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Shopping Tips for Selecting an OBDII compatible scantool

There are a growing number of scantools compatible with 1996 and newer vehicles with a wide variety of features. With prices ranging from $250 to $2500 anyone looking for a scantool needs to do a little homework to find a tool that best fits their needs.

Will it work on your vehicle?

First and foremost, the tool you purchase must support the vehicles you anticipate working on. Although it's true that OBDII is a standard, there are five different types of hardware communications used by OBDII vehicles. Some tools support all five and some are manufacturer specific.

Supported parameters

Not all scantools are equal. In fact, some aren't even close. As part of the OBDII standard, the US Environmental Protection Agency mandated that a basic set of emissions related readings be supported on all OBDII vehicles. The SAE specification J1979 defines these legislated parameters. Many low-end tools only support these emissions related readings, giving you access to only a dozen or so truly useful parameters. While these give you some basic vehicle information, they are just a small set of the vehicle information available through the OBDII port.

Is it upgradeable?

Each year vehicle manufacturers release new models and revise existing models. For a scantool to fully support the new vehicles, it must typically be updated. Professional quality scantools are updateable, although often at a price of $500 or more per update. Most lower end handheld scantools are not updateable. Check what updates will cost before committing to a tool.

Built in help

For anyone working on his or her own vehicle, the Factory Service Manual is a must-have. But the scantool itself may be able to provide some of that necessary information. When a DTC is set, does the tool display the DTC number or give the full definition? A tool that displays the full definition will save a lot of time and frustration. Does the tool offer any information on typical readings to explain what the reading is? A simple sentence or two of explanation can save a lot of trips back and forth to the shop manual.

Data logging or storage

A sure way to park your car in a ditch is to try and watch a scantool display while doing a roadtest. A tool that stores data to allow safe viewing back at the garage is a must. Be certain that the tool you buy has this capability.


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