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OBD stands for Onboard Diagnostic. OBDII is a system standardized for cars and light trucks manufactured in the United States in 1996 or later. Vehicle’s computer monitors emission system. When it detects a problem, it notifies a driver by illuminating Check Engine Light. All OBDII compliant vehicles have the same shape of connector called DLC (Data Link Connector) typically under the dash. The DLC is connected to vehicle’s computer. Auto Mechanics hook up OBD scan tools with DLC to find out the problem.
A decade ago, scan tools were very expensive and only for mechanic shop owners. But, now thanks to the advent of technology, you can use your smartphone as a sophissticated scan tool. All you need are a small adapter and mobile app.
There are many brands, and they have different prices and features. But, things in common are they all connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and work with an app installed on the smartphone. And here are typical features of Bluetooth OBD2 adapters.
- Read / Clear trouble codes – Vehicle’s computer can detect emission related problems and stores trouble codes when it happens. You can retrieve the codes with a short description. It helps you identify a cause of the problem. You can also clear codes and turn off Check Engine Light. Please note that majority of adapters and apps can retrieve only generic and manufacturer specific codes (Powertrain, Pxxxx).
- Freeze Frame Data – It’s a snapshot of sensors readings when a problem occurs. It helps you identify a cause of the problem which happens in a particular situation.
- I/M Readiness – Vehicle’s computer performs self-tests on some components. It takes a while to complete all tests. You can see each of them “Ready” or “Not Ready.” It won’t pass a state inspection if one or more tests are “Not Ready” (depending on the states.)
- Live Data – You can see real-time readings of supported sensors. Supported sensors vary from vehicles to vehicles. In general, newer cars are capable of showing more readings.
Here are popular Bluetooth OBD2 adapters.
BAFX Scan Tool is a long and best seller at amazon.com. It’s much bigger than other adapters. Its features are basic but compatible with many OBD apps like Torque, DashCommand, etc. And a company offers a two-year warranty and a great customer support. Unlike the other adapters listed in this post, BAFX is ROM (read only memory.) There is no firmware update. And it won’t work with iOS devices. You may see the same app in both Google Play Store and Apple Appstore such as DashCommand. BAFX works with DashCommand on Android but not with one on iOS devices. That’s because the hardware has not gone through the Apple certification process. So, it doesn’t work with any apps on iOS devices at all.
BlueDriver scan tool exclusively works with BlueDriver app. The app is available at Google Play Store and Apple Appstore (works with both Android and iOS devices.) A company, Lemur Vehicle Monitors, is very serious about vehicle diagnostic capability with their product. It offers several features that no other adapters do.
- Enhanced codes – Not only can you retrieve Pxxxx codes, but also Bxxxx, Cxxxx, Uxxxx for ABS, SRS, and transmission on GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, BMW, Mini and more in the future. The company is always working on adding the feature to more manufacturers.
- Mode 6 – Mode 6 is an advanced test result. (e.g. misfire counts) It’s useful when you diagnose intermittent problems that don’t generate trouble codes.
- Repair Reports – You can have access to repair reports generated on each trouble code for free. It contains possible causes, top or frequently reported fixes. Of course, you can get the same information by searching on the internet for yourself, but the reports are neat, and you can get them faster and easier. Currently, this feature is only available to users in the U.S. and Canada.
OBDLink MX has a small design. It provides faster screen updates on the apps. It works with an original app, OBDLink on Android, OBDwiz on Windows PC, and many 3rd party apps on Android. It’s not compatible with iOS devices. For supported GM models, you can open windows, door locks with an Android app, obdCANex. With enhanced PC diagnostic software, ScanXL, you can access to ABS, SRS, and transmission systems. It supports GM’s SW-CAN and Ford’s MS-CAN in addition to the five standard OBD2 protocols. If your vehicle doesn’t use SW-CAN or MS-CAN protocol, you may choose OBDLink LX ($50).
Unlike other OBD adapters, Automatic Pro is focused on vehicle tracking and trip logging. Once you set up in the Automatic app, it starts logging automatically. The adapter has a built-in 3G chip. So, the adapter can directly connect to 3G network without a smartphone. All records are stored in the cloud. With an account ID and password, you can access them on any devices from anywhere. It means you can track your car someone else is driving from your PC at home. The adapter is also a Bluetooth device. When it’s connected to your smartphone, you can read and clear trouble codes, enable Clash Alert, or use selected 3rd party apps. It also works with Amazon Alexa, IFTTT, Nest, Stringify, etc. It’s compatible with both Android and iOS devices. (See Also: Automatic Pro Car Adapter Review)
Kiwi 3 is the third generation of OBD adapter made by PLX Devices. A small and stubby adapter would never bother your driving wherever your car’s DLC was. And it’s one of few Bluetooth OBD adapters which works on both Android and iOS devices. It’s compatible with many 3rd party apps. It provides faster screen update. Except for that, it offers nothing special. The company is currently developing the original mobile app, Kiwi 6-in-1 OBDII App. You can see a demo here. It looks cool, but $40 is too expensive for a mobile app.
BAFX is a good entry level. But BAFX is not compatible with iOS devices. BlueDriver is specialized for vehicle diagnostics. BlueDriver is compatible with both Android and iOS. But it works exclusively with BlueDriver’s app. Currently, it can access to enhanced codes on GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, BMW, and Mini. OBDLink MX is very versatile. Not only is it compatible with regular OBD apps, but also obdCANex for remote-controlling GM vehicles and Scan XL- professional diagnostic software on Windows PC. OBDLink MX is not compatible with iOS devices. Automatic Pro features an automatic vehicle tracking and trip logging by using a built-in 3G chip. It also works with Amazon Alexa, IFTTT and connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth to use 3rd party apps such as OBD Fusion. Automatic Pro is compatible with both Android and iOS devices. Kiwi 3 is the smallest of all and as fast as OBDLink MX. Except for a compatibility with both Android and iOS devices, there is nothing special.