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Best Bluetooth Automotive Scan Tools and Code Readers

Updated on February 25, 2013

What is an Automotive Code Scanner or Reader and why do you need one?

Did you know your car has a computer inside it that records a massive amount of data about peformance and economy? Did you know that for a few dollars you could access this information and display it on your smart phone like some futuristic dash display from Knight Rider? Well you can!

You can also learn a lot about your car and how to maintain or repair it, things your local garage mechanic might charge hundreds for!

All cars made after 1996 (in the US - a little later in Europe) should be OBD II compliant, OBD is on board diagnostics and this is what all modern car mechanics use to understand a vast amount of information available from the vehicle, however, without some kind of interface all you will normally see is a warning light on your dash.

Automotive Scan Tools allow you to do this, those that have bluetooth allow you to connect them to an Android Smartphone or a Laptop.

Having the ability to read OBD codes, then translate them into a fault allows you to do a number of things, firstly you can understand the probable severity of the problem and whether it is something you can fix yourself, or allows you to be sure that when taking your car to be repaired you will not be so easily charged for faults that don't exist.

The other, frankly much cooler aspect, is that the data from the vehicle can be read in real time, on a mobile device running a suitable app such as Torque, this data can show you the speed of the engine (rpm), economy, acceleration, power, torque, 0-60 times, engine and coolant temperatures and many many more stats that you can record, tweet and analyse!

ScanTool 426101 OBDLink MX Image Courtesy of Amazon.com

What is "ELM 327"

The ELM 327 that you see in many of the products is the microprocessor that can interpret the on-board diagnostics found in compliant cars made after 1996. Most of the bluetooth automotive scan tools and code readers are based on this. Potential buyers should beware that cheaper clones from China, based on the earliest version (complete with bugs), exist as copy protection was not introduced initially, my advice would be to review the Amazon comments left against cheaper code scanners and readers and be very careful of eBay readers that are not from a recognised and respected brand!

Read more about the ELM 327 on About.com.

Check out this video for more guidance on how to choose a code scanner

BAFX Products ELM 327 Bluetooth Scan Tool

BAFX Claim that this scan tool will work on all 1996 and newer OBD2 compatible vehicles, that you can scan for trouble and fault codes, reset dash lights and review data and statistics to help you understand what is going on in your engine and other automobile systems.

Comes with a free basic scan software for your laptop or Android phone, these can be upgraded, but the recommendation really is to download the Torque application as BAFX have rather helpfully collaborated with the application developer and include specific instructions on how to install and pair their device with the Torque application.

One of the great things is that BAFX are really serious about their product support and will respond to e-mails very quickly as well as Amazon reviews from users, like any product some people will have issues but while I was reviewing this item for this page I spent the time checking out some of the 335 positive 5* reviews against the handful of 1* reviews a BAFX employee has got in contact with them all and offered direct assistance, awesome!

Video: Choosing the right Code Scanner

ScanTool 426101 OBDLink MX Bluetooth/OBD-II Scan Tool Interface

Recommended by the Torque app developer this bluetooth scan tool is based on the superior and faster STN1110 chip set, this makes it more expensive but the comments on the web are very favourable - stating that connection is more relable and data transfer faster pretty much as real time as you can get.

Includes PC and Android applications so you can get started straight away, and is backed up by an impressive 3-year warranty.

AGPtek® Super Mini ELM327 Diagnostic Scanner Tool - from Brainydeal

There's quite a few generic looking, apparently at first glance identical ELM327 Scanner Tools available, via eBay and Amazon, however, one reviewer on Amazon has taken the time and the trouble to record and post his experience with two seemingly similar but totally different products (check out the video below or click on the product link to read what he has to say).

Suffice to say this is the cheapest bluetooth code scaner available that comes recommended by nearly everyone who has purchased them, but don't take my work check out the reviews on Amazon.

Cheap enough to buy multiple times and leave fitted to all your cars and a good item to pick if you want to play with code scanning for the first time.

Torque App and Bluetooth OBD II

Bluetooth OBD Code Scanners on eBay

I love eBay, I buy and sell there all the time, but please please please make sure you buy from a reputable seller with a good returns policy and plenty of positive feedback!

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Please leave any comments of suggestions, recommendations and anything else about the best automotive scan tools that will help others find the right code reader for them!

Did you know your car was this clever?

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    • Babbages profile image
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      Babbages 4 years ago

      @jvcronje: I agree, it's amazing, and the technology is just going to get more and more embedded in your car and all every day items!

    • profile image

      jvcronje 4 years ago

      I am totally amazed. Never knew one could get anything like this. Excellent lens!