scan tool, and a tablet computer.
- Software downloaded onto a computer which is used to process the data. This means you must interface a computer with your scope, and carry that with you when you want to take a reading.
Ok, on to the buying guide section. As always this is just a guide, I want you to do your own research and figure out what will work best for you / your needs.
If you have $5,000+ to spend and are going to be an automotive technician on modern cars buy the latest and greatest Snap On Verus. It will be your Scan Tool, Oscilloscope (DSO), and a tablet computer all in one.
Now, if you don’t have $5,000 to spend but want to own an oscilloscope as well as a Scan Tool then these are my recommendations.
For a Scan Tool– I look for something that is small, and has the most capabilities possible for different makes and models. There are basically two types of Scan Tools (Global Scan Tools) which can read codes for all makes and models. Or Global Scan Tools which also include model specific codes / bi-directional capabilities.
For bi-directional scan tools, you are most likely going to need to buy those simply based on what manufacturers you are working on. Since most Scan Tools are made to work with most manufacturers many cannot due to vehicle specific tasks. You will need to do the research on whether a specific Scan Tool can do the task you want yourself.
NO Scan Tool is as good as the factory made tool by the manufacturer.
Why? The same engineers that designed the computer for the car, programmed the scan tool.
Unless you work at a dealership where you work on the same make car all day, you cannot afford to own one of these for each of the 40+ type of cars you work on at a typical shop.
That being said, you want to find a scan tool that has the most capabilities possible / with different manufacturers. Or if you work on mostly a certain brand of car then you want to find a scan tool that can interface with that brand best.
I cannot possibly tell you (nor can anyone) what Scan Tool is best for you.
I can however recommend you certain Scan Tools on the market that perform well, and our highly reviewed. You will need to figure out if they perform more than just the Global Scan Tool capabilities with the makes and model you typically work on.
Awesome Scan Tools that have good capabilities for $500 or under:
Autel MaxiCOM MK808. Click here or photo for current Amazon Price.
(Roughly around $500.)
What this scan tool does:
It will read codes on all vehicles (same as a cheap global scanner,) but it also includes more advanced scan tool features including:
Autel MaxiCOM MK808 code reader works on most 1996 US-based, 2000 EU-based and newer vehicles to do the full systems diagnoses including reading / clearing codes and viewing live data to check the health status of parts.
It is important to note that not all live data streaming tools are created equal. If the processor of the tool can not keep up with the live data streaming, then you will get clunky data. Sometimes, it is completely unusable. This tool has a strong processor and will allow you to view live data smoothly. This is a big difference between a smaller, cheaper scan tool and a scan tool like this that has a decent amount of memory / processor.
What sets it apart from other cheap scan tools is:
- Oil reset to close the oil service light and reset service mileage & service interval after you replacing engine oil;
- EPB reset to brake reset the new electronic parking brake for braking wheels safely again;
- SAS reset to clear memories of the previous steering angle sensor and store the replaced one;
- DPF service supports forced fuel injector regeneration and adjustment;
- BMS service to reset battery management system;
- ABS brake bleeding to get a firm brake pad after air exhaustion;
- TPMS service to relearn TPMS sensors so that new sensors can be recognized by ECU;
- IMMO (Anti-theft matching) to finish keys programming.
Along with the speciality stuff listed above (which may not work on every make car,) this diagnostic tool will give your car a full detection since it can read/clear DTCs and view data stream for ALL systems (like most other decent scan tools)
ABS, SRS, Engine, Transmission, Brake System, Emission System, Fuel system, Light system, Wiper System.
To read more reviews and check current price click here. I truly do think this would make a great starter scan tool for the beginning professional mechanic (or for someone doing mobile repairs). Pair this with an oscilloscope and you are well on your way to getting started.
What this is not:
It will not perform any sort of bi-directional features that more advanced Scan Tools will (i.e., the Verus). These are mostly model specific and can be really expensive to have a scan tool that can interact with all the different computers on all the different kinds / brands of cars.
If you only work on Honda’s or Ford’s then I would recommend trying to find a scan tool that also has bi-directional functionality for those cars specifically. However, the Autel Maxicom is highly reviewed and can be updated (software) in order to add functionality as they program in newer cars.
A more budget scan tool with less features (Roughly around $100):
What are some of the best features of the BlueDriver Scan Tool:
Bluetooth Connectivity: Meaning you see the results on your phone (iphone or android supported).
Read and Clear CEL Codes:
Confirmed, Pending, and Permanent for all makes,
Read and Clear Enhanced Codes:
e.g. ABS, Airbag, Transmission, etc for GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and Nissan (available worldwide), as well as BMW, VW, and 2003+ Honda (available in North America),
Repair Reports (This is what I think sets it apart & is cool!):
Code Definition, Possible Causes, Reported Fixes (Vehicle-specific for each DTC). Like the Snap On super expensive tool (Verus) this tool includes a “Repair Pal” database where it can give you tips / tricks on how to fix a specific problem on your car. This is a great resource, and while it is likely not nearly as in depth as the Snap On version, any kind of database that helps you diagnose a problem fast is worth its weight in gold.
Vehicle snapshot when a code is stored,
See if the vehicle is ready for a smog test,
Advanced test results (like misfire counts)
Display multiple PIDs as a graph, gauge, or digital readout (or export the log to a file)
What this is not:
While this is a great code reader for the money for the DIYer, or beginning home technician. If you want to find out if it will work for your particular make, and what you want to do (ABS, SRS, etc) you need to check it out here and ask a question on Amazon.
It is not a do it all type tool. This will at least be able to read any stored DTC’s in your car. And at best it will be able to provide you with live stream data, and other capabilities. Also updates to the software should be available which will make it more compatible with different cars and different systems.
It is also not bi-directional. And it has notably less features than the Autel MaxiCOM MK808 (Click for link to Amazon Reviews & Price Check).
One last recommendation for a Scan Tool. If you are on a tight budget, and just want to be able to read / clear codes / view some basic live data.
Just start with this (for around $60): FOXWELL NT301 Obd2 Scanner (click for Amazon Price)
Price is roughly around $60. Read Amazon for more information, but I think it is really truly a great starter code reader / live data viewer for the beginning technician. You can get started with this and then save up / learn more to buy a better tool.
Now for what Oscilloscope to buy in 2018:
This all depends on your budget and needs. I cannot tell you what is best for you. This is also where I fully admit that I am not an expert. It can also be hard to find any experts that agree on what Oscilloscope is best, simply because they’re so expensive people don’t use more than one.
Here are some favorites out there among technicians in 2018:
For a full review of Pico Scopes and help finding out what is best for you watch this:
For around $100, this pocket oscilloscope will get you started learning the trade. Watch the video above for ScannerDanner using this exact model to pinpoint a misfire. A lot more inexpensive than what he normally uses.
Despite the fact that he typically uses the 5,000 dollar Snap On Verus. He finds it “pretty neat,” he is able to do a relative compression test with this uScope.
Your overall best bet is to once again read through the information posted here. Do your own research, and realize there are hundreds of options. No one can tell you what will work best for you, or what you will find you like the best.
If you want the best tool get a Snap On. Search Ebay for a used one if you cannot afford a good one. I would look for a Verus, Vantage Pro etc.
If you want to spend your money on a tighter budget look at the Pico Oscilloscopes, and the other mini pocket oscilloscopes that people on YouTube use. It is really up to you find what is best for you.
Same is true with Scan Tools. There are thousands of Scan Tools for sale online, I tried to give you some of the best options and best value in 2018. However, it really does depend on your needs and level as a technician.
Best of luck!
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