What Is The Best Automotive Oscilloscope? – 2020 Reviews
Finding the best automotive oscilloscope isn’t difficult, as these devices often get used when running diagnostic tests. Automotive oscilloscopes generally come with helpful presets and accessories that make measuring signals and testing circuits relatively easy.
- What is an Automotive Oscilloscope?
- What Can an Oscilloscope Detect and Measure?
- Our Top Recommended Oscilloscopes
- 1. LIUMY Professional LED Handheld Oscilloscope Multimeter
- 2. Aiteme Tablet Oscilloscope
- 3. SainSmart DSO212 Pocket Size Portable Handheld Mini Digital Storage Oscilloscope
- 4. SainSmart Mini DSO213 Handheld Pocket-Sized Digital Storage Oscilloscope
- 5. YEAPOOK ADS5012h Handheld Digital Portable Oscilloscope
- 6. Hantek 2D72 Handheld Oscilloscope
- 7. Micsig Digital Tablet Storage Oscilloscope
- 8. Hantek 2 CH DSO1062B Digital Handheld Oscilloscope Multimeter
- What makes an oscilloscope ideal for automotive applications?
- How accurate is my oscilloscope? Does it matter how accurate it is?
- Is an oscilloscope with a color display better than a black and white display?
- Should I get an oscilloscope and “scan tool” combination device?
- Is a scientific oscilloscope better than a handheld automotive oscilloscope?
- Final Thoughts
What is an Automotive Oscilloscope?
An oscilloscope is a type of highly sensitive voltmeter that many find useful for troubleshooting powered systems in an automobile. These systems include working with solenoids, sensors, actuators, different types of ignitions, and other data.
The oscilloscope picks up on electrical inconsistencies in how these components communicate and display that data as numbers or a graph. The level of detail for this information varies based on the oscilloscope, and more expensive versions tend to have better displays.
An oscilloscope is a valuable tool for troubleshooting your vehicle as it can help you locate issues in one of the many central systems. Depending on the oscilloscope that you use, you’ll get different levels of detail, and it’ s these bits of data that help you pinpoint the root cause of the issues.
Specialized automotive oscilloscopes are available, but various oscilloscopes will work as you troubleshoot your car. Automotive oscilloscopes are also called engine analyzers, automotive lab scopes, or motor-testers.
These devices work well when a multimeter is too slow to pick up on changing signals or when components have stopped working, and the system isn’t functioning normally. Most products for consumers have these components and systems, but their complexity varies.
What Can an Oscilloscope Detect and Measure?
Since an oscilloscope is a sensitive diagnostic instrument, you can measure a number of different things once a signal gets picked up. The graph displayed on the oscilloscope will tell you how much of the current is DC versus AC, and how much noise is part of the signal.
A good oscilloscope will also tell you how the noise portion of a signal changes over time and the frequency of that signal. You can also determine the voltage of a signal and whether or not a specific component is altering the signal.
Sometimes, a failing component will cause a signal to distort. Using an oscilloscope, you can run tests until you find all parts of a given system that communicate electronically within a circuit.
An oscilloscope is also useful for looking at different parts of a single signal, and you can look at individual chunks and compare them to other portions of the same signal. At its most basic, an oscilloscope will show you a signal as a graph and how it changes over time.
Some oscilloscopes will also use brightness to illustrate the strength of a signal, and on the display, this is typically the z-axis. Colored oscilloscopes often have this feature, and color gradients make it easy to decipher this information on the display.
Oscilloscopes can also detect and measure sound if you have a transducer, but this rarely gets used for automotive purposes.
Quick Picks: Compare 2020’s Best Automotive Oscilloscopes
Our Top Recommended Oscilloscopes
Oscilloscopes can be high quality or full of features, and our list includes excellent options well suited for automotive applications with plenty of useful functions.
1. LIUMY Professional LED Handheld Oscilloscope Multimeter
The LIUMY Professional LED Handheld Oscilloscope Multimeter is a basic handheld unit that is easy to use and works as both an oscilloscope and multimeter.
- Stores up to 100 sets of measurements
- High contrast LCD with backlighting is easy to see
- Built-in stand for easy viewing while testing
- Real-time sampling maxes out at 200ksps
- Screen resolution could be higher
- Waveform distorts over 2500rpm
The LIUMY Professional LED Handheld Oscilloscope Multimeter comes with two test leads, a portable bag, and a clear and thorough user manual that many buyers find very helpful as they use this device. This device features several buttons and a dial so that you can test a variety of functions using either the multimeter or the oscilloscope.
