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3 Things You Need to Know Before Buying an OBD-II Scan Tool

3 Things You Need to Know Before Buying an OBD-II Scan Tool

An OBD-II scanner can come in handy when your car’s “check engine” light suddenly comes on. Some of you might already be familiar with OBD-II scanners, but for those who don’t, allow us to briefly explain the basics for you.

Since 1996, all cars have come with OBD-II. OBD-II stands for On-Board Diagnostics and it is a standardized gateway into your vehicle’s computer. But in order to read all the data on your car’s computer, you are going to need a specialized reader.

Long story short, an OBD-II scanner can provide insight into your vehicle’s computer, such as the engine, transmission and other vital systems. There are a lot of OBD-II scanners on the market, from professional grade to the most basic - just a quick search on Amazon will give you hundreds of results. But which one should you get?

When setting out to purchase an OBD-II scanner for your vehicle, there are a few things you need to consider.

1. What information do you want to get from it

One of the most common questions we get is does this OBD2 scanner cover this system or that system?

So, the first thing that you need to consider is the information you want to get from it - it is crucial that you get a scanner that covers the specific systems and functions that you need.

The basic scan tools are often characterized by limited functionality. For instance, if the ABS light in your vehicle is on, getting the cheapest diagnostic reader that covers only the generic functions, like emissions testing, isn’t going to help at all.

Don’t get us wrong, a basic OBD-II code reader is an effective tool and a possible life saver, but it won’t give you all the advanced functions and features.

Likewise, if all you only need is to clear a check engine light, you don’t need to go and buy an expensive, professional-grade diagnostic scanner that costs upwards of $200 - because generic OBD-II functions are relatively basic and any simple entry-level scanner can get the job done.

We strongly recommend you look through the list of functions right off the hop to make sure you’re getting an OBD-II diagnostic scanner that covers all the systems you need to read.

ThinkOBD 100

The ThinkOBD 100 is an entry-level plug-and-play full OBD/EOBD scanner.

With the ThinkOBD 100, you can use it to read and clear fault codes in your car, such as the MIL Fault Indicator Light, Live Data, EVAP System Test, On-Board Mintor Test, View Freeze Frame, O2 Scensor Test, Vehicle Info, and I/M Readiness.

For instance, you can use the ThinkOBD 100 to check the status of emission-related monitors misfire system and fuel system, which will help you prepare your vehicle for a successful Smog Check.

But, you will need more than the ThinkOBD 100 if...

Let’s take a look at the functions that the ThinkOBD 100 does not support.

Maintenance Resets such as:

❌ Oil Reset
❌ Electrical Park Brake (EPB)
❌ Steering Angle Sensor (SAS)
❌ Battery Management System (BMS)
❌ Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF)

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
ABS Bleeding
Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS)
Sunroof Initialization
Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR)
SUS
Immobilizer / Keys
Injector Coding
Elect. Throttle Relearn

Manufacturer-enhanced functions such as:

❌ Data Streams
❌ Actuation Tests
❌ Relearns & Initializations
❌ Bi-directional Controls
❌ Engine
❌ Transmission
❌ ABS
❌ SRS

Others:

❌ Remote Diagnosis
❌ Online Diagnostic Report

 

In other words, if you need to do a Tire Pressure Monitoring System reset, the ThinkOBD 100 will not be of much help. For the specialized functions you will need a more advanced OBD-II scanner, like the ThinkDiag or the ThinkScan 660.

ThinkDiag

The ThinkDiag is one of the mid-tier models in the ThinkCar lineup. Unlike the ThinkOBD 100, the ThinkDiag is a dongle + app OBD-II scanner, which means you will need to use a smartphone or a tablet to access all the diagnostic information.

Simply plug the ThinkDiag dongle into the OBD-II port in your vehicle and the ThinkDiag mobile app (iOS and Android) will turn your smart device into a real-time full OBD-II remote Bluetooth diagnostics tool.

Get the ThinkDiag if you need...

In addition to generic OBD-II and full-system functions, as well as live data stream, the ThinkDiag also lets you do the following diagnosis:

Maintenance Resets functions such as:

Oil Reset
Electrical Park Brake (EPB)
Steering Angle Sensor (SAS)
Battery Management System (BMS)
Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF)
Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
ABS Bleeding
Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS)
Sunroof Initialization
Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR)
SUS
Immobilizer / Keys
Injector Coding
Elect. Throttle Relearn

Manufacturer-enhanced functions such as:

Data Streams
Data Streams
Actuation Tests
Relearns & Initializations
Bi-directional Controls
Transmission
ABS
SRS

Others:

Remote Diagnosis
Online Diagnostic Report

Community Interaction and Support

The ThinkDiag can do everything that the ThinkOBD 100 does and a lot more, but it’s all based on subscription. When you purchase a ThinkDiag, it comes with one manufacturer subscription that gives you access to enhanced diagnostics for that specific vehicle brand.

For instance, if you own a Lexus, you can purchase the Toyota/Lexus manufacturer subscription and the ThinkDiag will become a personalized OBD-II diagnostic scanner that looks for generic faults as well as other abnormalities that Lexus scans for in its vehicles.

Got more than one vehicle? You can purchase additional subscriptions if you own several brands of cars or if you are a mechanic and you need to take care of different makes and models. Additional Manufacturers Subscriptions are just $39.95/year per manufacture.

