Best Car Diagnostic Device in Comparison.
Car Diagnostic Device Reviews & Buyer Guide.
Do you love brightly lit lights – but not in the dashboard? With a Car Diagnostic Device, you can get to the bottom of the problem behind glowing indicator lights. If you don’t want to use your laptop or smartphone for this, you need a standalone model that works without any other devices.
Note: If your vehicle was built in 2000 or earlier, you will probably need a manufacturer-specific diagnostic device. In the following automotive diagnostic device test or comparison table, you will mainly find multi-brand devices. Find a suitable diagnostic device in our product table now and learn what you should look out for when buying!
Automotive Diagnostic Device Buying Guide:
How to choose the right product from the above automotive diagnostic device test or comparison
- An automotive diagnostic device helps you decipher the reason for illuminated indicator lights. The device outputs fault codes that allow you to diagnose problems on your own.
- Cheap Car Diagnostic Devices from the Internet cover basic functions. Real professional models cost several thousand euros and make sense only for garages.
- There are two different types of automotive diagnostic devices. The first type: stand-alone diagnostic devices that do not require any other equipment. The second type: diagnostic devices that are coupled with a laptop or smartphone.
When the service light comes on in the dashboard, many drivers’ teeth start to jitter: Hopefully it’s nothing serious! In the workshop, the customer is usually asked to pay twice for the analysis and rectification of the problem. Couldn’t it be done differently – and more cheaply?
A car diagnostic device for end customers promises a remedy. After you have connected it to the socket of the on-board electronics, it retrieves the fault memory. This allows you to detect and fix small defects before they become big (and expensive) problems.
Once you know the fault, you can order the repair directly from the workshop and save the money for the analysis. This saves you money and – assuming you have the technical knowledge – you can even fix the problem yourself.
But the market is not exactly transparent. There are tens of different devices with just as many functions. That’s why we’ve identified the best automotive diagnostic devices in our 2021 automotive diagnostics comparison and summarized them for you in our test and comparison table.
In the following guide, you will learn what types of diagnostic devices are available and what you should look for when buying.
Automotive diagnostic device: How does the diagnosis work?
An automotive diagnostic device is used to classify faults in electronic components in the car. It is connected to the vehicle by means of OBD-2 connector (on-board diagnostics) and allows relatively simple fault diagnosis.
This is how it works: an external automotive readout device (= OBD diagnostic device) makes contact with the control units in the vehicle via the installed diagnostic socket (OBD socket). Such control units are e.g. engine control, speedometer, airbag, ABS, tachometer, fuel level or oil pressure gauge.
If there are errors there, the car diagnostic device displays them as error codes. These codes are also known as DTCs (Data Trouble Codes). Good devices provide an explanation in plain text so you know what the code means.
The OBD connector is a standard from the USA that has been used in Europe since 2001 for gasoline engines and since 2004 for diesel engines. In Europe the connector is called OBD-2 or EOBD (European-On-Board-Diagnosis).
Caution: Inexpensive automotive diagnostic devices from the Internet offer only a superficial diagnosis of the errors. Only professional automotive diagnostic devices really go into depth – and they cost several thousand euros.
Which automotive diagnostic device is right for your car?
In the above automotive diagnostic device test or comparison table, you will mainly find multi-brand diagnostic devices, i.e. OBD diagnostic devices for all vehicles. This means that you can connect these models to all OBD-2 jacks. In the USA the OBD standard for all vehicles exists since 1996. In Europe OBD-2 is valid since:
- Gasoline cars: 2001 or newerobd error codes.
- Diesel cars: 2004 or newer
- Trucks: 2005 or newer
Before that, non-standardized OBD-1 connectors dominated the automotive landscape. These connectors varied from manufacturer to manufacturer – that’s why there is no OBD-1 diagnostic device for all brands. So, if you drive a car built before 2000, you will probably need a diagnostic device specifically for your make of car.
Before you buy a car diagnostic device, you should check if the model is only compatible with certain manufacturers. For example, VAG diagnostic devices only apply to the Volkswagen group, i.e. VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat.
Standalone or with laptop or smartphone: What types of automotive diagnostic devices are there?
Now it’s down to the nitty gritty: We’ll show you the different types of automotive diagnostic devices and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each model. Broadly speaking, there are two types of these devices: those that do not require any additional equipment and those that work in conjunction with an additional device such as a laptop or smartphone.
