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WHAT IS OBD?
On-board diagnostics (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 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 a person to rapidly identify and remedy malfunctions within the vehicle.
HISTORY OF ON BOARD DIAGNOSTIC
- 1969: Volkswagen introduces the first on-board computer system with scanning capability, in their fuel-injected Type 3 models.
- 1975: Datsun 280Z On-board computers begin appearing on consumer vehicles, largely motivated by their need for real-time tuning of fuel injection systems. Simple OBD implementations appear, though there is no standardization in what is monitored or how it is reported.
- 1980: General Motors implements a proprietary interface and protocol for testing of the Engine Control Module (ECM) on the vehicle assembly line. The ‘assembly line diagnostic link’ (ALDL) protocol communicates at 160 baud with Pulse-width modulation (PWM) signaling and monitors very few vehicle systems. Implemented on California vehicles for the 1980 model year, and the rest of the United States in 1981, the ALDL was not intended for use outside the factory. The only available function for the owner is “Blinky Codes”. The Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC’s) can be interpreted through the blinking pattern of the “Check Engine” (MIL) light.
- 1982: RCA defines an analog STE/ICE vehicle diagnostic standard used in the CUCV, M60 tank and other military vehicles of the era for the US Army.
- 1986: An upgraded version of the ALDL protocol appears which communicates at 8192 baud with half-duplex UART signaling. This protocol is defined in GM XDE-5024B.
- 1988: The California Air Resources Board (CARB) requires that all new vehicles sold in California in 1988 and newer vehicles have some basic OBD capability. These requirements are generally referred to as “OBD-I”, though this name is not applied until the introduction of OBD-II. The data link connector and its position are not standardized, nor is the data protocol. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommends a standardized diagnostic connector and set of diagnostic test signals.
- ~1994: Motivated by a desire for a state-wide emissions testing program, the CARB issues the OBD-II specification and mandates that it be adopted for all cars sold in California starting in model year 1996 (see CCR Title 13 Section 1968.1 and 40 CFR Part 86 Section 86.094). The DTCs and connector suggested by the SAE are incorporated into this specification.
- 1996: The OBD-II specification is made mandatory for all cars sold in the United States.
- 2001: The European Union makes EOBD mandatory for all gasoline (petrol) vehicles sold in the European Union, starting in MY2001 (see European emission standards Directive 98/69/EC).
- 2004: The European Union makes EOBD mandatory for all diesel vehicles sold in the European Union
- 2006: All vehicles manufactured in Australia and New Zealand are required to be OBD-II compliant after January 1, 2006.
- 2008: All cars sold in the United States are required to use the ISO 15765-4 signaling standard (a variant of the Controller Area Network (CAN) bus).
- 2008: Certain light vehicles in China are required by the Environmental Protection Administration Office to implement OBD (standard GB18352) by July 1, 2008. Some regional exemptions may apply.
- 2010: HDOBD (heavy duty) specification is made mandatory for selected commercial (non-passenger car) engines sold in the United States.
The regulatory intent of OBD-I was to encourage auto manufacturers to design reliable emission control systems that remain effective for the vehicle’s “useful life”. The hope was that by forcing annual emissions testing for California, and denying registration to vehicles that did not pass, drivers would tend to purchase vehicles that would more reliably pass the test. OBD-I was largely unsuccessful, as the means of reporting emissions-specific diagnostic information was not standardized. Technical difficulties with obtaining standardized and reliable emissions information from all vehicles led to an inability to implement the annual testing program effectively.
The Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC’s) of OBD-I vehicles can usually be found without an expensive ‘scan tool’. Each manufacturer used their own Diagnostic Link Connector (DLC), DLC location, DTC definitions, and procedure to read the DTC’s from the vehicle. DTC’s from OBD-I cars are often read through the blinking patterns of the ‘Check Engine Light’ (CEL) or ‘Service Engine Soon’ (SES) light. By connecting certain pins of the diagnostic connector, the ‘Check Engine’ light will blink out a two-digit number that corresponds to a specific error condition. The DTC’s of some OBD-I cars are interpreted in different ways, however. Cadillac (gasoline) fuel-injected vehicles are equipped with actual on-board diagnostics, providing trouble codes, actuator tests and sensor data through the new digital Electronic Climate Control display.
Holding down ‘Off’ and ‘Warmer’ for several seconds activates the diagnostic mode without the need for an external scan tool. Some Honda engine computers are equipped with LEDs that light up in a specific pattern to indicate the DTC. General Motors, some 1989-1995 Ford vehicles (DCL), and some 1989-1995 Toyota/Lexus vehicles have a live sensor data stream available; however, many other OBD-I equipped vehicles do not. OBD-I vehicles have fewer DTC’s available than for OBD-II equipped vehicles.
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 signalling 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.