What is an OBD Scanner?

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In today’s world, new technology is being introduced continuously. So it’s no wonder that today’s drivers are now able to take advantage of advances in OBD2 scanning technology previously only accessible by professional automotive mechanics with expensive diagnostic equipment.

But not all OBD2 scanners are created equal. Read on for an in-depth analysis of this handy technology and what it can do for your vehicle and your wallet.

What Exactly is OBD2?

OBD-II or Onboard Diagnostics 2 is a protocol that helps reveal the state of your car using a diagnostic scanner. But this is just one of the many useful functions this technology enables.

The OBD-II standardized system is installed in both cars and light trucks and is mostly used for self-diagnostics. The software monitors and regulates your vehicle’s various functions.

phone adapter

At the same time, it also helps maintain the overall health of your car by sending commands to various systems and can also self-correct anomalies in the vehicle’s ignition and fuel mixture.

Auto technicians and owners use an OBD-II scanner device to understand the data the system gathers. It can provide data about your car’s air temperature, coolant, crankshaft and camshaft, position, road speed, and throttle as well as engine RPM.

There are two different types of OBD scanners currently on the market: Code readers and Scan tools.

OBD2 Code Readers

Code readers are an inexpensive no-frills device that can read and clear codes from your car. While this device may be cheap, it does have limitations. First off, it can’t access certain types of data and secondly, it does not contain all the information for specific manufacturer codes.

OBD2 Scan Tools

Scan tools cost more than code readers, however, these gadgets are equipped with a variety of features that code readers don’t have. They provide comprehensive access to live and recorded data, can facilitate advanced troubleshooting options and are able to read manufacturer-specific codes.

How the scanner functions depends on its type. For example, a code reader scanner can only read and clear codes where a scan tool can view stored and live data among other things.

All of these scanners have basic features, but some are designed to offer more functions such as: providing access to more information, checking pending codes, customize a list of parameters, and set up PIDs.

Even if they don’t really know what to do with a code reader, many car owners enjoy having one as they think the car’s computer should be able to handle any anomaly without anyone having to do anything.

However, although the OBD2 system does have a few self-correct functions, it won’t be able to solve all the issues of your car. Which is where the scanner comes in. This device gives you more detailed information about what is actually wrong with your vehicle beyond a simple code.

The International Check Engine Symbol

The check engine light is part of your vehicle’s onboard diagnostics system. The car’s computer controls and monitors vehicle performance, regulating variables like engine speed, fuel mixture, and ignition timing, and in today’s cars, it even tells the automatic transmission when to shift.

When your car’s computer finds a problem in the electronic control system that it can’t fix itself, it turns on the dashboard warning indicator which usually says “check engine” “service engine soon” or “check powertrain” or just “check.”

As well as turning on the light – also called the International Check Engine Symbol – the computer stores a trouble code in its memory that identifies the problem’s source, such as a faulty sensor or misfiring engine.

A scan tool reads this code – they’re standard equipment in mechanics or automotive repair shops. But these days you can buy an inexpensive code reader and scan tool in one that enables you to find out a lot more information about the problem and make a more informed decision about what you need to do, based on the severity of the issue.

Paying a mechanic to diagnose the problem for you can often cost around $100, with the actual repairs on top of that. So it makes sense to invest in a gadget like GOFAR which you can leave in your car and use a free app to constantly monitor your car’s health.

That way, you only incur the cost of the mechanic when professional repairs are required. Quite often the GOFAR device lets you turn off the check engine light yourself.

How to Use OBD2 Scanners

An ODB scanner is easy to use. While different models provide a variety of functions; the basic process of using a scanner is fairly simple.

Just follow the procedure below:

1. First, make sure the power of your vehicle is turned off and the scanner is plugged into the OBD2’s data link connector or port. You’ll generally find the connector below your vehicle’s control panel.
Because the onboard diagnostics device is a standardized system, all its scanners use the same connector type –  an “SAE J1962”.
After you plug the scanner into your car’s device system, the scanner will start functioning.
2. Second, turn your car on and wait for the scanner to boot up. If the scanner doesn’t initialize automatically, press the power button.
3. When the scanner is ready, input all of the required data: information about your car’s Vehicle Information Number (VIN), engine, type, model, etc.
4. Next, allow the device to read or scan your car. Find the button to initiate this process. You can check the manual if more information is needed.
5. After scanning your car’s systems, the scanner will deliver a single trouble code or several codes. Using Bluetooth, you can transfer the data to your mobile phone. There are devices that do all this automatically.
6. Using the scanner’s manual, check the trouble-codes to find out what they mean.
The majority of manuals will only provide basic codes. Therefore, if you are unable to find a specific DTC code, you can always check the internet. You can find many supplemental codes available for various car models.
7. After recording the codes, turn your vehicle off, and unplug your scanner (unless it’s a leave-in device like a GOFAR).

Good Rules to Follow

Even though some scanner models are very durable, you should still use caution when utilizing the system since an onboard diagnostic tool can malfunction.

The following are some dos and don’ts:

  • Read the manual – This may be a comprehensive guide to using the scanner device, but it is still recommended that you read the manual that came with your scanner tool.
  • Use it with care –  Always be gentle, when connecting the universal connector to your device. While an OBD2 adapter is not usually fragile, the 16-pinned plug is very delicate and the pins could bend easily if you try to force them in.
  • Use it when the car is running –  Always make sure your car is turned on when using the scanner to avoid corrupting the software.

Having your car checked or repaired in a car repair shop will cost way more than being able to check up or repair it yourself.

Not all vehicle issues are bad enough that you need to take your car to a garage for repairs, and the device won’t solve every minor issue.

Therefore, whether you know how to repair cars or are good at troubleshooting vehicles, connecting to your car using your phone and GOFAR will help save you time and money.

And that’s not all. GOFAR also tracks your mileage, helps you avoid speeding and parking tickets and even saves you money on fuel consumption. Contact GOFAR today and learn more.

Danny Adams sitting in a chair with a laptop

Danny Adams

Co-founder of GOFAR and with a Computer Science background from Harvard University, and a Bachelor of Aerospace, Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering (Honours), UNSW. I want to transform data from cars into useful services so -> drivers save time & money -> emissions fall -> Australian roads are safer. So we built an ATO-compliant logbook app called GOFAR. I write to help you understand how to use GOFAR to maximise business travel. Reach out via support@gofar.co.

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This content is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice from GOFAR. We recommend consulting with an independent legal, taxation, or financial expert to ensure the information is applicable to your specific situation. Please note that relevant regulations and laws may evolve over time.
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