OBD1 VS OBD2 Scanners: Everything You Need To Know

OBD1 VS OBD2: Everything You Need To Know

OBD, or On Board Diagnostics, is a system that’s available in your car’s engine. It gets installed in order to allow you (or your mechanic) to access important features about the car and diagnose any problems with it.

When did OBD come about? OBD1 came about in 1991, but since then much has changed. 

With greater technology, various changes have been made to OBD so that it can be the most efficient way of monitoring your car.

However, you might be wondering how OBD1 varies from OBD2, so let’s explore both in better detail and see how they differ as well as which system is better to have.

If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of OBD1 vs. OBD2 scanners, we got you covered:

obd1 vs obd2

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When Did OBD1 And OBD2 Come About? 

What, Exactly, Is OBD?

OBD2 is basically the second, upgraded, generation of OBD1. OBD1 used to be connected externally to cars’ consoles, while OBD2 is part of the vehicle itself.

If your car was made in or after 1996, then it will have OBD2 on board. Older cars will have OBD1.

OBD is nothing new – it goes back all the way to the 1960s! Thanks to various developments that took place over the decades, OBD2 has become the standard for modern vehicles. Here’s a rundown of OBD’s colorful history.

In 1968, the first OBD computer system was introduced by car manufacturer Volkswagen.

About 10 years later, Datsun also developed their own basic OBD system. In 1980, GM developed an interface and protocol that was equipped to provide engine diagnostics – it made use of the “check engine” light so that if there was a problem with the vehicle, this light would flash. 

By 1988, OBD became standardized. Then, in 1991, the state of California made it law for all vehicles on the road to have some form of OBD system.

Around this time, OBD1 was the standard and it was pretty basic. Developments continued so that in 1994, California stated that all vehicles that were sold in the state would need OBD2 on board.

This system was capable of running diagnostic trouble codes on vehicles and it was much more advanced than OBD1. 

By 1996, OBD2 became standard for all cars manufactured in the U.S., and the rest of the world soon followed in their footsteps.

By 2001, OBD2 was standard for all cars running on gasoline in the European Union.

Two years later, it became standard for all diesel vehicles in the E.U., but in Europe, it’s known as EOBD instead of OBD, although it’s the same thing. 

OBD1 VS OBD2: Here’s What To Know

OBD1 VS OBD2: Here’s What To Know

OBD1 is sometimes called the California Standard and it was first installed in cars in 1991. It offered basic diagnostic tests, such as discovering basic problems with car engines.

It could communicate with the car’s onboard computer, so at the time it was considered to be quite advanced. Any vehicles that were manufactured between 1991 and 1996 had OBD1 put in them.

This system was praised for its ability to help car manufacturers make better cars.

But then when OBD2 came onto the scene, it was many steps further than OBD1 because it not only helped car manufacturers but car owners, too. It was known as the Federal Universal Standard.

It was more updated than its predecessor and had much more processing power. It was smarter than OBD1 because of how it did much more than provide people with basic diagnostics.

It’s more efficient and can offer real-time information, which is why all vehicles that were made since 1996 have this system installed. 

What Is OBD1?

What Is OBD1?

OBD1 began in California as a way to monitor car emissions to ensure that they remained within a safe range. OBD1 was also a diagnostic tool that became standard on cars in 1991.

It could do some basic tests on cars, but it was by no means a universal system. It was limited to the car manufacturer, meaning that one OBD1 scanner would only work to access the OBD1 system in one specific car brand.

This was a bit problematic because it restricted the use of OBD1 scanners and it was therefore not a system that could easily be used by car owners. 

OBD1 could do a few simple tests on cars. These included checking the car’s emission system to ensure it was working properly, reading and scanning the engine’s performance, and providing warning messages.

The drawback was that the scanning features were pretty limited. While they could let you know there was a problem in the car, you wouldn’t receive details about specific error code locations.

Although we’re speaking of OBD1 in the past tense, there are still OBD1 vehicles on the road today! If your car was made before 1996, it will likely have OBD1 on board.

You can find some OBD1 scanners, but again, these are pretty limited in terms of what they can do. 

