The 1990’s were famous for a lot of things. Pop culture had really started to shoot off from its roots, mobile phones were starting to become a reality and the internet made its way into households. Similarly, the automotive world got some good news as well. Although computers have been seen in cars since the early eighties, beginning in the year 1996, all vehicles sold in the U.S. started getting computers which can be diagnosed using OBDII scanners. These onboard computers which are more commonly known as ECU or PCM changed the way we took care of our cars. There was no need for trial and error anymore, the onboard computer could detect any problem in the car and signal the driver directly of the problem. However, drivers soon realized that there was a problem with diagnosis. The PCM talks in codewords, which are only understood by a special device.
These special devices were bought by mechanics so they could get a clue of what was really happening in a car. Devices known as OBDII scanners started experiencing a rise in demand.
What Are OBDII Scanners?
OBDII scanners are devices that can be connected to a vehicle to gather information regarding ECU/PCM failures. The PCM sends a code to the scanner which is displayed on its screen. The code can look something like P0401 which is oxygen sensor failure. Just like this code, there are hundreds of others that tell a different story. To learn what the code means you need to have a code library with you. Sometimes, you can find a code list in your car’s user manual. Otherwise, you can search the internet to download a detailed list. Alternatively, you can buy a code scanner that has its own pre-downloaded library.
How Does an OBD II Scanner Help?
OBDII scanners are a gift from God for DIY mechanics. It’s like having your very own mechanic at home. Any problem from the engine to transmission to brakes can be diagnosed by using DTCs (Diagnostic Trouble Codes.) These codes can be retrieved with a simple code reader.
The power to diagnose problems in your car allows you to save a lot of money. Normally, mechanics charge you a hefty fee just to perform a diagnosis. If there is a problem with your car, there will probably be the talk of more money. You might think that these devices are costly, but you are wrong. Most people are unaware of the fact that simple code readers are pretty cheap.
You could, in fact, buy one for under $20. So, if your repair is not worth a visit to the mechanic and if you can deal with it yourself. An OBDII scanner, while more expensive than a simple code reader, can help you out a lot.
Types of OBDII Scanners
We talked about the rise of technology earlier, well it never really stopped. Once we had OBDII scanners, we were bound to get a better variation of the product. Fortunately, we did get variations in the form of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi ready code scanners.
Conventional OBDII scanners
The conventional code scanner is attached to the car via a dedicated cable. Without the cable, you are unable to perform any diagnosis. There are some scanners that are powered via the cable which takes power from the car’s battery, but there are some that need external batteries. Therefore, before you buy any scanner, first check if it requires batteries or if it can work with the cable.
Conventional OBDII scanners range in price form $50 that a DIY mechanic could find helpful to thousands of dollars for professional level scanners that have advanced features that a DIY mechanic will likely not comprehend.
Check out this conventional OBDII scanner.
This is a moderate priced scan tool that not only reads engine codes and data, but also SRS and ABS. It is capable of freeze frame, playback and live data.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
A great affordable option for an OBDII scanner is an Bluetooth of WI-FI Interface. These OBDII Interface devices can be linked directly to your smartphone app where you can receive the specific code that is causing the Check Engine Light to light up. These apps already have a code library downloaded in them and even if it isn’t pre-downloaded, you can always download from the internet. Using Bluetooth scanners allows you to move around without worry of any wires restricting your movement.
At a fraction of the cost of a conventional OBDII scanner, a wireless interface using apps available for your smartphone have amazing abilities and will not only give you the codes and descriptions, but will give you the readings from the various sensors on today’s cars. The better apps offer display options displaying these readings in a gauge style format. This display makes it very user friendly for the DIY mechanic.
Android Vs iPhone
While this is actually a sub-category of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi interfaces, it is more of a comparison so we are stating it separately.
Android and iOS are the two major operating systems in the world of mobile phones. When we talk about code scanners being wireless we are talking about the scanner being able to connect to a wireless dongle on the car via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to your smartphone via an app. It doesn’t really matter which operating system your mobile belongs to when it comes to connectivity, but when it comes to apps you might see some difference. While one operating system might have more apps supporting code scans the other might have less.
Also, a transmitting device made to respond to one operating system (such as iOS) might not respond to another. My personal experience is that iOS works best with WI-FI, whereas Android works well with bluetooth. Therefore, before you make your choice, consider your options. Here is one that is rated pretty highly on Amazon and works with both iOS and Android. You can get a bluetooth interface for Android here. For a bluetooth interface that works with iOS and Android there are options, however, they tend to be a bit pricey.
The BlueDriver is an example of professional level OBDII scanners.
It is licensed and certified for iOS and Android. Additionally the app for this interface is free.
Some examples of iOS apps include OBD Auto Doctor, OBD Car Doctor , Car Scanner OBD Fusion, DashCommand, etc. In comparison, Android app options include Torque Pro, Dash Command, OBD Auto Doctor, OBD Car Doctor, DashCommand, etc. As you can see, some apps are OS specific and others are not.
Smartphone Apps VS Conventional OBDII Scanners
You might have seen your elders debate on length about which is better; modern technology which is complicated, or old technology which is pretty easy to understand and operate. Frankly, both have their advantages and disadvantages. But is it really better to stay with old and outdated technology? There is only one way to find out and that is through comparison.
As stated earlier, the wireless interface is a much more affordable version of an OBDII scanner.
Another advantage modern technology has over conventional OBDII scanners is that the need for wires have been eliminated. Conventional OBDII scanners are connected to the car via special cable without which any diagnosis is impossible. Bluetooth ready OBDII scanners require no cables and can work remotely from some distance as well. So, you don’t have to sit in one place awkwardly waiting for the diagnosis to happen.
Vast Code Libraries
As discussed above, code readers are only scanning the code, it is up to you to look up the code in the code library to learn about the problem in your car. Simple code readers either don’t have a library or you have to download one in them. Smartphone connected code scanners either have a pre-downloaded library in them or you can download one in them. There is absolutely no restriction when it comes to storage space. You can download as many libraries as you want and you won’t be crying for space.
The future is here. If you are not already embracing it you will be left behind so it is better to get on the bandwagon and enjoy the journey.
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