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OBD Car Scanners Save You Money And Enhance Your Cars Features

Updated on December 30, 2015
Save money on fuel with an OBD scanner
Save money on fuel with an OBD scanner | Source

OBD what?

OBD2 or "On Board Diagnostic" is a standardised protocol used by most car manufacturers since 1996.

Maybe you have seen your mechanic connecting a cable from your car to his laptop somewhere below the steering wheel. He was then able to see for example why the „check engine“ lamp of your car is on. Often it is something small, like a not properly closed fuel cap.

For reseting the lamp status for you, he charged you then $100 with a smile.

Self diagnose with an OBD2 scanner

Here is where OBD2 scanners come into the game.

These little sticks go where your mechanic connects his cable. But instead of having a disturbing cable laying around in the foot area, most of these little devices work via Bluetooth, some via WIFI (I come back to a WiFi version later on).

Then you connect your smartphone with the scanner and can read the error codes yourself. Often the apps come with an explanation what that code actual means - like the before mentioned fuel cap issue.

Best of all you can reset the indicating lamp yourself with the help from the app and the scanner. Often the first usage to reset that lamp pays off your investment in the scanner.

Would you like to have some extra gauges?
Would you like to have some extra gauges? | Source

Going the extra mile

But this is not the end of the story.

You know that modern cars have a multitude of additional data they can provide the driver via the built-in bord computer.
Data like fuel economy, average speed, oil temperature and so on. If you happen to own an older car or one that doesn’t come with that fancy bord computer, you can get this kind of information for a comparable low price with such a combination of app & scanner.

But even if you have a brand new sports car with a lot of data already shown on the dashboard, there can still be more information unveiled for the car enthusiast. You could create a digital dashboard or a heads-up display with this extra data.

What would you say to extra data about turbo, oil pressure, acceleration, 1/4 mile speed, 0-60mph and much more?
Does this sound interesting? Stay tuned!

Last but not least, if you are looking for a used car, you can quickly plug in one of these OBD2 scanners and know immediately whether there is something wrong with that ride or if you can buy it with confidence.

Models

There is a huge number of OBD-II carport devices on the market today.

It is impossible to cover all of them. Therefor I choose a few that are either most common or very new and come with interesting features:

  • China import
    When you start your research into this topic, you likely cross the path of this very low priced scanners, which are based on the „ELM327" chip. You can find them easily on eBay and Amazon. For this review, I will take the "LYL ELM327" as a representative for all the other low-price-scanners.
  • BAFX Bluetooth OBD2 scan tool
  • PLX KIWI2BT / KIWI2WIFI
  • Automatic
  • OBDLink MX Bluetooth/WIFI
    The MX model always came in a Bluetooth version, but will soon be offered as a WiFi version as well. If you are asking yourself, why a WiFi version could be useful: Continue reading.

OBD2 scanner comparison matrix

(click column header to sort results)
   
LYL ELM327  
BAFX Bluetooth OBD2 scan tool  
PLX KIWI2BT / KIWI2WIFI  
Automatic  
OBDLink MX  
Size
2x1x1.8"
3x2x1“ unconfirmed
1.25x2.72x0.6 Plug w/ 3 ft cable to a box
5x4.5x1.1"
0,8x1,4x1,96"
Error Code Details
?
X
X
X
X
Reset Error Codes
?
X
X
X
X
Consumption
?
?
X
X
X
Extra features
-
-
Additional sensors possible
Teach Accelerate & Brake Call 911 Find my car IFTTT iBeacon
Remote start your car Lock/unlock doors *)
Wireless
Bluetooth
Bluetooth
Bluetooth 2.1/WiFi
Bluetooth 4.0 (2.1+ for Android)
Bluetooth 3.0/WiFi
Compatible with
Android
Android/ Windows phone
Android/ IOS/PC
Android/ IOS
iOS / Android / Windows phone
Auto Power-Off/Saving
?
?
X
X
X
Price
$11
$24
$90 ($50 iMFD Adapter)
$100
$100
*) for specific car models

The LYL ELM327

It appears that - first of all - you must get lucky to receive an original.

There are quite a lot of knock offs on the market which just do not work.
If you passed this first step and got one that works, you have - unfortunately - a good chance that it will break within the next few months.
These scanners tend to get hot and drain your car battery.
Often the wireless connection is not encrypted and slow.

The old saying „The one who buys cheap, buys twice“ seams very much valid with these scanners.

BAFX Bluetooth OBD2 scan tool

Some claim it also has some connectivity problems and is unreliable. But for some it seems to work. Which makes it already a better pick then the generic ELM327.

But it doesn’t mean it is actually a good choice.

Mostly because it is to slow for accurate readings.
For example: If you want to see the revolutions of your engine, you’ll find out that it is lagging. The revs you see are from a moment ago, not now.


Therefor lets move to the next model, shall we?

The PLX KIWI2BT / KIWI2WIFI

The number 2 in the name tells you already that this is the second generation of this device from PLX.

Beside making it a little bit smaller and shorten the cable between the plug and the box, there is a major feature which makes a big difference to the before mentioned two models.

The new KIWI has a power saving function which puts the device into a sleep mode after 5 minutes of not using it. In this mode it will consume only 0.1 watts. That means you can let it plugged in all the time without worrying to drain your cars battery.

One saved battery should pay already for the premium of this device in comparison to the models above.


Beside this smart feature, there is one characteristic which none of the other models offer at the time of writing this review.

You can add additional sensors, when your car doesn’t have them build in. In order to extent your cars sensors you will need the iMFD adaptor for $50. From here on you are free to connect up to 16(!) additional sensors, like the „Wideband Air Fuel Ratio Sensor Module“, which sets you back $150.