The ThinkDiag, however, does not come with a built-in fault code library, so you won’t be able to use it to look up random fault codes for a code definition. But what it does is, once it identifies a fault code in your vehicle, it will give you a description of it. It will also let you do a query right from the app and all relevant information on Google will be fed into the app for you - just think of it as a quick search feature.

And in the event you can’t resolve a problem, you can give your mechanic access to perform diagnostics remotely - all you need to do is plug the ThinkDiag into your car and give your mechanic the access code and he will be able to do remote diagnostics using any web browser. Alternatively, you can save your diagnostics report and share it with your mechanic.

The ThinkDiag is the ideal scan tool for enthusiasts, independent repairs, specialized garages and technicians.

But, you will need more than the ThinkDiag if...

Now say you’re an entry-level mechanic and you need a tool that lets you tap into a car, any car’s ABS or SRS system. The ThinkDiag would certainly work, but you will need to purchase the full all-manufacturer subscription if you plan on working on different car makes.

If all you need is a tool that performs cross-manufacturer Engine, Transmission, ABS and SRS diagnostics, then perhaps the ThinkScan 660 would be a better fit.

ThinkScan 660

The ThinkScan 660 allows you to diagnose problems in the vehicle's engine, ABS, SRS systems. It also supports OBD2 functions such as read/clear codes, EVAP test, I/M readiness, etc.  

Just like the ThinkOBD 100, the ThinkScan 660 comes with a built-in screen that displays all data and settings right on the tool itself. There are no dongles, apps or smart devices required.

Get the ThinkScan 660 if you need...

In addition to the generic OBD-II functions, the ThinkScan 660 gives you access to the 10 most common maintenance and reset functions such as:

Engine Oil Lamp
Electronic Braking System (EPB)
Electronic Throttle Body System (ETS)
Steering Angle Sensor (SAS)
Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF)
Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
Injection Coding
Battery Matching
ABS Bleeding
Immobilizer Matching (IMMO)

What can the ThinkScan 660 do that the ThinkDiag can’t? The ThinkScan 660 lets you perform diagnostic scans on all car makes and models without a subscription or renewal fees.

Yes, the ThinkScan 660 does not give you full system functions nor does it support remote diagnosis or online diagnostic report, but if you are looking for a tool that lets you do engine, transmission, ABS and SRS diagnostics on all car makes and models, then the ThinkScan 660 is the right tool for you.

2. How much do you want to spend on it

Determining the cost of OBD-II scan tools is fairly straightforward: the more you pay, the more functions you get.

The ThinkOBD 100 is ThinkCar’s entry-level OBD-II scanner. It doesn’t give you advanced diagnosis functions, but if generic OBD-II functions are all you need and you are looking for a basic scanner, then the ThinkOBD 100 is a great and very affordable tool to have. There is no subscription required and lifetime-free software update is included, so there are no additional costs to use the ThinkOBD 100 year after year.

The ThinkScan 660 is also a subscription-free tool that comes with free lifetime updates, so there are no recurring costs to use the tool. But because it does allow you to perform advanced functions on all car makes and models, it will come with a bigger price-tag.

If you don’t need a tool that works on all car makes and models but just for your car, then there really is no reason why you need the ThinkScan 660. The ThinkDiag would be sufficient.

Yes, technically-speaking, the ThinkDiag is a more powerful OBD-II diagnostic scanner as it allows you to do a full systems scan and other enhanced manufacturer diagnostics, but it’s all bound to a specific manufacturer.

And while the ThinkDiag requires an annual manufacturer subscription, the difference in the price-tags is enough to cover the manufacturer subscription fees for almost 5 years. Don’t forget each new ThinkDiag comes with a 1-year free manufacturer subscription to start you off.  

Each manufacturer subscription works on all models under that manufacturer. In other words, if you purchase the Lexus subscription, it will let you run diagnostic scans on the GS, RX, ES, as well as all Toyota models since Lexus and Toyota are essentially the same manufacturer.

Own multiple cars from different manufacturers? Just add additional manufacturer subscriptions for each at $40/year/manufacturer.

3. DIAGNOSTICS ≠ FIX

One of the misconceptions of OBD-II scanners is that it will magically make fault codes and problems disappear. Yes, you can use it to clear fault codes in your vehicle, but it doesn’t fix the underlyin problem. What an OBD-II scanner does is let you find the problem areas in your car so you or your mechanic can pinpoint and address the problem.

It does come in handy when you suspect your mechanic is ripping you off with unnecessary services or additional charges that are not justified.

In the market for a pre-owned vehicle? Bring your OBD-II scanner along when you go car-shopping. You can easily do a quick scan of the vehicle to see if there are any hidden problems that are not specified in the specs sheets.


ThinkCar OBD-II Diagnostic Tools

ThinkCar is the maker of some of the most recommended OBD-II scan tools on the market, including the ThinkScan 660, ThinkOBD 100 and the ThinkDiag - all available now on BlackboxMyCar.com. But all scanners are not created equally. There are two general types of scanners: handheld and wireless.

The ThinkDiag is a wireless OBD-II scan tool, whereas the ThinkOBD 100 and the ThinkScan are handheld OBD-II scanners.

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