Tech Corner: The Skinny on That OBDII Port

Tech Corner - IntermediateYou’ve been inside your car a million times. Every day of the week – sometimes even a few times per day – you’ve stepped in and sat behind the wheel. But how often do you really observe and properly use the hidden gems throughout that ride? Perhaps you’re feeling it’s about time to start exploring. If you’re driving a modern vehicle, somewhere on the dash is a magical port known as the OBDII port—an essential part of the vehicle and a great place to get started.

Getting to Know You

On Board Diagnostics systems started appearing as far back as the 1960s, with Volkswagen leading the tribe. In the ‘80s they were becoming more popular with manufacturers under the GM umbrella. And in the early ‘90s, California state law began to enforce that all vehicles being sold within state lines needed an OBD system to help detect emissions failures. By 1996 it became mandatory that all vehicles being sold in the United States were built with an OBDII system since its purpose is to give real-time status of the conditions of the vehicle’s operating systems. If something were to fail, an indicator light glows on the dash.

With the use of a diagnostics tool, such as Performance Tool part number W2977, one can plug in to the OBDII port to quickly pinpoint the issue, or issues, with the use of system codes. This is a major advantage over the standard method of trial-and-error repairs. Mostly because without having to make any educated guesses, you can get definitive evidence about the problem, begin to perform the repair, and order replacement parts. Not only does this save time, but in the end it saves the users from making costly mistakes by sinking money into the wrong parts. Now instead of investing in a tool, you can easily take a ride down to just about any local auto parts place and have an employee run a code for you. But it’s not a bad idea to have a diagnostics tool on hand, especially if you’re the DIY type.

OBDII Port, Not Just for Diagnostics

Performance gains are a must for any gear head. Computer programmers, sometimes referred to as tuners, utilize the OBDII port in order to tap into the ECU. Programmers from suppliers like Edge, Bully Dog, or Superchips, can be used to upload custom tunes to squeeze a few extra ponies out of an engine. Some can even be built with features to calibrate the speedometer, adjust shift points and firmness, and even run diagnostic scans on their own. If performance tunes aren’t a must, calibrators can still be purchased if the ring gear and tires sizes have been tampered with.

Performance junkies likely are wondering if they can tap into an ECU through the OBDII port, in order to run a custom tune. It’s true that with the right equipment and programs, this can be done. There are a lot of professionals out there who can get in and really dial a vehicle for performance. However, this is only recommended for serious applications, and is the type of job a trained hand should get involved with.

“But that’s not all!”

Another useful line of products that take advantage of the OBDII port are certain GPS units. Sure, it’s a great way to keep track of the teenage kids when they borrow your car for the night, but there’s more to it than that. It also monitors driving habits, keeps tabs on fleet vehicles, or makes your car inoperable to thieves. Additionally, it’s a sure-fine way to help out with insurance claims in case anything ever goes wrong with your vehicle.

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