This is clearly not something one may call cheap.
But if you need such a sensor, it is much cheaper than going to your car dealer and get an original sensor. Maybe it is even the only chance for you to get this sensor at all, in case the manufacturer of your car does not produce such a sensor.


Last but not least: If you paid attention to the details in the table above, you might have realised that the aforementioned models do not transfer their data to IOS devices from Apple. They are „just“ compatible with Android-powered smartphones and tablets.

Here comes the Wifi version of the KIWI into the game.
While offering the same set of function as his android-oriented sibling, this one can transmit the information via WIFI to iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.


Setup a PLX KIWI 2 WIFI for IOS devices

Which makes this the first model in this comparison, interesting for Apple users.



Automatic Link

The OBD scanner from Automatic for iPhone and Android clearly aims for a different user group.

If you are looking for a scanner which delivers a lot of data in real time, then you should look at one of the other devices in this review.

But if you are interested in improving your fuel efficiency and get your car connected in ways different to everything else here, continue reading!


The Automatic Link is properly build with a low power consumption of less than 5.5 mA in sleep mode.
It does the basics, like reading error codes and explain them in a human understandable way and even reset them, but you could do this with the other - cheaper - devices as well.

It even is less functional in one way: It doesn’t give you current detailed information - like current rev counts - as it collects data within the smartphone app and presents results afterwards in form of a report they call „Trip Timeline“.
This report shows in detail what route you have taken, how much fuel you have burned, your MPG and what each trip costs you in dollars.

Things are getting interesting when you have a closer look at what Automatic does, what others don’t.

It will use sensors in the hardware plug - called „Link“ - to determine whether you accelerate or brake to hard and beep at you to make you aware that what you did "just now“ was not going to help to increase your mileage. Over time this can educate you to drive with more awareness and de-learn bad driving habits.

This alone may save you more money than you have to spend on this little helper.


Another exclusive feature will be very appreciated, when it comes to the worst.
If you get into an accident - maybe even rendered unconscious - the Link will recognise the crash and call automatically a help line via the smartphone with your current GPS data.


Very convenient will be the parking function. It saves your parking position and can direct you later back to your car. There are some apps on the market that do the same thing. But you have to start the app and save the parking location yourself. Most of the time you will forget that or just be to lazy to do it. Automatic knows when you switch of the engine and saves the parking position automatically for you. And if several drivers use one car, you are covered as well. All connected phones get the last parking position. That makes car sharing much easier.


Video review of Automatic Link

Features right from the future

But the Automatic developers didn’t stop here, they went totally bonkers and connected their device with the famous IFTTT service.
There is a special IFTTT channel for this device, which opens a myriad of possibilities. You can connect the OBD plug with other services on IFTTT such as Twitter, Facebook or Dropbox.

  • This way events as "Ignition turned on/off“ could write your drivers log on Google Docs without any action on your part.
  • „Your car“ could text your spouse „I am on my way home now“ when you start your engine at a specific location after 5pm.
  • You could be a total nerd and setup, that your Philips Hue powered front door light shall switch off when you start your engine close to your home.
  • Maybe you want your home pre-cooled before even getting there? Just program a WEMO switch which is connected to your air condition to cool your flat when you leave work.

The possibilities are endless.
You may see now why this is such a special device.


If you are not convinced yet that this company is thinking in different ways, have a look what they are working on.

Since the Automatic Link utilise Bluetooth 4.0 they have been able - with the last firmware update - to make their Link compatible with the iBeacon technology.

This allows - in the future - scenarios as Automatic describes:

"Say you’re leaving a parking garage and instead of stopping to pay an attendant with your credit card, Automatic wirelessly signals the gate that you’re there using iBeacon, deducts the necessary funds from a credit card linked to your Automatic account, and opens the gate. The same system could work for toll booths, repair shops, parking meters, car washes, gas stations, and so on.“


Despite some comments on Amazon you can have Link connected while you are also connected to - lets say - an Bluetooth audio connector (as reviewed here) at the same time.

OBDLink MX

The OBDLink MX is again more of a real-time data delivery OBD scanner.

But this one is on steroids!

It gets you covered regardless whether you own an iPhone (WIFI version announced), Android or Windows phone.

It is based on a chipset which is superior over the ELM327 which you can find so often in the cheap models.
It comes with the promise of frequent firmware updates with new features which will make the device more and more useful over time.

This chipset delivers up to 4-5 times faster readouts then the competition.
If you are looking for a device which can please requirements found in sports cars then this one might be for you.

The sophisticated chipset does not get hot and features a power saving function so you can leave it plugged in all the time. It has an over voltage protection and is the only hardware that advertises wireless communication with WPA2 encryption.


Today it features already some unique functions such as lock/unlock doors and remote start your car (on select vehicles). It can even display additional gauges on Google Glasses.


One other thing makes this a very interesting offer.
It is compatible with a whole bunch of apps on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store:

  • DashCommand (IOS)
  • Harry's LapTimer Grand Prix (IOS)
  • Torque Pro (Android)
  • OBD Autodoctor (Android)
  • OBD Droidscan Pro (Android)
  • DragFX (Android)
  • alOBD ScanGenPro (Android)
  • ScanXL for PCOBDLink App (IOS/Android)
  • OBDwiz for Windows


Showing different apps using OBDLink MX

Verdict

As always when it comes to a decision it is all about your specific requirements and personal taste.

Whether you go for the Automatic with features straight from the future (at the moment on sale on Amazon) or maybe you are in the need for an additional sensor offered by the PLX KIWI or you prefer the high-quality OBDLink MX, do yourself a big favour and do not buy any cheap knock offs!

It will cost you more in the end.

Which OBD scanner is the right one for you?

See results

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