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I'm looking into buying an OBD-II scanner for my vehicles, but it seems there is more to consider than I initially thought. I had assumed that any OBD-II scanner would be able to read and clear codes, and that the higher priced units would have a mix of better quality and more features (e.g. built-in database of codes, bluetooth, live data monitor). However, after looking at some of the descriptions and reviews online it seems like there are additional capabilities that a basic scanner would not be able to help with - two specifically that I've seen are ABS and SRS codes.

What kind of capabilities/features should I know about if I'm looking for a "consumer" OBD-II scanner? (say, less than $200)


Additions Notes:

  • I'm not looking for a recommendation. I want to have a better understanding of what I'm buying so I don't spend extra on features I don't need, and that I don't buy something that isn't as capable as I thought it was.
  • Assume this is for 1996 or newer, common American-market vehicles (e.g. Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, VW, BMW, etc.)
  • Make sure it works with the car you have... some do some don’t... – Solar Mike Nov 20 '19 at 19:40
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    Well, first off I would look to buy an OBD scanner, not an ODB one.. – Caius Jard Nov 21 '19 at 15:38
  • @CaiusJard Doh! Thanks. – tehDorf Nov 21 '19 at 16:53
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You want a scan tool that has live data, reads P, C, U, and B codes. If cost effective, you want it to read enhanced manufacturer specific codes. It should also have bi-directional capabilities. Finally, some of the better units tap into a pattern failure database that tells you what parts, wiring harness problems or software issues are at the root cause of the trouble code. The Innova #3130 includes access to their pattern failure database

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  • I don't remember seeing any product descriptions listing mentioning P, C, U, or B codes - do ABS and SRS codes correspond to one or two of those letters? Also, by "bi-directional capabilities" do you mean that it supports reading and clearing of codes, or is there more than just clearing codes? – tehDorf Nov 20 '19 at 19:51
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    P C B and U are powertrain, body, chassis and undefined (mostly network issues) respectively. ABS generates C codes, airbags B codes. As you've found, the cheap ones only read/clear P codes. – Phil G Nov 20 '19 at 21:18
  • 'bi-directional' usually means that you can send commands needed for some service tasks like bleeding the ABS unit. – squigbobble Nov 21 '19 at 2:06

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