The display on this device is a dot-matrix graphic LCD that is 128 x 64, and the dimensions of this product are 186mm x 100 mm x 45mm, which means it fits nicely in hand and fits easily in smaller spaces around your car as you test various functions. The built-in stand makes it easy to prop this device up for optimal viewing as you work.
2. Aiteme Tablet Oscilloscope
The Aiteme Tablet Oscilloscope can connect to your computer and features a color screen, which makes it ideal for those who want a more modern device.
- Rechargeable battery lasts for 4 hours
- High-resolution color display
- Features a USB port so it can easily connect to other devices
- Small enough to take with you anywhere
- It takes 5 hours to charge the battery fully
The Aiteme Tablet Oscilloscope has a built-in 6000mAh high-performance lithium battery that lasts for four hours on a single charge. The TFT LCD color display is an impressive 7-inches for comfortable viewing with a resolution of 800×480 with high contrast. This tablet also has a USB port so you can connect it to other devices or accessories.
This tablet oscilloscope has a high-voltage protection feature that prevents burnout and other accidents as you work. You can also take screenshots and use auto settings for functions you use often. When you connect this device to a computer or other smart device, you can transfer screenshots and run a further analysis.
3. SainSmart DSO212 Pocket Size Portable Handheld Mini Digital Storage Oscilloscope
The SainSmart DSO212 is an ultra-portable device ideal for those who need an oscilloscope on the go or for occasional use.
- 2.8 inch TFT display with vibrant colors
- 8mb storage built-in for storing pictures and other data
- Intuitive touchscreen display that responds to swipes and taps
- Small enough to fit in your pocket and go anywhere
- Difficult to measure waveforms at lower bandwidths
For a smaller pocket-sized device that still offers a color screen, the SainSmart DSO212 is ideal for many users. This device is easy enough to use for automotive applications but is sensitive enough for some academic experiments and other general electronics maintenance.
Although this device is smaller, it features a micro USB port, so you connect it to your computer or another device. This unit also has two thumbwheels, two signal input ports, and one wave out port.
The size of this device allows you to take it anywhere and it’ ss open source so you can tweak the firmware if needed. The menus are also easy to navigate, and it comes with a variety of replacement parts and accessories.
4. SainSmart Mini DSO213 Handheld Pocket-Sized Digital Storage Oscilloscope
The ultra-mini SainSmart pocket oscilloscope is excellent for taking anywhere you go, and it offers two channels for those who switch between digital and analog input.
- Two analog and two digital input ports
- Max sample rate of 100MSa/s
- Touchscreen operation
- Built-in 8mb of flash-based storage
- Defaults to its factory settings each time it’s turned off
The SainSmart Mini DSO213 is an upgrade compared to the DS203 model and an excellent mini size for whenyou’ree traveling. This device has a 3-inch display with high resolution so you can easily read it as you work with your car, in a workshop, or the classroom.
This oscilloscope is ideal for hobbyists, and you can use the USB port to connect it to a computer or another smart device. There are also two analog input ports and two digital input ports, so you have several options to choose from in addition to the thumbwheels and buttons on the top.
Unlike other oscilloscopes on the market, this device features a screen with several colors instead of the traditional two. This oscilloscope is also open source so you can adjust the firmware and make other tweaks if you wish or use it without making changes.
5. YEAPOOK ADS5012h Handheld Digital Portable Oscilloscope
The YEAPOOK handheld digital oscilloscope is a simple one-channel device with a color display and ideal for quick diagnostic tests on your car.
- A real-time sampling rate of 500MSa/s
- TFT LCD that measures 2.4 inches
- The ultra-small size makes it easy to transport in a pocket
- Built-in 64mb of flash-based storage
- Preset modes may cut off part of the signal displayed on the graph
The YEAPOOK handheld oscilloscope is a single channel device that uses real-time sampling and can store up to 2000 waves. This device has 64mb of flash-based storage and connects to any computer or other device for further analysis. The package includes a micro USB cable for transferring data and two probes.
This device also has anti-voltage protection that prevents burn-in and a 2.4 inches color LCD with a resolution of 320 x 240, which is suitable for its size. This colored screen is easy to see while you work on your car, and this device has several trigger modes to make running diagnostic tests easier.
