One of the most exciting improvements in the automobile industry was the addition of on-board diagnostics (OBD) on vehicles, or in more basic terms, the computer that activates the vehicle's "CHECK ENGINE" light. OBD1 was designed to monitor manufacturer-specific systems on vehicles built from 1981 to 1995. Then came the development of OBD2, which is on all 1996 and newer vehicles sold in the U.S. Like its predecessor, OBD2 was adopted as part of a government mandate to lower vehicle emissions. But what makes OBD2 unique is its universal application for all late model cars and trucks - domestic and import. This sophisticated program in the vehicle's main computer system is designed to detect failures in a range of systems, and can be accessed through a universal OBD2 port, which is usually found under the dashboard. For all OBD systems, if a problem is found, the computer turns on the "CHECK ENGINE" light to warn the driver, and sets a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) to identify where the problem occurred. A special diagnostic tool, such as the CAN OBD2 Tool, is required to retrieve these codes, which consumers and professionals use as a starting point for repairs.
The CAN OBD2 Tool is designed to work on all OBD2 compliant vehicles. All 1996 and newer vehicles (cars, light trucks and SUVs) sold in the United States are OBD2 compliant.
COMPUTER ENGINE CONTROLS
Electronic Computer Control Systems make it possible for vehicle manufacturers to comply with the tougher emissions and fuel efficiency standards mandated by State and Federal Governments.
The Introduction of Electronic Engine Controls
As a result of increased air pollution (smog) in large cities, such as Los Angeles, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set new regulations and air pollution standards to deal with the problem. To further complicate matters, the energy crisis of the early 1970s caused a sharp increase in fuel prices over a short period. As a result, vehicle manufacturers were not only required to comply with the new emissions standards, they also had to make their vehicles more fuel-efficient. Most vehicles were required to meet a miles-per-gallon (MPG) standard set by the U.S. Federal Government.
Precise fuel delivery and spark timing are needed to reduce vehicle emissions. Mechanical engine controls in use at the time (such as ignition points, mechanical spark advance and the carburetor) responded too slowly to driving conditions to properly control fuel delivery and spark timing. This made it difficult for vehicle manufacturers to meet the new standards.
A new Engine Control System had to be designed and integrated with the engine controls to meet the stricter standards. The new system had to:
- Respond instantly to supply the proper mixture of air and fuel for any driving condition (idle, cruising, low-speed driving, high-speed driving, etc.).
- Calculate instantly the best time to "ignite" the air/fuel mixture for maximum engine efficiency.
- Perform both these tasks without affecting vehicle performance or fuel economy.
Vehicle Computer Control Systems can perform millions of calculations each second. This makes them an ideal substitute for the slower mechanical engine controls. By switching from mechanical to electronic engine controls, vehicle manufacturers are able to control fuel delivery and spark timing more precisely. Some newer Computer Control Systems also provide control over other vehicle functions, such as transmission, brakes, charging, body, and suspension systems.
The Basic Engine Computer Control System
The on-board computer is the heart of the Computer Control System. The computer contains several programs with preset reference values for air/fuel ratio, spark or ignition timing, injector pulse width, engine speed, etc. Separate values are provided for various driving conditions, such as idle, low speed driving, high-speed driving, low load, or high load. The preset reference values represent the ideal air/fuel mixture, spark timing, transmission gear selection, etc., for any driving condition. These values are programmed by the vehicle manufacturer, and are specific to each vehicle model.
Most on-board computers are located inside the vehicle behind the dashboard, under the passenger's or driver's seat, or behind the right kick panel. However, some manufacturers may still position it in the engine compartment.
Vehicle sensors, switches, and actuators are located throughout the engine, and are connected by electrical wiring to the on-board computer. These devices include oxygen sensors, coolant temperature sensors, throttle position sensors, fuel injectors, etc. Sensors and switches are input devices. They provide signals representing current engine operating conditions to the computer. Actuators are output devices. They perform actions in response to commands received from the computer.
