Friday, December 27, 2013

My Personal Views on USB vs Hand Held OBD II Code Readers

As a typical  home mechanic, I enjoy working on my car and when I have the spare time I do whatever maintenance I can on it. I've had check engine lights come on before and have had the pleasure of using multiple types of OBD II code scanners in order to figure out what was wrong with my car.

The first one I used was one I found at Wal-Mart for $56 after tax and didn't do too much. It displayed the codes to me and I could browse the other codes and erase them. If I wanted to re-read the codes I would simply click a button again (a total of three buttons were on the reader) and it would display any codes again. That was it. For $56 I felt that this was a little too basic for me and all I needed it for was a one time read, so I took it back after I figured out what the codes meant, since the OBD II code reader didn't tell me.

Then, I tried a buddies ebay OBD II code reader. He didn't specifically say it was from ebay, but it was very much like the one I had, but smaller and a more tacky setup. He plugged it in and said it was weird because it had actually given him "F" before the codes, which he "never saw before" but if I had to guess, it simply meant that the code was FORD code (the codes can sometime vary between different makes of car) and considering I have a Mustang, that made sense to me. His code reader also decided to make up a P0000 code, which I couldn't find on any type of database nor manage to bring up on any other OBD II code scanner. However, it did let you scroll through the codes and clear them, much like the one I bought from ebay. Same basic setup and abilities, although I'm sure he paid about half of what I did for mine.

After I sent my friend on his way and fixed the problem (or so I thought) I managed to still have a code or two left (there were a few codes strung together due to an important fuse blowing) so I tried to find a cheap reader I could order. I wasn't going to drive my car again for a few days, so it could sit while I waited for the new one to come (and save $$$!). I searched ebay and found tons of the USB OBD II cables and decided, "Hey, if I can find some pretty good software, why not?!" so that's what I did. Even though the majority of the USB OBD II cables come with software, they are usually limited or trials. Also, the sellers are all Chinese sellers and if they're located in the U.S., I guarantee they are reselling the Chinese cables -- my seller was! The cable came pretty quick and I recommend you buy from a U.S. seller, although you'll pay more obviously, but that's up to you.

So the day came that I got my cable and I was thrilled. I checked out the included software and Googled all I could for free software and it seems that the free stuff you can get is very limited, usually to the point where you can't even clear the Check Engine Light, although it will tell you what the code is AND (drumroll please!) will tell you in plain English was the code means! What this means is that instead of seeing a P0307 code, it will tell you the code PLUS "Misfire on cyclinder #7" as that's what a P0307 code means, so there's no going inside on the computer to lookup what the code means which saves time, trouble and allows you to get to work immediately.

I managed to get a pretty nice program through a connection and I really like it. I can quickly and easily connect my USB OBD II cable right to the car from the computer and access any check engine light data (even pending codes), view live data, get an estimated 1/4 mile time, and even get HP/Torque readings (although the two latter seem to be a bit finicky and acquires some messing around with). Overall, for a mere $22 for the USB OBD II cable, I am very pleased with everything the software allows you to do and view. I bought my cable months ago and have used it constantly, even if it's just to help me monitor data, it's a great tool and I highly recommend it. However, if you don't have a newer laptop (or a laptop at all) I would stick with a hand-held one as it would probably be quicker and easier for you. It all depends what you need and want out of an OBD II code scanner or if you want tuning capabilities, which I haven't found any decent software for yet under the cost of $500, which you can just buy a custom tuner for your vehicle at that cost. It's up to you!

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