What To Know About Using OBD1 Scanners

If you have an older car that’s equipped with OBD1, an OBD1 scanner will allow you to access limited features, but you’ll have to be wired to the car as there are no wireless options for connecting the device to your car’s computer.

If your car is older than 1996, chances are you will need an OBD1 scanner to be able to gain information from your car’s engine. But don’t expect to get a lot of information from your car’s computer with an OBD1 scanner.

Popularity for these devices is low, and that’s because of their limited functions.

These scanners will be able to show the “check engine” light error message but they don’t give you error codes that you can use to further diagnose your car.

Some of their other functions include checking the sensor and actuator for any signs of opens, shorts, or high resistance because values that are incorrect will be sent to the car’s computer. 

What About OBD2?

What About OBD2?

When 1996 came around, so did OBD2 as the standard diagnostic software to be installed in cars. This replaced OBD1 because it could do many more functions.

It was also much more versatile because any car made in or after 1996 would have OBD2 on board.

That means that if you purchase an OBD2 scanner, chances are likely that it will be able to cater to many, if not all, cars that have OBD2.

This OBD system has also improved the accessibility of OBD in general because car owners themselves can use OBD2 scanners to monitor and diagnose their cars if they suspect there’s a problem.

So, what can you do with OBD2 that you can’t do with OBD1?

OBD2 offers you the chance to do a variety of scans and tests on your car.

Your car has a variety of sensors, such as manifold pressure sensors, oxygen sensors, and others. They are all connected to the car’s computer, which is called the Engine Control Unit.

This unit uses the information collected from the car’s sensors to adjust how the car works.

If the information that it receives isn’t correct, it saves a Diagnostic Trouble Code, and it will cause your “check engine” light to flash as a warning that something is malfunctioning inside the car.

You’ll be able to diagnose why the “check engine” light is coming on, monitor your coolant temperature, fuel, speed, pressure, air-fuel ratio, battery performance, engine performance, oil temperature, fuel pressure, and get a smog check which will inform you of whether your car is releasing emissions within a safe level or if it will fail its upcoming emissions test.

Unless you’re a mechanic, you might not know what could be the problem. This is why OBD2 scanners are so useful for car owners.

They can provide you with a range of information so that you can find out what problem your car has, such as if it has a faulty oxygen sensor or something is wrong with your car’s ABS.

Different OBD2 scanners will offer different code-reading features, which is why it’s important to choose a scanner that will give you the features you want to properly diagnose your car. 

OBD2 scanners will also allow you to use live data from your car and gain access to additional features, such as ABS information, key coding, and more.

It’s really a world apart from OBD1! While both OBD1 and OBD2 are systems that help you to better understand and repair your car and they both make use of your car’s OBD port (which is where you’ll connect the scanning device in order to gain information from the car’s OBD system), that’s really where their similarities end.

What To Know About Using OBD2 Scanners

What To Know About Using OBD2 Scanners

In order for you to gain information about your car’s engine and its other components, you need to use an OBD2 scanner.

Basically, some of these scanners are universal and will work with all cars that were made in, or after, the year 1996 in the U.S. Here are some of the most important things to know about them. 

  • OBD2 scanners can connect wirelessly, such as via Bluetooth, which makes them more convenient. You can use them with phone apps to further increase their accessibility.
  • Many of these scanners come with basic and advanced features, but if you’re someone who just needs to diagnose some common problems in your car then you’ll likely not need the advanced features. The point to take home is that there are many options available to you, therefore catering to your needs.
  • Not only will you get a variety of diagnostic trouble codes and be able to remove the error codes in your car, which is already a huge step up from OBD1, but you’ll be able to locate the exact part of your car that’s experiencing a problem, sometimes with further details about the fault so that you know what repairs are required.
  • Some OBD2 scanners will even tell you if you need to take your car to the mechanic ASAP or if the fault is less serious than that. 
  • These scanners are versatile and universal: one OBD2 scanner will be able to connect to different car brands. This makes them much easier to use, especially if you want to scan multiple cars. 
  • They’re more accurate than OBD1 scanners. This is basically because they won’t only tell you what the fault message is, such as “check engine light,” but they will also give you an error code so that you have a much better idea of where the problem is located. Once you know what that code refers to, you’ll know what component in your car is faulty and needs to be repaired.
  • OBD2 scanners will give you the same information you can gain from OBD1 scanners, but you’ll have many more features at your disposal. For example, you’ll be able to enjoy a graphical representation of the information, find out more about the car’s battery usage, and do smog tests to ensure your car is not releasing too many emissions.

