When you say “OBD Scan Tools”, what comes to your mind? For us, we remember the time when we heard those strange noises coming from the engine and saw the “Check Engine” light turns on. What could those mean? We realised that we just need an OBD scan tool, also known as an onboard diagnostics scanner, to work out what the issue is.
Of course, you can take your vehicle to any mechanic for him/her to run a diagnostic test. He may tell you that your vehicle has a faulty sensor, dust on the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), or even a loose fuel cap. But that can cost about $100 depending on the type of vehicle you’re driving.
Imagine having your own OBD or OBD2 scanner (called an EOBD scanner in Europe) that saves you that upfront cost. And, it will still point you towards the issues so you can fix it yourself or help your mechanic toward the problem quicker. That is value!
Now, let’s “pop the hood” and look at what’s under of these handy gadgets.
What Is an OBD2 Scan Tool?
An OBD2 scan tool (sometimes called an OBD2 reader) is a more advanced diagnostic tool for cars than the earlier version of OBD. While either is a car diagnostic scanner that taps into the vehicle’s computer system, an OBD2 scanner has more advanced technology and has additional features. To put it simply, older cars have OBD1 technology and newer cars have OBD2 technology.
But how “old” is OLD (or how “new” is NEW) when it comes to cars?
The earlier version of OBD (also called an OBD1) only supports vehicles manufactured on or before 2006 in Australia. Some older cars can be an OBD2 though. For example, all Jeeps produced from 1996 are of USA standards and thus OBD2.
Australia enacted into law that vehicles should be OBD2 compliant if manufacturers produced them after a certain year. In particular, 2007 (or onwards) models of petrol vehicles and 2008 (or onwards) model of Diesel vehicles need to comply with this law. So, if your car belongs to any of these categories, then it is safe to assume that your car has an OBD2 port.
OBD Scaners vs OBD2 Scanners
The older OBD scanners need to be devoted to a particular car. You can’t switch from one to another make or model. Also, even though an OBD1 easily plugs into your vehicle console, this device doesn’t provide a detailed code to answer why the “Check Engine” light popped on in the first place. So, while it might help you rule out a serious overall problem, this type of scanner doesn’t exactly tell you where exactly to look.
Good thing is that we have a scan tool that has a good range of OBD and OBD2 coverage and you can see that here.
On the other hand, OBD2 scanners enable you to look deeper into your vehicle’s systems and have more specific diagnostic features. Their code readers have more detail, providing a more accurate assessment and insight into what’s ailing your vehicle.
They are also more versatile, as these scanners can connect to your console either through a cord or using Bluetooth. And did we tell you they’re practically universal – supporting multiple manufacturers from 2006 (Australia) onward.
Where Is My OBD Port, and What Is It?
The OBD port is in your vehicle’s console. It allows you to plug in any OBD tool to retrieve information from your vehicle’s computer system. It has a standard 16-pin connector. You’ve likely seen it without realizing what it was.
An OBD device plugs into this location and your device may be wireless or not. You can check your vehicle manual, search the website of your vehicle manufacturer, or type your vehicle year, make, and model into an online tool such as this OBD port locator to help find it.
Often, you can spot the OBD port beneath the steering wheel above the pedals. It has to be within 50cm of the steering wheel. Look for that plastic flap covering it and you can remove this without tools. It could be in the fuse box as well.
Here, we’ve found the locations for some of the top-selling cars in Australia:
- Toyota Hilux (2015 and onward): Look underneath the console above the pedals.
- Ford Ranger T6 (2011 and onward): Go to the left of the steering wheel and remove the driver panel.
- Toyota Corolla E170 (2013 and onward): Look along the bottom of the console to the left of the steering wheel. Then, look to the right of the commands to adjust the mirrors.
- Hyundai i30 (2017 and onward): Open the fuse box, and it is to the left of the steering wheel.
What OBD Scan Tool Types Are Out There?
Manufacturers have created many onboard diagnostic tools. Even comparing the older OBD1 models with the updated OBD2 versions, you’ll find distinct features, as well as price variations.
The good news is you can choose from three basic types of OBD scan tools, depending on your needs. Here’s a basic overview:
Basic Code Reader
This is the bucks-basic, low-cost version. This scanner mainly checks the engine ECU to read data and check and clear fault codes. If something in your car has triggered the “Check Engine” light and a diagnostic trouble code (or DTC), a basic OBD2 scanner can pull up that code on a small screen if it is a handheld version. If you have a bluetooth OBD2 scan tool, it will come up on your phone.
You might have to check online to decipher the code. But if it relates to a minor issue, such as replacing a sensor or tightening the petrol cap, you might fix the problem yourself.
Trust us, this does not come in a box or require you to assemble it with duct tape, wire, and alligator clamps. Rather, this type of OBD2 scanner elevates the basic code scanner a few notches.
Some models connect to your car’s diagnostic port with a dongle and use an app on your smartphone, which acts as the screen on the basic scanner. (That’s the “DIY” part.) Other models are like the handheld code scanner but connect via Bluetooth or a cord.
In any case, they read your vehicle’s DTCs, clear those codes, and give you a live update of your fuel usage, average speed, average litres per gallon, and other statistics.
Professional OBD2 Scanner
This is the level of scanner that your dealership or auto body shop uses. Naturally, it costs more than the other types. However, if you’re a serious gearhead, you might want this top-of-the-line OBD2.
A professional OBD2 scanner comes with a variety of connectors so that it’s truly universal. Some can even perform diagnostics on commercial vehicles.
