The 9 Best Air Bag Scan Tools

We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. It’s one thing to ignore that “Check Engine” light for a day or two; it’s another thing entirely to disregard the air bag warning indicator. With a good diagnostic scan tool in your hands, you can quickly examine an issue with a car’s safety systems, and you can also often assess the function of the transmission, the cylinders, the navigation equipment, and more, too. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work.

9. OTC Tools 3211

The OTC Tools 3211 sports a relatively high-definition screen that’s comfortable to look at and easy to decipher. It features the company’s CodeConnect technology, which integrates your results with a network of possible fixes submitted by other vehicle owners.

  • Backward compatible with obd-1 cars
  • More expensive than most options
  • Requires an update upon receipt

Brand OTC
Model 3211
Weight 3.9 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

8. Innova Car Scan

Once it detects the source of a check engine or air bag light, the Innova Car Scan gives you the results in plain English, cutting out the step of researching specific sub codes. It’s advised to stick with the standard model, as the Bluetooth version isn’t very helpful.

  • Especially rugged construction
  • Displays live and recorded data
  • Rather pricey for an obd-2 scanner

Brand Innova
Model 31603
Weight 2.2 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

7. Autel MaxiCom

The Autel MaxiCom makes the most sense in the hands of a dedicated enthusiast who enjoys specially outfitted or modern, high-performance cars. It can trigger, reset, reprogram, and register almost any electronic sensor or system within most vehicles.

  • Ideal for the semi-pro mechanic
  • Can set the optimal tire pressure
  • Quite a bit more costly than many

Brand Autel
Model pending
Weight 5.7 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

6. Autel AL619 AutoLink

The Autel AL619 AutoLink uses a high-contrast, full-color screen whose menu is clearly laid out and easy to navigate. That saves the motorist or mechanic time as he or she accurately diagnoses a vehicle on the roadside or back at the garage.

  • Works on vehicles made after 1996
  • Stores a wealth of data
  • Detects generic and oem codes

Brand Autel
Model AL619
Weight 2.1 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

5. Autel MD802

Whether it’s new, old, domestic, or imported, your car will almost certainly be able to communicate with the Autel MD802, a pro-level device that, in addition to air bag warnings, checks the status of the drivetrain, oil, transmission, and other systems.

  • Comprehensive engine analysis
  • Excellent for home mechanics
  • Comes in a high-impact plastic case

Brand Autel
Model MD802
Weight 3.9 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

4. Ancel FX4000

If you’re tasked with maintaining several vehicles, or are intimately devoted to a single one, the Ancel FX4000 is worth a look. This incredibly powerful option covers just about every base when it comes to monitoring your vehicle’s issues and assessing needed repairs.

  • Analyzes tire pressure systems
  • Checks abs and steering angle setups
  • Text or graphical live data display

Model pending
Weight 3.2 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

3. Foxwell NT630

Crafted with close attention to safety functions, the Foxwell NT630 can analyze and record a huge swath of data regarding a variety of automotive systems, including the power control module, O2 sensors, and anti-lock brakes.

  • Works with over 50 makes of vehicle
  • Allows for active testing and resets
  • Dust- and grime-proof construction

Model pending
Weight 3.4 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

2. JDiag Faslink M2S

Eliminating the difficulties of working in low light or learning a new digital interface, the JDiag Faslink M2S transmits directly to your mobile device via Bluetooth, making it especially easy to quickly research the relevant repair options.

  • Provides a live data stream
  • Recently updated for compatibility
  • Cheaper than other wireless models

Brand JDiag
Model pending
Weight 7 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. Ancel VD500

The Ancel VD500 is an all-in-one code reading and resetting tool, compatible with at least 95% of all American and European onboard diagnostic systems. It works flawlessly with most Volkswagens and Audis, which have given some readers trouble in the past.

  • Covers a wide range of protocols
  • Easily stored at under an inch thick
  • Well priced for a multipurpose unit

Model pending
Weight 12.6 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

A Brief History Of Airbags

Cars have certainly made our lives easier, but they have a nasty tendency to be death traps. Luckily, death rates from car crashes seem to be dropping, and that’s largely due to two things: seat belts and airbags.