But, how do OBD2 scanners work? Here’s what you need to know and how to use them.

  • Before you can use an OBD2 scanner, you will have to locate the OBD2 port in your car because this is where the scanner will be inserted to be able to “read” your car’s computer. This is usually found on the driver’s side of the dashboard. If you battle to locate it, you will have to consult your owner’s manual. Before you connect your OBD2 scanner, make sure that the car is turned off. Then, connect the OBD2 scanner. The scanner cable has a 16-pin plug that will fit easily. It’s good to know that these OBD2 ports are universal and standardized so any OBD2 scanner will be compatible with them on any car.
  • The next step is to put your car key into the ignition and turn it to “on.” You might have to switch your car engine on and leave it on idle, but this depends on the scanner’s brand. So, always make sure you check the user manual instructions to be sure you’re using it correctly.
  • Then, turn the scanner on. Some models will be able to activate themselves. Again, you’ll have to check with the device user manual to find out if it needs to be switched on or not. 
  • Once the scanner is up and running, you will need to choose “read” or “scan.” This will get the scanner to start scanning the vehicle’s computer. You might also see that the scanner you’re using makes use of a menu that you have to go through.
  • When the device scans your car, you will see trouble codes show up on your scanner’s display screen. Some scanning tools can be used with a USB so that means you’ll be able to connect them to your computer.
  • Once inserted into the OBD2 port, the scanner will check for any saved diagnostic trouble codes in the car and display these codes on its screen for you to view it. On many scanners, you’ll also be able to email or print the results, which is a valuable way to have the data you need or send it to your mechanic.
  • Search for the trouble codes you’re seeing in your scanner user manual. Some manufacturers will have a supplementary set of trouble codes available.
  • Once you know the trouble code, the next task you have to undertake is to figure out what it means. Luckily, many OBD2 scanners will have diagnostic trouble code definitions in them so that you can instantly find out what the codes mean. This is an important feature to look for in OBD2 scanners, especially if you’re not a mechanic, as it will make it so much easier to use the scanner.

How to understand codes

While we’re not going to go into all the error codes and their definitions, it does help to know how these codes are going to be displayed.

The code will contain a letter followed by four numbers. The letter tells you what overall component of your car has a problem, so you might get letters such as “P” for powertrain, transmission, and engine. But it’s quite vague.

Then, the first digit in the string of numbers will tell you if the code is general or specific to the manufacturer. Many codes are universal and will apply to all brands of cars.

Codes that are standardized will have a “0” or “3” as their first digit, whereas manufacturer-specific codes will have a “1” or “2.”

The second digit that will be displayed on the scanner’s screen relates to the sub-system of the car that’s got a fault, to narrow it down a bit more and guide you in the right direction of where the fault is located.

When the OBD2 scan has been completed, turn off the car. Unplug the scanner from the outlet and turn it off. Now, you might be wondering if you can leave the scanner plugged into your car.

While this is generally safe, it’s probably best to avoid doing so because it can drain your battery, unless the scanner explicitly states that it is safe to leave plugged in. 

Car Scanners For OBD1 And OBD2: Which One To Get 

Car Scanners For OBD1 And OBD2: Which One To Get

If you’re looking for a highly economical way to scan your car for problems, you might want to invest in a code reader.

These devices can cost less than $50 but they will only give you basic information on a small amount of car makes and models.

These tools do come in OBD1 or OBD2 formats, but you won’t be able to use one tool for both, which is quite restrictive.

For a bit more money, you can invest in a car scanner. Scanners are better than code readers because of how they will be able to diagnose many more problems, both generic and manufacturer-specific issues, in your car.

When purchasing an OBD1 scanner, it’s good to look for one that has trouble code definitions and that is easy to use.

