What is On-board diagnostics (OBD)


On-board diagnostics, or OBD, is an automotive term referring to a vehicle’s self-diagnostic and reporting capability. OBD systems give the vehicle owner or repair technician access to the status of the various vehicle sub-systems. The amount of diagnostic information available via OBD has varied widely since its introduction in the early 1980s versions of on-board vehicle computers. Early versions of OBD would simply illuminate a malfunction indicator light or “idiot light” if a problem was detected but it would not provide any information as to the nature of the problem. Modern OBD implementations use a standardized digital communications port to provide real-time data in addition to a standardized series of diagnostic trouble codes, or DTCs, which allow one to rapidly identify and remedy malfunctions within the vehicle.


OBD2 DTC Example

OBD-II is an improvement over OBD-I in both capability and standardization. The OBD-II standard specifies the type of diagnostic connector and its pinout, the electrical signaling protocols available, and the messaging format. It also provides a candidate list of vehicle parameters to monitor along with how to encode the data for each. There is a pin in the connector that provides power for the scan tool from the vehicle battery, which eliminates the need to connect a scan tool to a power source separately. However, some technicians might still connect the scan tool to an auxiliary power source to protect data in the unusual event that a vehicle experiences a loss of electrical power due to a malfunction.
Finally, the OBD-II standard provides an extensible list of DTCs. As a result of this standardization, a single device can query the on-board computer(s) in any vehicle. This OBD-II came in two models OBD-IIA and OBD-IIB. OBD-II standardization was prompted by emissions requirements, and though only emission-related codes and data are required to be transmitted through it, most manufacturers have made the OBD-II Data Link Connector the only one in the vehicle through which all systems are diagnosed and programmed. OBD-II Diagnostic Trouble Codes are 4-digit, preceded by a letter: P for engine and transmission (powertrain), B for body, C for chassis, and U for network.
The Data Link Connector (DLC) is the multi-pin diagnostic connection port for automobiles and trucks used to interface a scan tool with the control modules of a given vehicle and access On-Board Diagnostics and live data streams.
The OBD-II DLC (post-1996 vehicles) is usually located under the instrument panel on the driver side, though there are several exceptions. Prior to 1996, many DLC’s were in the engine compartment, usually near the fuse block. Also, prior to 1996, there was no standardization for these connectors, and each manufacturer had its own shape with a unique pin arrangement. After 1996, many manufacturers retained their proprietary connectors in addition to the OBD-II interface, because OBD-II ports are only required to transmit emission-related codes and data.

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