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Best Gadget for Your Car That Your Mechanic Wishes You Didn’t Know About

OBD2 diagnostics computer scanner

The price of a diagnostic test for your car can vary widely, depending on a number of factors, such as the age of your car, the model and whatever happens to be wrong with it. But it will generally run anywhere from $40 to $400, before repairs. An OBD-II diagnostic reader, on the other hand, is a very reasonably priced device that plugs right into an outlet in your car and transmits all kinds of useful information to your phone or other mobile device.

There are a number of devices available from different manufacturers, offering a variety of features in different price ranges. Then there are the premium services available with even more benefits that will knock your socks off. If you have a gas-powered vehicle that was manufactured sometime since 1996, or a diesel-powered vehicle from 2006 or later, you really should consider getting one. Here’s what they can do for you.

What is an OBD-II Diagnostic Reader?

It is a tiny piece of hardware that plugs into the Onboard Diagnostics (OBD) system port in your vehicle. It’s usually located on the driver’s side, just a little above the acceleration and brake pedals. Once activated, it will use real-time data to transmit information to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth.

What kind of information, you ask? Well, that depends on whether you have a basic or premium account. But at the very least, it should tell you why your “Check Engine” light is all of a sudden burning brightly. As any owner of an older vehicle will tell you, that information is valuable in and of itself. However, it’s possible to get much more data.

What Features Are Available in OBD-II Diagnostic Readers?

Since they’re all different, it can definitely be a case of comparing apples to oranges, so you will want to decide which features are most important to you that fit your budget. But these are some of what’s available in OBD readers.

Diagnostic Codes and Consequences

Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) will be very helpful to your mechanic, saving time because you know exactly what the issue is. It will also keep them honest…because you know exactly what the issue is. And one of the most valuable pieces of information you can receive is what the possible results are if you continue to drive your vehicle without fixing the problem at hand.


Even the most basic units will not only alert you that the “Check Engine” light is on and give you detailed information about why, but they will also tell you when it is time for the kinds of regular maintenance tasks you are required to have to remain in compliance with the manufacturers warranty, such as tire rotations and oil changes. You may then clear and reset the “Check Engine” light whenever you wish.

Multiple Vehicles

One major difference you will find between units is how many vehicles can be monitored simultaneously. If you want to access information on all of the family’s autos, some brands will allow you to place hardware in up to 5 vehicles and check all of them on the same app on your phone. The only extra cost is the price of the extra hardware units, and you can often get a discount when buying more than one unit at a time.

Premium Services

These will really span a spectrum of choices, but also a spectrum of restrictions, so you’ll want to be very careful before committing to a specific model. For instance, you can pay monthly for some units, while others – such as Verizon’s Hum – will require a contract that includes some fairly scary early termination fees. But here are just some of the features that are available.

  • Price Estimator – Not only can you keep the mechanic honest by knowing what needs to be fixed, but you can also get a price range for what the repair will cost.
  • Hotline – You can speak to live experts who will provide advice about what your vehicle needs. They will also tell you whether it’s possible for you to fix yourself and, if so, exactly how to do that.
  • Extras – These are almost unlimited, depending on how much you want to pay for. Get speed and boundary alerts, driving history info and vehicle location finder, even a crash response function. Some include extra hardware, such as Bluetooth speakers and WiFi hotspots. Newer model cars offer some of these options, but you don’t need to spring for that kind of price tag, just a premium OBD reader service, which costs much less.

OBDII scanner

Bottom Line

If all you want is detailed diagnostic information when your car starts making funny noises, the most basic models of OBD readers can provide that for you. Even those will have premium services available, but they will have a monthly cost that you should compare to higher priced models that will give you more bells and whistles for just a higher fixed price. But if you’re willing to pay for top of the line hardware and services, then the sky is pretty much the limit.