The airbag was first invented in 1951 by an American industrial engineer named John W. Hetrick. His system involved using compressed air that could be released by a spring on impact, or even by the driver if so desired. However, his device wouldn’t inflate fast enough to be useful in the event of a collision.

As a result, interest in airbags faded away until 1971, when Ford installed them in a few cars as an experiment. That experiment was far from promising, however, as these airbags tended to shatter the windshield, be useless in the event of an angular collision, and oh yeah — they frequently dished out fatal blows to child-sized dummies.

General Motors experimented with their own airbags a few years later, although they limited their use to a single model of Chevrolet that was only sold to the government. That same year, however, Oldsmobile released their Toronado, which was the first vehicle with a passenger airbag available to the public.

GM upped the ante by announcing plans to outfit 100,000 cars with air bags every year during the mid-1970s. However, only about 10,000 of those vehicles ever sold.

It would be Mercedes-Benz that finally managed to interest the public in their use. They began adding them to cars in 1984, and by the end of the decade many manufacturers were offering them as standard equipment.

The first known collision between two vehicles equipped with airbags happened in Virginia in 1990. Both cars were totaled in the wreck — but the drivers walked away with only minor injuries.

In 1991, Congress passed legislation requiring all cars built after 1998 to include airbags for both the driver and right-front passenger. Their increased use during the 1990s is believed to have saved nearly 5,000 lives. However, there were several notable instances where they might have directly caused fatalities, as well.

Manufacturers tackled this problem by developing variable-force deployment models, which tailors their release to the severity of the crash, the size of the occupant, and their proximity to the airbag. This, combined with the addition of as many as nine bags per automobile, has led to them being much safer.

Today, virtually every car on the road is equipped with at least some form of airbag, and driving continues to get safer even as there are more cars on the road. It’s never been less dangerous to be behind the wheel — so why don’t you text everyone you know and tell them about it?

How Airbags Work

Before we explain how airbags work, we should probably go over what, exactly, they’re intended to do. They’re actually designed as a supplementary restraint system, which means that they work in tandem with your seat belts to keep you from flying through the glove compartment in the event of a crash.

All that’s just a long way of saying: wear your seat belt. Just relying on an airbag is a great way to end up in a body bag.

When you get in a car accident, the first thing that happens is there’s a sudden drop in speed. An accelerometer in the airbag system detects this change in velocity, and if it’s significant enough, activates the airbags by passing an electrical current through a heating element.

This ignites a chemical explosive, which is just awesome. Originally, sodium azide was used, but now there are a variety of chemicals available. The explosion generates a tremendous amount of gas (insert your own joke here). This gas — usually nitrogen or argon — floods a nylon bag, which rapidly inflates.

The bag has small holes along the edges, because it needs to be able to deflate as rapidly as it blows up. If it didn’t, it would be like having your head smash into a brick wall — so, basically exactly like what would happen if you didn’t have an airbag at all. By the time your vehicle stops moving, the bag should be completely deflated — and you should hopefully be safe.

How To Check If Your Airbags Are In Good Shape

The thing about airbags is, you really can’t use them until you need them, and when you need them, you really need them to work. So, what are you supposed to do?

Most airbag scan tools check everything in the car’s onboard diagnostic system, so they should be able to tell you everything that’s happening with your car, from revealing the reason behind a “check engine” light to telling you to get an oil change. If your car’s airbag warning light is on, it can tell you why — as well as exactly what’s going on with it.

Unfortunately, there’s not a great way to check the status of the airbags themselves, short of hitting your bumper with a hammer. If there’s no warning light giving you cause for concern, then, well, you likely don’t have any cause for concern.

That being said, older airbags are more likely to be defective, so if you’re driving around a used car, you might want to have your mechanic take a look at them even if your warning light isn’t going off. Again, better safe than sorry, and you don’t want to find out the hard way that yours aren’t working properly.

It’s a good idea to run diagnostics on your car regularly anyway, and having an airbag scan tool can help you understand what’s going on under your hood — and how painful it’ll be to fix it.