It also helps to look for one that has cables you can use to scan both OBD1 and OBD2 vehicles, as this will increase the lifespan of your device.

Generally, you can also find adapters that make it easier to scan OBD1 and OBD2 vehicles, therefore increasing their versatility.

You can find OBD2 scanners that are more versatile so that many more car brands will be compatible with them. However, it’s important to note that the features in scanners don’t come standard.

While you can find OBD2 scanners that can monitor and detect a variety of problems, such as concerning the ABS, transmission, airbags, and more, you won’t find these features in all scanners.

That’s why it’s a good idea to think about what you want from a scanner and then look for products that match your needs in the best way.

What To Look For In An OBD Scanner

What To Look For In An OBD Scanner

Whether you are purchasing an OBD1 or OBD2 scanner, it’s good to look for some important features. These include:

  • User-friendliness: You want to be able to have clear display screens that are easy to read. The inclusion of cables if you need to access both OBD1 and OBD2 systems is also a bonus. Look for scanners that offer trouble code definitions, whether in the form of an included guidebook or database.
  • Compatibility: Always check that the vehicle you want to scan is compatible with the scanner, whether it’s OBD1 or OBD2. Don’t assume that just because your vehicle is OBD2 and the scanner is also said to be OBD2-compliant that they will be able to connect.
  • Required Features: While car scanners will give you the basic tools you need to scan your vehicle, if you’re looking for something specific, such as ABS and transmission scanning features, then these are worth searching for. It’s a myth that all OBD2 scanners will give you everything you need. 
  • Price: Usually, the more expensive scanners will give you more features, and some can be really professional. But, consider what you need and choose the best features at the right price so that the scanner is affordable. It’s not worth purchasing an expensive, professional scanning device if you’re not going to use all of its wonderful features. 

How To Choose The Best OBD2 Scanner

How To Choose The Best OBD2 Scanner

If you’ve never purchased an OBD2 scanner before, you might not know what, exactly, you should look for.

So, here’s a rundown of some important features to ensure that you will get a lot of use out of your scanner and it will help you to monitor your car for various problems.

A scanner can, after all, help you to learn more about your car and what’s wrong with it instead of you having to take your car to the mechanic for any little thing.

  • Size: Right off the bat, one of the most obvious things to look for in a quality OBD2 scanner is that it isn’t too large. You want to be able to hold the scanner in one hand and not feel like you have to lug it around with you. If it’s too big and bulky, you’ll be less likely to want to keep it in your car.
  • Connectivity: There are some OBD2 scanners that enable you to connect them to your car’s onboard computer via technology, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. This means you won’t have to be restricted by wires, which is great if you’re walking around the car while scanning it.
  • Setup and installation: You want a scanner that is easy to set up. Once you’ve unpacked it and inserted it into the OBD2 port, for example, you want it to work immediately. If you have to set it up and there’s no clear guidance on how to do so in the form of a user manual, that’s not worth your time.
  • Code descriptions: You want to be able to have a dictionary in the scanner that contains definitions for all possible trouble codes. This will make it so much easier to use because it will prevent you from having to search online to find out what a specific trouble code means. This is valuable even if you’re not going to be making the car repairs yourself as you can pass on the information to your mechanic.
  • I/M Readiness: A quality scanner that’s worth purchasing will contain major engine as well as emissions tests. This is vital to prevent your car from failing its yearly emissions test.
  • Live data feature: You want to be able to tap into a vault of important information about your car, such as its engine speed and timing so that you stay on top of its maintenance.
  • Information display: How is the data that the scanner collects from your car’s computer displayed? Its screen should be easy to understand and offer you the chance to view lots of data on one screen so you don’t have to scroll through it. There are also other ways in which you can read the data, such as via graphs. This is an important feature you should look for in a scanner because it’s easier to have a visual representation of the information.
  • Warranty: Don’t forget about the scanner’s warranty! Look for one that has a lifetime warranty. 

The Three Types Of Car Scanners

The Three Types Of Car Scanners

There are different types of car-scanning devices that you should know about. Let’s take a closer look at all of them to learn about their pros and cons. 

