A decade or so ago, OBD scan tools were firmly in the realm of mechanics with very few do-it-yourself or home mechanics having one at their disposal. Most would go to a friendly neighborhood parts store or a nearby mechanic to ask for a quick computer scan to find out what codes were being thrown by the vehicle’s engine. Today, that’s no longer the case as scan tools for vehicles are now ubiquitous and cheap.

Sometimes cheap means cheap, of course, but most occasional-use mechanics will get by with a low-cost unit without problems. Some of us need something more than that, but that doesn’t mean breaking the bank. Owning a scan tool is the first step towards diagnosing and (potentially) solving problems with your vehicle before they become costly.

On the lower end, most of us who only use a scan tool a few times a year will be happy with a $50 or cheaper option. These often link to a smartphone or tablet (usually via Bluetooth) and use the car itself as a power source when used. For 99% of small problems, a simple solution like this will work fine. These tools are usually limited to giving simple output, a few engine tuning tips, and perhaps a simple RPM test. Some can monitor data over time to give more information, but that’s rare in this price range.

For those who are closer to being or who are professionals, a more stand-alone, robust option is probably a better choice. These usually have their own output screen, can be linked with a computer, can save information about a vehicle on-board, and have more robust testing and clearing tools built in. These scan tools can often work with multiple manufacturer engines for advanced diagnostics and ECU reset functions.

The options for scan tools are many. Professional outlets and tool manufacturers often sell scan tools in the thousands of dollars for professional shop use. We prefer a more portable, one-person setup that’s easier to transport and use. Like the Autel Maxidas DS708 shown at scantoolcenter.com. This is a good tool for repeated, daily shop use with a lot of built-ins that make the technician’s job easier.

Whatever OBDII scan tool you buy and use, it’ll become your best friend quickly. Diagnostics of modern vehicles for the home mechanic or professional require the use of a scan tool.

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An automotive enthusiast for most of his adult life, Aaron has worked in and around the industry in many ways. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP), the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), and freelances as a writer and journalist around the Web and in print. You can find his portfolio at AaronOnAutos.com.

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