They also have advanced software and features. It includes the ability to program your engine control unit or ECU (also known as the engine control module) for optimum performance. Some even save data so you can compare your car’s performance in different categories.
What Are the Differences Between OBD Scan Tools?
All OBD scan tools, even OBD2 scanners and OBD2 Bluetooth tools, work from the same basic idea: translating the codes from your car’s computer. This will then let you decipher what’s happening when that “Check Engine” light appears.
Each vehicle has a computer that collects signals from many automotive systems, such as:
- ABS (anti-lock braking system)
- Power steering
- SRS (supplemental restraint system – a.k.a. the airbags)
If something isn’t working properly, the system signals the computer and the “Check” light will come on. As there are over 60 different computers in modern cars today, the “check light” could come from wherever there is an error. Thus, the value of these scanners.
Type of Detail
Whether you plug in an OBD2 code reader or link up a DIY scanner or use a professional model, all will display the code from whatever in the system needs attention. From there you can use the scan tool to look at some more data to try to work out what is going on and why you are getting this “check light”.
An entry-level code reader can pull up a code that tells you why your “Check Engine” light is on. Some models also can test the oxygen sensor and the I/M readiness, or emissions monitors.
A multi-system tool can diagnose and monitor sensors from various ECU systems in your vehicle. It also can retrieve ECU information, save and replay live data from these sensors, reset the oil, and perform other functions such as injector coding, DPF regeneration, etc.
Pricing that matches the features
The more features that your OBD device has, the higher the cost. The OBD-AUS Bluetooth OBD2 Scan Tool V4, considered a DIY scanner because it uses an app and Bluetooth to display your vehicle data, sells for $39.
This goes beyond the basic code reader, though. The app’s Fault Log Manager gives you a list of codes and definitions on which you can tap for more information. If you have no idea what “P0300 – Powertrain” means, you don’t have to fumble through a manual or head to Google. The app explains, “Random/Multiple Cylinder Misfire Detected” and elaborates on it.
At $59, the OBD-AUD HH Handheld OBD2 Scan Tool is a plug-and-play unit made for people who don’t want to use their phone and connect to Bluetooth. It is the most simple unit to use and will allow you to check and clear engine faults and also view engine data live.
A professional-level multi-system OBD scan tool such as the VT600 Full System Scan Tool can diagnose all makes and brands and allows for full system scans and some advanced features. It has additional functions such as resetting the oil with one button, adapting the battery after replacement, and reading anti-theft codes, and much more. It costs about $340.
List of Functions OBD Scan Tools Can Perform
OBD scan tools vary in function by manufacturer and model. The range of functions depends on how far you want to analyze your car’s nervous system.
A generic OBD2 tool can check through an engine’s codes and usually list emissions information. More advanced tools can have over 75 functions and tests on everything from the ABS to the air conditioning and more.
Here’s a list of some functions that OBD scanners can perform:
- Read engine codes
- Define engine codes
- Erase codes
- Test the on-board monitor system
- Provide status of I/M readiness
- Provide live data
- Check battery performance
- Test the oxygen sensor
- Check for smog
- Test the EVAP system (the ability to draw fuel vapour into the engine for combustion)
- Check traction control
- Check brakes
- Register the battery
- Calculate the air-fuel ratio
- Record the coolant temperature
- Note engine misfires
- Examine the SRS (airbags)
- Check the traction control
- Review the gearbox
- Examine the steering angle
- Reset the oil
- Check the aircon and heat
- Program the engine
- Look at the speed and RPM
- Check the torque
- Test the coolant
- Check the gas mileage
- Log trip information
- Log mileage and costs
- Suggest possible repairs and fixes
What OBD Scan Tool Should You Choose?
Choosing an OBD scan tool depends partly on how comfortable you are around a vehicle. If you’re the type of person who rolls up your sleeves and changes your oil regularly, then you’ll probably like something with more bells and whistles. You wouldn’t think of Googling engine codes or looking up definitions for those codes because you know what the reading for your car’s oxygen sensor or EVAP system should be.
Moreover, if you’re particularly handy, you’ll understandably feel proud if you find a code related to a loose gas cap or another fairly minor issue that you can fix and clear yourself. Imagine the money you’ll save by not visiting a mechanic’s shop for that diagnostic and repair.
Knowing what code triggered the “Check Engine” light isn’t a thorough diagnosis though. Any OBD scanner (OBD Scan Tools) is just a starting point for additional testing, not the end of the road. In addition, a code may tell you what circuit acted up, but it will not tell you why. Neither does a code by itself indicate the full nature of the problem.
Is OBD scanner you’re buying outdated?
You’ll also want to consider whether the OBD scanner you buy today will be outdated a year or so from now and how often you’ll use it. Some older code readers don’t even have the hardware to read faster data in cars and trucks manufactured past 2004, for example.
Sure, the manufacturer of a particular OBD scan tool might offer upgrades, but are they free for a limited time or will you need to purchase them annually?
If you take care of a fleet of vehicles or love tinkering under the hood, a DIY scanner or professional-grade OBD scanner might fit your needs perfectly. Yet, if you’re just curious whether your local shop is being honest or wanting to save yourself booking an appointment to click off the “Check Engine” light for something minor, a basic handheld scanner might suit you just fine.
It all comes down to how much money you think you’ll save in the long run with such a device and how often you’ll use it. If your car’s codes signal that you have a serious problem on your hands, you’ll still need to enlist the help of a pro, but an OBD scanner could help you point them in the right direction.