Basic Code Reader

Now, you might be wondering how a scanning device differs from a code reader. Basically, a code reader is a more simplified version of a car scanner.

A scanner will be able to give you much more comprehensive information about your car and how its components are functioning.

Some people reach for code readers because they don’t cost a lot of money. This type of tool will show you the diagnostic trouble code on a small device display when you plug it into the car’s OBD2 port.

Once you’ve got the trouble code and you have an idea of what it means and what will need to be fixed in your car, you will be able to clear the code and switch off the flashing “check engine” light.

If you’re not going to use a car scanning device regularly or you just want basic features from this type of tool, then a basic code reader will probably be enough for you.

However, it does have some drawbacks. These include not offering you a comprehensive range of information about your vehicle and not having a good warranty.

DIY Car Scanners

These scanners are a level up from code readers. They give you many more features and information about your car, so it makes sense that you’ll have to be prepared to pay a bit more money for them.

These scanners can take the form of using a dongle that gets connected into the car’s OBD port and it links to a phone app, for greater versatility in how you scan your car for problems.

However, you can also find traditional scanners that are corded if you feel more comfortable using those instead.

Some of the useful features you will gain from a DIY scanner is live data about your car, information such as your average speed, fuel usage, and other data that can keep your car in good condition and improve your driving.

You’ll also be able to enjoy the basic functions that you’d get on a simple code reader, such as receiving diagnostic trouble codes and being able to clear the codes once you’ve repaired your car.

These types of scanners are worth it for you if you’re going to be using them regularly and you’re a DIY mechanic in your spare time.

However, it’s worth knowing that these scanners are not going to be as powerful as professional car scanners.

Professional Car-Scanning Devices

These devices will cost more money than the other scanners we’ve featured in this article, but they’re usually worth it because of how they will give you tons of features.

You’ll have everything you need in one device to be able to diagnose your car’s problems. You will find advanced features in these scanning tools, such as ECU programming, and they offer a variety of connectors.

Some can even be used on heavy commercial vehicles. You’ll love having a professional scanner because of how it can save the data it collects. 

However, some drawbacks of these scanners is that they tend to have chunky hardware that isn’t easy to carry around and you might not really need all the features that are included in them. 

Should You Use A Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner? 

Should You Use A Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner?

If how you connect your OBD2 scanner matters a lot to you, you might be tempted to choose a Bluetooth scanner. This varies from a hand-held scanner because you don’t need to make use of a cable.

This type of scanner is a small device that also plugs into the OBD2 port in your car and then is connected via Bluetooth to your smartphone.

It will send data from the vehicle’s OBD2 system to your phone where you will be able to read and process the data.

Of course, one of the biggest advantages of using Bluetooth is a lower cost because you won’t need to pay for a device that uses a screen – you’ll be using your smartphone screen to display the data from your vehicle.

That said, it’s worth considering that if connectivity is an issue for you, such as if your Bluetooth connection keeps dropping or you’re interrupted by calls on your smartphone, then it might make more sense to use a dedicated scanner that won’t fail you.

Related Questions

Do all cars have OBD on board?


Although OBD1 is found on many older cars, you won’t always find OBD on every car.

It really depends on when cars were required to have this system installed. This varies from one region to the next.

Can you use OBD2 scanners on OBD1 vehicles?

You can do this, but you will need to ensure you have an OBD1 to OBD2 connector. Some OBD2 scanners will be compatible with both OBD1 and OBD2 vehicles.


OBD is installed in cars to make it easier to look after them. But there are two types of OBD systems – OBD1 and OBD2 – and they are quite different.

In this guide, we’ve explored OBD1 vs OBD2 to see their similarities, differences, and what they can do.

It’s clear to see that OBD2 has many benefits which you can’t find on OBD1 and it’s making it easier than ever for car owners to be able to better maintain and diagnose their cars.

If you weren’t sure what OBD2 is, now you have a much better idea of what it is, how your car uses this system, and how you can gain important information about your car by tapping into it with an OBD2 scanner.

However, don’t despair if you have an OBD1-compliant vehicle – you can still find scanners for it.


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