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What Type of OBD Is In My Car? Plus Other FAQs.

When it comes to running diagnostic tests, we commonly hear people ask, “What type of OBD is in my car?” Thankfully, two easy ways exist to determine what type of OBD, or on-board diagnostics, is in your car. To learn more, BenchForce, a go-to provider of ECU programming kits and harnesses, highlights these two methods of finding what OBD your vehicle has and answers a variety of frequently asked questions.

1. Look at What Year Your Car Was Manufactured

The easiest way to determine if your car has an OBD-I or OBD-II is to figure out what year the manufacturer made your car. Here’s why: All gasoline and alternate fuel passenger cars and trucks manufactured in 1996 or later have OBD-II systems. Likewise, all diesel-fueled passenger cars and trucks made in 1997 have OBD-II systems. Therefore, if you own a 1996-model vehicle or newer, it has an OBD-II port.

It’s important to note that some vehicles from these “transition years” of 1994 and 1995 may have an OBD-II port. However, they may not be wired for OBD-II operation since it wasn’t a national standard yet at that time. These vehicles can be tricky to diagnose, which is why it’s critical to look at number two on our list.

2. Look for the Words “OBD II”

There were a variety of manufacturers who started meeting The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) OBD requirements before 1996. Because there are a few 1994 and 1995 model gasoline vehicles with OBD-II systems, it’s helpful to verify that the words "OBD II" are on the emission control information label attached to the underside of the vehicle hood.

What is OBD?

On-board diagnostics (OBD) refers to a vehicle's self-diagnostic and reporting functionality via a wiring/pinout standard. In the United States, OBD is a requirement to comply with Federal Emissions standards. This functionality that comes with this standard is the reason your check engine light and other dashboard warning lights illuminate when a car’s computer detects a problem. The OBD port allows vehicle owners and auto mechanics to connect to a car via a scan tool to diagnose various issues.

What is OBD-II?

OBD-II stands for On-Board Diagnostic II, the second generation of on-board diagnostic equipment requirements for light- and medium-duty vehicles. The hardware and software of a vehicle has on-board diagnostic capabilities to monitor virtually every component that can affect emission performance.

What was OBD-I?

OBD I stands for On-Board Diagnostic I, California's first OBD regulation, which required manufacturers to monitor various emission control components on vehicles starting with 1988-models vehicles. While a step in the right direction, OBD-I needed to be more effective at minimizing emissions. Accordingly, the state of California, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and eventually the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) developed OBD-II to address these shortcomings.

Is There an OBD-III?

OBD-III is not a standardized automotive diagnostic system. However, automotive thought leaders have speculated about its development. These developments would include telematics and remote diagnostics, allowing vehicles to communicate directly with manufacturers or regulatory bodies about the vehicle's health and emission status. However, such a system would require significant changes to current regulations, standards, and vehicle manufacturing processes.

Do Aftermarket ECUs Support OBD?

At the time of this writing, no one but OEM gives you OBD access, which means if you swap your controller to an aftermarket one, you have now lost the ability to plug in any old scan tool and get a code from the computer. Aftermarket ECU manufacturers such as Holley, Bigstuff, FiTech, HalTech, and MegaSquirt do not support OBD scanning and require a laptop or other device, like a touch screen, since they don't adhere to the OBD standard.

Losing the ability to plug in with a typical scan tool may not be a big deal to some but may be a huge deal to others. If you don’t have an ECU that supports data logging, you will have no way of finding what error is causing your vehicle to run improperly.

Where is my OBD Port Located?

The location of the OBD-II port isn’t entirely standardized. But, by and large, manufacturers put OBD ports under the dashboard, beneath the steering wheel column (most commonly on the left, but can also be to the right or centered). If it’s not there, look for the OBD port under the passenger-side dashboard below the glove box. Finally, if it’s not there, look around the center console.

Why Are There OBD Requirements?

The primary goal is to comply with federal emissions standards. However, OBD systems also give vehicle owners and auto mechanics access to a myriad of diagnostic information via the OBD port. This information helps to pinpoint various issues with a vehicle's performance.

How Many Types of OBD Ports Are There?

There are two basic types of OBD ports. However, until the late 1980s, before OBD-I, every car manufacturer had their own standards of OBD. Because they all had proprietary emissions standards, auto mechanics had to buy different scan tools for each plug type. In 1996, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) began requiring all cars and trucks made in 1996 or after to meet specific OBD requirements.

How Many Pins Should My OBD Port Have?

The OBD II connector has 16 pin locations, each serving a specific purpose. About half the pins use standard protocols set forth by the Society of Automotive Engineers and the International Organization for Standardization. However, depending on a vehicle’s protocol, some pins may be optional.

How Many OBD Ports Does a Car Have?

Cars only have one OBD port. This port can help you access a vehicle's diagnostic information.

How Do You Use an OBD Scanner?

An OBD scanner can help you determine the source of a car’s problems. This tool has a 16-pin plug that connects to your car’s OBD-II port and has a screen that displays error codes. Here’s how to use one:

  1. Connect the OBD-II scanner to your car.
  2. Insert your key into the ignition
  3. Turn the key to accessory mode (first position for most makes and models)
  4. Optional: Type in Your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  5. Locate the OBD Error Codes on your scanner
  6. Decipher five-character OBD codes:
    • First character: area of the car having trouble
    • Second character: generic or manufacturer-specific
    • Third character: contextual issue information
    • Fourth & Fifth character: precise issue

Getting Started with Vehicle Wiring

As a circuit board solution, the BenchForce PowerBlock is a central hub for powering up an ECU on the bench that simplifies a vehicle's wiring into one simple enclosure. By using an add-on harness, PowerBlocks can handle just about any OBD-II and J1939 bench programming application projects. Browse our store to learn more.