You’ll also find that the high visibility yellow housing makes this device hard to lose, and it’s assortment of buttons on the display make it easy to navigate through menus and presets quickly as you work.
6. Hantek 2D72 Handheld Oscilloscope
The Hantek 2D72 handheld oscilloscope is a 3-in1 device ideal for hobbyists that want to avoid transporting several devices for their diagnostic tests.
- 250 million sampling rate on a single channel, 125 million on a dual-channel
- Automatic measuring functionality
- Built-in digital multimeter function
- Recharges using the power cable, or the USB cable
- It takes 2 hours to charge fully
The Hantek 2D72 handheld oscilloscope has a more vintage-looking design and a color screen for easy viewing. This device has a built-in stand and uses either replaceable batteries, or requires charging. A fully charged battery will power this device all day, and recharging takes 2 hours.
You can charge this device while using it, and it draws power from either the power cord or the USB when it’s connected to a computer or phone. This easy to carry oscilloscope has several automatic functions and measuring presets, and you can also adjust the backlighting of the screen and the auto-off time to save the battery.
This oscilloscope is a 3-in-1 device that functions as an oscilloscope, multimeter, and waveform generator so you can run several diagnostic tests and take different measurements easily.
7. Micsig Digital Tablet Storage Oscilloscope
The Micsig Digital Tablet oscilloscope features more ports than other devices and a color display that makes it an ideal choice for automotive applications and other hobbies.
- Features a USB port, mini USB, HDMI, and LAN ports
- Comes with a rugged protective case
- 8-inch color LCD screen
- Includes software for Wi-Fi and HDMI usage
- Instructions for FTP access are only online
The Micsig Digital Tablet oscilloscope has a more modern look with its rugged blue case and full 8inch color LCD with a resolution of 800 x 600pizels. This device measures 250mm x 210mm x 55mm and features a rechargeable battery and carrying strap.
This oscilloscope has four channels and a sample rate of 1GSa/s. Unlike other devices, this oscilloscope comes with an HDMI port, LAN port, USB, and mini USB port with a protective rubber seal that keeps out debris when the ports aren’t in use.
The lower noise threshold on this device is less than 1mV, which is lower than many other devices so you can get measurements with a higher level of accuracy and less overall distortion. There are also 31 presets for automatic measurements, and this device can measure up to five measurements simultaneously.
8. Hantek 2 CH DSO1062B Digital Handheld Oscilloscope Multimeter
The Hantek 2 CH Digital Handheld Oscilloscope features enough preset functions for most automotive applications, but it is useful for a broader range of diagnostic tests.
- Built-in stand for easy viewing, and a rugged handle
- Button controls that are clearly labeled
- Two channels and a real-time sampling rate of 1GSa/s
- The display is not very colorful
- Button labels wear off over time
The Hantek digital handheld oscilloscope and multimeter is another combination device that features a more rugged handled design and operates using pushbuttons with clear labels. This device uses a real-time sampling of 1GSa/s for more accurate measurements and features a 5.6-inch color display with a resolution of 640 x 480.
You can select from different modes when using this device, including voltage, resistance, current, capacitance, continuity, and diode, which is much more than a standalone oscilloscope, can accurately measure. You’ll also find that this device is small enough to fit in your hand or a large pocket and measures 245mm x 163mm x 52mm.
This oscilloscope combination device also has a number of automatic measurement functions to choose from and the ability to place the cursor for custom measurements on the graph. You can also upgrade the firmware on this device, so it has more bandwidth for a broader range of applications.
While it’s tempting to buy a more complex oscilloscope for working on your car, those complex machines might make it more challenging to run standard diagnostic tests. Read our list of frequently asked questions to see what makes a great oscilloscope and what device is perfect for your needs.
What makes an oscilloscope ideal for automotive applications?
The best automotive oscilloscope is an easy to use, one or two-channel oscilloscope. Although it might seem simple, it’s the best diagnostic tool for automotive applications, and these devices can pick up readings and voltage from all kinds of sensors and components in your vehicle.
A two-channel oscilloscope is more detailed than a single channel, and these devices are well suited for automotive applications because they are easy to use.
Some oscilloscopes feature designs explicitly intended for automotive purposes, and these devices have useful presets and accessories that make performing specific diagnostic tasks more manageable. An automotive oscilloscope will also have a minimum, and maximum detection levels that are well suited for automotive jobs and the frequency ranges you are most likely to see.