The on-board computer receives information inputs from sensors and switches located throughout the engine. These devices monitor critical engine conditions such as coolant temperature, engine speed, engine load, throttle position, air/fuel ratio etc.
The computer compares the values received from these sensors with its preset reference values, and makes corrective actions as needed so that the sensor values always match the preset reference values for the current driving condition. The computer makes adjustments by commanding other devices such as the fuel injectors, idle air control, EGR valve or Ignition Module to perform these actions.
Vehicle operating conditions are constantly changing. The computer continuously makes adjustments or corrections (especially to the air/fuel mixture and spark timing) to keep all the engine systems operating within the preset reference values.
On-Board Diagnostics - First Generation (OBD1)
Beginning in 1988, California's Air Resources Board (CARB), and later the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required vehicle manufacturers to include a self-diagnostic program in their on-board computers. The program would be capable of identifying emissions-related faults in a system. The first generation of Onboard Diagnostics came to be known as OBD1.
OBD1 is a set of self-testing and diagnostic instructions programmed into the vehicle's on-board computer. The programs are specifically designed to detect failures in the sensors, actuators, switches and wiring of the various vehicle emissions-related systems. If the computer detects a failure in any of these components or systems, it lights an indicator on the dashboard to alert the driver. The indicator lights only when an emissions-related problem is detected.
The computer also assigns a numeric code for each specific problem that it detects, and stores these codes in its memory for later retrieval. These codes can be retrieved from the computer's memory with the use of an OBD2 Diagnostic Tool.
With the exception of some 1994 and 1995 vehicles, most vehicles from 1982 to 1995 are equipped with some type of first generation On-Board Diagnostics.
On-Board Diagnostics - Second Generation (OBD2)
The OBD2 System is an enhancement of the OBD1 System.
In addition to performing all the functions of the OBD1 System, the OBD2 System has been enhanced with new Diagnostic Programs. These programs closely monitor the functions of various emissions-related components and systems (as well as other systems) and make this information readily available (with the proper equipment) to the technician for evaluation.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) conducted studies on OBD1 equipped vehicles. The information that was gathered from these studies showed the following:
- A large number of vehicles had deteriorating or degraded emissions-related components. These components were causing an increase in emissions.
- Because OBD1 systems only detect failed components, the degraded components were not setting codes.
Some emissions problems related to degraded components only occur when the vehicle is being driven under a load. The emission checks being conducted at the time were not performed under simulated driving conditions. As a result, a significant number of vehicles with degraded components were passing Emissions Tests.
Codes, code definitions, diagnostic connectors, communication protocols and emissions terminology were different for each manufacturer. This caused confusion for the technicians working on different make and model vehicles.
To address the problems made evident by this study, CARB and the EPA passed new laws and standardization requirements. These laws required that vehicle manufacturers to equip their new vehicles with devices capable of meeting all of the new emissions standards and regulations. It was also decided that an enhanced on-board diagnostic system, capable of addressing all of these problems, was needed. This new system is known as "On-Board Diagnostics Generation Two (OBD2)." The primary objective of the OBD2 system is to comply with the latest regulations and emissions standards established by CARB and the EPA.
The Main Objectives of the OBD2 System are:
To detect degraded and/or failed emissions-related components or systems that could cause tailpipe emissions to exceed by 1.5 times the Federal Test Procedure (FTP) standard.
To expand emissions-related system monitoring. This includes a set of computer run diagnostics called Monitors. Monitors perform diagnostics and testing to verify that all emissions-related components and/or systems are operating correctly and within the manufacturer's specifications.
- To use a standardized Diagnostic Link Connector (DLC) in all vehicles. (Before OBD2, DLCs were of different shapes and sizes.)
To standardize the code numbers, code definitions and language used to describe faults. (Before OBD2, each vehicle manufacturer used their own code numbers, code definitions and language to describe the same faults.)
- To expand the operation of the Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL).
To standardize communication procedures and protocols between the diagnostic equipment (Scan Tools, Code Readers, etc.) and the vehicle's on-board computer.