Buying advice for automotive diagnostic devices: Here’s what you should look out for:
Now you have already learned a lot about OBD2 diagnostic devices. But that was not all! Before you buy a car diagnostic device, you should take a look at the most important purchase criteria. These include compatibility, device type, range of functions and support.
Error clearing and service lamp: What the OBD reader for the car must be able to do.
Clearing existing errors and resetting the service interval light are standard functions of modern car diagnostic devices. This is useful when you have found the reason for the light to be on, have fixed the problem and now want to turn the light off.
In this way, you can turn off all warning lights, e.g. of the engine, ABS, brakes, oil or airbag. If the lamp lights up again, the problem still exists. In this case, you should drive to the garage and consult a professional.
Check the vehicle compatibility
With universal automotive diagnostic devices, you can read basic fault codes of most car brands. However, the device may simply not recognize your vehicle.
So if you need a device for only one make, it makes sense to buy a dedicated VW diagnostic device, BMW diagnostic device, or Mercedes diagnostic device – depending on what make you drive.
A diagnostic device for VW is also called a VAG diagnostic device (VAG = Volkswagen AG). This device is also compatible with Volkswagen brands Audi, Seat and Skoda. This is important in order to read out the so-called manufacturer-specific fault codes.
The expensive multi-brand devices can usually do this as well, but inexpensive automotive diagnostic devices do not detect such errors.
OBD software: the choice is yours
Standalone devices come with automotive diagnostic software pre-installed. It’s a different story with laptop- or app-based devices. Here, you usually have a free choice between different car diagnostic software such as Auto Doctor, Delphi, Carport or ESI[tronic] from Bosch.
Attention: Some car diagnostic software for laptops is so outdated that it does not run on MacBooks or PCs with Windows 10. Check the system compatibility before buying.
If you can do without advanced functions and want to perform general OBD2 diagnostics, a Bluetooth diagnostics device for your smartphone will suffice. Such devices only cost around €30 and can read and delete many fault codes.
One example is “Carly” for BMW. Here, a Bluetooth OBD adapter is coupled with BMW diagnostic software (car diagnostic app) and the vehicle diagnosis is completely controlled via the smartphone.
New vehicles are only recognized after updates
Many customers underestimate the importance of regular updates. Devices with old software usually do not recognize vehicles that are newer than the software itself. That is why it is particularly important that the vehicle diagnostic device is fed with regular updates from the manufacturer. New vehicle models are also added via these updates.
Many manufacturers offer such updates for free. However, an update is no guarantee that your new vehicle will be recognized afterwards. Other manufacturers, such as the Berlin-based company autoaid, do provide free software updates – but you end up paying for new vehicle models and diagnostic functions.
How can fault memories be read out and deleted?
This is how a self-diagnosis works
A control lamp is active. You buy a car diagnostic device. And now? These steps will help you:
Find OBD socket: Before you start the car diagnostics, you need to find the OBD interface. There is no uniform placement among manufacturers, but the interface is pretty much always located near the steering wheel. If not, take a look at your car’s owner’s manual.
Connect OBD reader: Jack found? Very good. Now connect your diagnostic device – whether with cable or Bluetooth. Once the connection is established, the device can start reading out the fault memory.
Read out & interpret error codes: Once the error is found, the OBD2 readout device spits out an error code. And what does the error code mean?
What do the OBD error codes mean?
Example: Error code P0301
The first letter stands for the rough estimation of the error. For example, there are P (powertrain), B (body), C (chassis) or U (communication network).
The first number indicates whether the fault is general (0) or manufacturer-specific (1).
The last three digits determine the exact error. In this case, it would be a misfire in cylinder 1. If the code were P0302, it would be a misfire in cylinder 2.
Do I have to repair the fault myself or go to the workshop? How much does the analysis cost at the workshop?
If you decide to visit a workshop, you will pay around €30 for the readout of the fault memory. The process takes around 15 to 30 minutes.
If you are a hobbyist and tinkerer, then you can probably replace a defective spark plug yourself. However, if the fault cannot be precisely determined or rectified, we recommend seeking help from a workshop to be on the safe side.
After all, if the problem is not obvious, it is difficult for laypersons to determine whether it is a minor issue or a serious defect. For your own safety, a professional should take another look at the matter.
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