Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Infamous OBD II Code Readers

OBD II has come a long way since 1996 and we now have the technology to own OBD II code readers in our home and office, instead of only at costly auto repair mechanics. For many years you would have to pay a pretty penny (upwards of $50) to get a code read, but in todays modern world you can get your own basic OBD II code reader for as much as it used to cost to get one read! Although "what you get is what you pay for" applies to OBD II code readers, the average "DIY mechanic" won't need anything too expensive when it comes to a new code reader. You can buy a basic hand-held OBD II code scanner for around $50 from your local auto store or retail store (or cheaper on Amazon!). However, with technology comes new ways of reading your trouble codes and now your personal laptop (equipped with a USB OBD II cable and the proper software) can do all the work for you. Here, I'll go into some of the basics of what hand-held readers can do vs USB laptop readers and my opinion on them both.
Lets start with the hand-held OBD II readers. For a basic code reader that can read check engine lights, give you the codes (usually not tell you what they mean however), and erase them for you, you're looking at around $50 at a retail store or maybe $38 shipped from an online vendor. These are very basic and only tell you what codes you're getting and can clear the check engine light for you. A decent OBD2 code reader can cost anywhere from $90 - $200 and they have more data capabilities, such as showing you the freeze frame, which is the captured data that is stored about important sensors at the time a check engine light is triggered. Freeze frame data can show you exactly where a problem is if you understand how a car works and use your knowledge about symptoms you're experiencing with the check engine light you're receiving.
However, a good few years back, people figured out how to create USB driven OBD II cables which allows to the computer in this case to power the cable and retrieve codes from the computer, check sensor data and do anything else a hand-held OBD II code reader can do. This cables can do anything a hand held OBD2 scanner can do and a bit more with the proper software (which I'll touch on in a second). For half the cost of handheld and the ability to do more, it sounds promising enough already, right? One of the better things about the USB OBD II cables is that you aren't limited by the cable, as in one is not better than the other, it simply serves as a link between your computer (which will actually be doing all the reading and relaying of data) and your OBD II port in your car (which will be sending all the data information). For roughly $40 dollars you can get a USB OBD II cable on Amazon or you can try your luck on eBay; however you will not find one in your local auto or retail store. Just remember, unless the cable is absolutely poorly made or damaged, there are hardly any differences between one USB OBD II cable and another, the software is what matters!

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