Is it true that mechanics can just plug into a computer to tell what’s wrong with a car?
Can vehicle owners used the same systems, such as Fixd or BlueDriver to diagnose their own cars?
It’s a surprisingly common question that mechanics get asked and it also leads into some really interesting history about modern cars and OBDii.
OBDii is a relatively modern invention that came about due to the state of California in the mid-90’s, though we’ll get to that shortly. Through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s vehicles became more and more computer oriented and manufacturers started installing proprietary on-board diagnostic ports.
In the early days, these ports were not regulated at all, and many independent workshops would struggle to diagnose these vehicles effectively, causing lost time and dissatisfied owners. In addition to this, with each new model year, a new computer-based system was added, with increasing complexity and added difficulty in diagnosing a car.
With the rapidly changing automotive industry at the time, the need to readily monitor vehicle emissions and the rising risk of anti-competition practices looming, California took action by introducing legislation for an OBD system (on-board diagnostics). This legislation was a broad but covered some simple, important diagnostic practices in order to bring the automotive industry into line.
However, OBD was quickly realised to be a failure due to the broad nature of the legislation. For example, the only trouble codes that were able to be read were pre-recorded/history codes and the guidelines to the type of OBD port needed were too broad, meaning manufacturers could still use proprietary ports that wouldn’t work well for independent mechanics.
The Californian government quickly jumped into action though, revising the legislation in the mid 90’s with OBDii. OBDii was a huge improvement and required manufacturers to fit standardised access ports with standardised communication methods to all cars. This was a godsend to independent mechanics who could once again had access to the same diagnostic tools as their dealership counterparts.
This brings us to today. With the continued influence of the ODBii system and the increase in access to technology, mechanics and vehicle owners now have far more tools to assist in diagnosing cars effectively.
But are OBDii access ports all they’re cracked up to be?
Realistically, the diagnostic codes that are accessed through the computer are just a guide. This means that they may point at a problem engine sensor that is actually a caused by a faulty wire.
This is a large problem for mechanics and vehicle owners as the information provided by these tools is valid but may not be accurate, causing frustration and lost time.
If you have a car and you would like more accurate, live data about your car and suggestions of a problem, invest in an OBDii access port like the Fixd or BlueDriver. If you have genuine issues with your car, it might be worth while to call one of our honest mechanics.