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This powerful Android tablet doubles as a car mechanic. Here's how it works

The Topdon Phoenix Lite 2 is a powerful automotive scanner that does a lot more than just read and clear trouble codes.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Topdon Phoenix Lite 2

Topdon Phoenix Lite 2 

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Topdon Phoenix Lite 2 is available from Amazon for $830.
  • It's a powerful automotive diagnostic platform with lots of high-end features, and the ability to do work that would otherwise require a mechanic.
  • The device is rather expensive, and comes with a significant learning curve.

Seeing the "check engine" light blink into existence on your car's dashboard can be a major annoyance, right? It's not just about the hassle of visiting a mechanic and the separation from your beloved vehicle, but also the looming dread of a potentially hefty bill.

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For the hands-on enthusiast, diving into car repairs not only saves money, but also brings the satisfaction of solving a problem. As cars evolve into increasingly complex machines, they often require specialized computers for diagnostics and repairs, presenting a challenge for the DIY enthusiast. Without the right tools by your side, navigating car repairs can be nearly impossible.

I've covered several automotive scan tools over the years, from the basic to the complex. I have now finally got the chance to take a look at a tool that redefines professional-level diagnostics: the Topdon Phoenix Lite 2. It's an Android-powered tablet engineered to communicate with both cars and trucks, and capable of handling complex repair tasks.

View at Amazon

Topdon Phoenix Lite 2 features

  • Base hardware:
    Android 10 tablet
    8-inch, 1280 x 800 touchscreen display
    Quad-core processor running at 2GHz
    2GB of RAM
    64GB ROM
    12600mAh battery allowing up to 24 hours of runtime
  • Automotive scanner features:
    Supports over 200 models (GM, Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes Benz, BMW, and more)
    Ability to read/clear trouble codes, access ECU (engine control unit) information, read vehicle VIN, view real-time data, and run active tests
    34 maintenance services, including oil reset, EPB (Electronic Parking Brake) reset, DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter), gear learning, suspension reset, throttle adaption, and windows calibration
    Dive deep into vehicle systems, including for the engine, transmission, airbags, ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), ESP (Electronic Stability Program), and TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System)
    The bi-directional scan tool enables a direct connection to the vehicle's ECU (Electronic Control Unit) for active testing and control features such as dashboard, windows, doors, sunroof, lights, and more 

At first glance, the Phoenix Lite 2 may resemble a standard tablet, but after firing it up, you quickly realize the power of this thing.

To start, simply plug the wireless Bluetooth dongle into the vehicle's OBD port. Be aware that finding this port in your vehicle may be a bit of a challenge, so you may need to look it up online. Once you've connected, you'll notice the data start to pour in.

The Bluetooth dongle.

The Bluetooth dongle.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The Phoenix Lite 2 can read and clear trouble codes, access in-depth data such as the operational speed of fuel injectors and how much air is being pulled through the engine, and lets you run advanced diagnostics and repair tasks on sunroofs, door locks, batteries, fans, coolant pumps, and dashboard gauges.

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The tool can go even deeper, allowing you to disable lost keys and add new keys, perform gearbox relearning, carry out fuel injector coding, and reset the steering angle to zero to keep the car driving in a straight line. Quite simply, the power in this one tablet is astounding.

Yes, this tablet is equipped with a camera!

Yes, this tablet is equipped with a camera!

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The battery life is surprisingly good; even after more than 10 hours of intensive use, including a battery-intensive software update, the tablet still retained approximately 60% of its charge.

Designed for more than just basic maintenance, this tool transcends the needs of casual DIYers who focus on tasks like topping up screen washer fluid and replacing wiper blades. This is a professional-grade tool designed for mechanics and avid DIYers who take vehicle maintenance and repair seriously.

Accessing some advanced data using the Topdon Phoenix Lite 2.

Accessing some advanced data using the Topdon Phoenix Lite 2.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Unlike other diagnostic tools, the Topdon Phoenix Lite 2 offers the freedom to work on an unlimited number of vehicles and comes with two years of free updates post-purchase.

ZDNET's buying advice

While the casual DIYer could get away with a much simpler – and cheaper – automotive scan tool, the Topdon Phoenix Lite 2 is aimed at those who want the ultimate tools on hand to carry out the sort of work you'd expect from a high-end garage. While the list price is $829, a special Amazon discount currently reduces your cost by $140, making it an even more attractive investment for those wanting to get serious about automotive diagnostics.

Admittedly, there's a learning curve. However, mastering this tool unlocks diagnostic and repair capabilities for virtually any vehicle on today's roads.

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