What’s your stance on Bluetooth and app-based tools and equipment?
Personally, I tend to much more strongly prefer equipment that work without apps.
In the case of OBD2 code readers, which read diagnostic codes from modern cars, I would normally prefer physical devices over increasingly-visible Bluetooth and app-based solutions.
My stance on this changed about two weeks ago.
A maintenance light popped up in the dashboard of my wife’s car. I wanted to read the diagnostic code, and so I connected a ~10-year old Innova-made Craftsman OBD2 code reader.
No DTC (diagnostic trouble codes) came up, which meant it was likely a make or model-specific code.
On startup, the code reader asks you to input the make and model of car, and only goes up to 2013. Her car is a 2015 model that wasn’t in the code reader database.
Basically, this particular Innova/Craftsman OBD device is capable of reading enhanced codes, but not for the vehicle I needed to use it on.
Neither Innova nor Craftsman have any firmware or software updates for the reader – I checked online, found Innova’s updating software, and connected via micro USB to confirm that no updates were available.
Because of this, I needed a new OBD2 reader that can read and interpret modern enhanced trouble codes.
I spent some time researching options, and weighed the choice between a new standalone tool and a Bluetooth reader. Some of auto diagnostic apps are free, at least for basic features, others are paid.
I came across the OBDLink MX+ Bluetooth-based scanner that will connect to iOS, Android, and Windows devices.
OBDLink has their own software, and their MX+ model allows for free access to manufacturer and model-specific diagnostic databases.
You also get access to hundreds of additional parameters that are not available over standard OBD2. Enhanced diagnostics are free with OBDLink MX+ and can be purchased in-app for other OBDLinks.
This is what I was looking for.
The MX+ seems priced at a higher premium than competing alternatives, but in my research I read about issues that can happen with random brands.
I also researched a couple of modern OBD2 code readers, but they were priced considerably higher if I wanted enhanced scanning. Even if I could find a model that had exactly what I needed, would the same happen as with the Innova/Craftsman scanner I had in-hand, where its usefulness would be extremely limited on future vehicles?
For me, this is a once-in-a-while type of tool. $150 was about the most I was willing to spend for a device and software. Pricier handheld solutions were out of the question, especially given how disappointed I was in Innova and Craftsman.
Lower-cost products, whether Bluetooth and app-based, or all-in-one hardware, didn’t seem to offer the enhanced code reading functionality I was looking for.
I wanted to be able to troubleshoot the current problem, as well as any reasonable future issues that might come up.
At least one 3rd party app recommends OBDLink adapters, and so it seemed worth a try. FORScan was also my second choice app to try in case OBDLink’s wasn’t sufficient. If that didn’t work either, I’d return the adapter and start my search over.
I bought the OBDLink MX+, and it arrived later that night via free same-day delivery from Amazon, which luckily was available in my area.
I downloaded OBDLink’s app, and followed its instructions.
The process was fairly straightforward, and it held my hand without my having to refer to a thick user manual.
I got to the bottom of things, or at least I was able to see what the car was complaining about.
Ultimately, I was impressed with how usable the Bluetooth code scanner was. It quickly connected with my phone, and was simple to use.
I trust that OBDLink will update their app and databases on occasion, allowing this device to be used on current and future cars.
I figure that’s part of the purchase price here – you’re paying for the adapter and OBDLink’s app and databases, whereas other devices cost less but don’t give you the same software capabilities. Or at least that was what my brief research showed.
If OBDLink takes their app down for whatever reason, this device is confirmed to work with other actively developed and supported apps and services, such as FORScan.
It seems that I am less likely to run into the same issue than what happened with the Innova/Craftsman OBD2 reader, which is outdated with no updates available.
I trust that the older OBD2 reader can still read common DTC codes, but that’s not enough these days.
Modern scan tools and adapters can also open up a world of monitoring features and options beyond troubleshooting maintenance warnings and diagnostic lights, and I might explore those more when I have the time.
$140 absolutely seems overpriced for a physical adapter, but I didn’t have to pay anything extra for the software or enhanced code database specific for my wife’s car.
Frankly, I would rather pay $140 for a physical tool than for a plug-in module that requires a smartphone and apps to make use of. The problem is, I couldn’t quickly enough find a standalone OBD2 code scanner that offered the same features, at least not within my budget range. There are ones that are advertised as having enhanced code reading capabilities, but at much higher price points.
If the need wasn’t so pressing, I could or should have asked ToolGuyd readers for recommendations, but I also saw it as a testing and review experience. This was an opportunity to go against my typical preferences.
In hindsight, my reluctance was a bit unfounded, and this seems like the perfect type of tool for Bluetooth and app-based integration.
I’m still very much of the mindset that standalone tools are generally better, but I’ll allow myself to stray from this on a case by case basis.
If this was more than a once-in-a-while tool for me, I might have looked closer at pricier standalone hardware solutions that offer comparable capabilities. But, while code readers have saved me money in the past, they haven’t saved me enough to spend hundreds of dollars on more sophisticated equipment.
I don’t regret the OBDLink MX+ purchase, and I look forward to using it more – but hopefully for monitoring and not any more dashboard lights.
I wish I was able to find a less expensive alternative, but it offered capabilities I couldn’t quickly find in lower priced models, and I found their marketing convincing, with respect to choosing it over slightly lower priced alternatives.
The fact that it has Android, iOS, and Windows software was another selling point, on top of the enhanced code diagnostics.
I do still wonder if I could have gotten the same enhanced code diagnostic capabilities for less money.
Another question remains – will this adapter still be useful 10 years from now? I would like to think that it will still work with apps and software that update with the times, but there’s no guarantee.