car diagnostic tool OBD2 Scanner Guide

OBD1 Scanners Vs. OBD2 Scanners

OBD2 car diagnostic tool tester

If you’re driving and the “Check Engine” warning light illuminates on the dashboard, then it means you have a problem. Anytime you experience some car problem like this; you will want a suitable OBD scanning device. This is a device that will communicate with your car’s computer system to identify the nature of the problem.

If you’ve never purchased an OBD scanner before, then you might be confused about whether you should purchase an OBD1 scanner or OBD2 scanner. We will explain this in greater detail below.

What is an OBD Diagnostic Tool?

OBD is an acronym for the term “Onboard Diagnostics.” Your vehicle has a computer in it which serves as an onboard diagnostic system. This system coordinates with several sensors in the vehicle to monitor the health status of the engine. If the engine does anything abnormal or malfunctions in any way, these sensors will send this information back to the onboard diagnostic system.

For instance, if there is an imbalance of the air and fuel mixture or issues with the spark plugs or catalytic converter, then this would be considered an abnormality related to the engine.

By using a particular plug, you can connect the scanning device into the onboard diagnostics system. Then it will find out what and where the issue is in the vehicle.

OBD2 Enhancements from OBD1

If you own a vehicle that was manufactured in the early half of the 1990s decade, then it probably has an OBD1 system. California made it a requirement that cars in the state have this system in them.

In 1996, the OBD2 system became the new standard for vehicles within the entire United States. Now all cars made in the United States have an OBD2 system. For this reason, you will need an OBD2 scanner to detect the problems in your vehicle if it was made after 1996.

Once the OBD2 standard was released, the older OBD1 was slowly done away with. Now, even in 2018, the same OBD2 standard from 1996 is still in effect. So, whether you have a car that was built in 1996 or 2015, you will need an OBD2 scanning tool for either one.

Although the OBD1 and OBD2 were different, they had some similarities to them. Both systems let a vehicle analyze its engine status. Then anyone with the appropriate OBD scanning tool will be able to retrieve this status information on their device. OBD2 is merely an updated version of the OBD1.

One massive update and benefit with OBD2 systems is that all OBD2 scanners are compatible with them, even if different manufacturers made them. Information is sent no differently to the scanning devices.

How do I tell if my vehicle has an OBD1 system or OBD2 system?

OBD1 was the new standard introduced by California back in 1991. The purpose of it was to reduce the carbon emissions of vehicles. This meant that every car was required to have an OBD1 system built into it. That way, any engine issues in the vehicle could be detected and then reported using special trouble codes.

OBD1 was not a nationwide standard, though. Plus, an OBD1 scanning tool would only be compatible with one particular make and model vehicle. The trouble codes were not even standardized either. The codes meant something different with each model vehicle. For example, if a Ford and Toyota each had the same engine issue, their trouble codes would each be different.

As a result, the OBD1 was not very well received because of all these conflicts and inconsistencies.

In 1996, the OBD2 became the new standard that was set for all 50 states across the country, and it has remained that way ever since. OBD2 systems were found to be much more convenient because a person could use any OBD2 scanner and still receive the same accurate information. Not only that, but standardized trouble codes had been set as well. This meant if you could learn the trouble codes for one car, then they would apply to every car.

Car computer technology continued to become more advanced. This allowed car manufacturers to enhance the OBD2 systems and give them extra capabilities. Some of these capabilities include having the ability to see real-time diagnostic information and having the use of a car computer interface.


In a nutshell, OBD1 scanners are compatible with older cars made before 1996. Any cars made after 1996 will not be compatible with an OBD1 scanner. But even if you’re able to find an OBD1 scanner, it needs to have been made by the same manufacturer as your vehicle. And if you don’t understand its trouble codes, you will need to research and discover a way to read them.

Car manufacturers realized that it would be inconvenient to force mechanics to purchase multiple scanning tools for each make and model vehicle. That is why the error codes of OBD1 cars can be transmitted differently.

If you know how to work on these types of vehicles, the error codes can be configured to flash out through the “Check Engine” light to indicate the appropriate code.

If you have a modern car that was manufactured after 1996, then it will require the use of an OBD2 scanner to detect the diagnostic data and trouble codes of the vehicle. The make and model of the vehicle are irrelevant because one OBD2 scanner will work with all modern vehicles. They are universal!

To all the auto mechanics out there, you should possess OBD2 scanners and a variety of different OBD1 scanners in your tool inventory. This will prepare you in case you need to diagnose a car that was made before 1996. Yes, some people still drive cars that are this old.

If you’re a car owner and you like to fix problems yourself, then invest in the appropriate scanner to determine what the problem is with your engine. Then you can go ahead and fix the problem if you have the skills to do so. Otherwise, take it to a mechanic and tell them what the problem is. At least you will have saved money on the diagnostic fee because you have already done the diagnostic yourself.

Things to Remember:

– OBD1 scanners should be used with vehicles made prior to 1996.
– OBD2 scanners will work with all vehicles manufactured for the American market after 1996, no matter what their make and model are.

OBD2 car diagnostic tool tester

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