An automotive oscilloscope is also generally a smaller device, so you can carry it with you quickly and stash it in a small space while you work on the car. Some signals will come across as a “single-shot” while others are more repetitive, and when using an automotive oscilloscope, the display you to see these wavelengths clearly.
Many oscilloscopes not labeled for automotive purposes feature designs intended for more general use. These features mean that you’ll have to do more set up when you turn it on than you would with an automotive oscilloscope. You may also need to alter the display settings so you can see the graph or adjust how you use the leads for the frequencies you’ll find.
How accurate is my oscilloscope? Does it matter how accurate it is?
Oscilloscopes get used for a wide variety of purposes, and the ones suited for automotive applications are accurate but not as precise as a highly scientific machine used in a laboratory or medical setting. It’s essential to use the right kind of oscilloscope for the job at hand, or you’ll need to be well-versed in how to set it up correctly for your application.
For many automotive applications, you’re determining if a signal exists or if a signal originates from where you’d expect. While there are more complicated things you can search for, basic automotive applications that test sensors, or detect voltage do not need to be terribly accurate.
If you want to get a more accurate reading, you’ll be able to get an automotive oscilloscope with a higher sampling rate. A higher sampling rate means that the device is sampling the signal in a circuit a greater number of times. There are generally two types of sampling, real-time, and equivalent-time, with the real-time one much preferred for automotive applications.
Equivalent sampling is most useful for periodic signals as it takes fewer measurements each second and patches together a snapshot of the signal. This method doesn’t gather enough data to reveal the amplitude or duration of energy in a consistent signal like you will find in a car.
Real-time sampling takes many different readings each second to determine a more accurate measurement of the signal. A good oscilloscope will take about 20 million samples each second for automotive diagnostic applications, but the exact number of samples will vary from one unit to another.
Is an oscilloscope with a color display better than a black and white display?
A color display is not a requirement for getting accurate and helpful data from an oscilloscope, but it can make it easier for you to see the results as you work. A color display is a feature present with most modern oscilloscopes intended for automotive use, but you can easily use a black and white version and get the same results.
Many individuals prefer color coding as it helps them see the data more clearly at a glance. The graph and numbers also look more aesthetically pleasing on the screen and when you offload them onto a computer where you can perform more analysis.
Higher-resolution screens and oscilloscopes can detect smaller amounts of voltage, which is helpful during automotive diagnostic tests and often easier to see on a color screen.
Should I get an oscilloscope and “scan tool” combination device?
Most oscilloscopes with a built-in scan tool are tempting to hobbyist users, but unfortunately, you usually can’t operate both of the tools at once. Having both of these devices within the same unit might save you on space, but it may also render both devices less effective as they try to operate using the same internal circuit board.
If you plan to use both devices equally, it’s worth it to invest in a good quality version of each one so you can be sure they aren’t interfering with your ability to get accurate and detailed readings of the systems in question. Also, if one of these components break in a combination device, and you end up replacing it, you’ll have two separate units anyway.
If you want to have a combination device, make sure to get a higher quality model with higher real-time sampling rates and lower noise thresholds to limit the signal’s distortion and improve the accuracy of your measurements.
Is a scientific oscilloscope better than a handheld automotive oscilloscope?
The type of oscilloscope you use will largely depend on what you intend to use it for and how complex or sensitive the instrument needs to be to work for that application.
Scientific oscilloscopes are not usually a good option for automotive applications as the process of learning how to use them is lengthy, and they are often cumbersome to use in smaller spaces like next to a car.
It’s also worth noting that these more sophisticated machines are generally much more than you need for diagnosing the majority of automotive issues. Oscilloscopes can come with up to ten channels, but you’ll only need one or two for most work in your car.
It’s also worth noting that most of these more complex scientific oscilloscopes do not have presets for automotive-style measurements which means you’ll be doing a lot of extra work to set them up and get the data that you need. These scientific oscilloscopes typically do not include necessary adaptors that are useful, and the data they provide can prove overwhelming.
Our list of oscilloscopes features many options that are perfect for automotive applications, and a few more advanced options that can work in other scenarios.
The best automotive oscilloscope has ample presets for the most common diagnostic tests, so you can quickly turn it on and get started without much learning or training involved. It’s also best to choose a device with a color screen that is easy to see while you’re working, and it does not hurt to have a USB port if you want to export screenshots.