The Best Automotive Handheld Scan Tool

Written by alliene turner
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The Best Automotive Handheld Scan Tool
Owners often want to maintain their cars themselves and diagnostic scanners simplify the task. (Girl repair car on road image by Vasyl Dudenko from

Automotive handheld diagnostic scan tools simplify the task of diagnosing and maintaining your automobile. They plug into the on-board diagnostic port of your vehicle and provide valuable feedback about functions such as engine operation, emissions control, fuel usage and warning lights.

EPA Criteria

In 2000, the EPA studied OBD handheld scanners to identify those that accurately test for Clean Air Act emission-control standards and automobile safety inspections mandated by some states. The features they evaluated included graphic display, user help and diagnostic menus, ability to record and print scans, and ability to turn off the check engine light.

Mechanics' Criteria

Mechanics have feature preferences for automotive scan tools, such as weight and grip, the presence of a multimeter or scope, and a built-in library of Society of Automobile Engineers automotive trouble codes.

SAE J2534

Handheld scanners with Wi-Fi capability allow users to update diagnostic applications as they become available and to print test data. The SAE has introduced standards J2534-1 and J2534-2 in an effort to standardise the diagnostic applications that make use of the computer technology.

Popular Models

Several brands emerge as favourites among the EPA and mechanics. Auto Xray offers devices for the professional mechanic priced at £221 to £422. Actron offers similar devices ranging in price from £130 to £325. Equus has a series of lower-end diagnostic scanners starting at £65.

Other Considerations

The two on-board diagnostic standards require different cables.

If you have a laptop computer and Wi-Fi capability, the purchase of an application such as ELM 327 along with an OBD cable and interface represents more features and less cost than the purchase of a handheld device.

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