While computers use hardware detection tools, vehicles also use a form of hardware detection. Mechanics and automotive enthusiasts use On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) tools to scan for fault codes and diagnose what’s wrong with the vehicle.

checking engine

What is an OBD?

Let’s start with the basics.

OBD is an abbreviation for onboard diagnostics. This is the vehicle’s built-in capability to assess and diagnose itself. It finds out if there is something wrong with the engine (as well as other parts of the automobile) and creates a “report” of the issues. This is possible through the use of sensors that are all found all over the vehicle. 

There are two main types of scanners: OBD1 and OBD2. Both tools differ in terms of features, connectivity, use, and standardization.

OBD1 was the first self-diagnosis system. As technology has made leaps and bounds, so did automotive science. These days, almost all cars use OBD2. 

The Difference Between OBD1 and OBD2


Sometimes referred simply as the California Standard, OBD1 was first installed in 1991 vehicles. As with all pioneering discoveries and inventions, it used the most elementary diagnostic tests (i.e. locating basic engine problems and simple reporting). 

However, it was very advanced for that era in that it can basically “talk” to the vehicle’s onboard computer. It was a revolutionary way of recognizing issues and problems.

Vehicles made between 1991 to 1996, used OBD1. Due to OBD1’s limitations, it’s analysis focused on a few, albeit critical, potential problems (the discharge and emissions systems).

The OBD1’s prime objective was actually futuristic. It was going to help car-makers and manufacturers gain more relevant information and knowledge on how to make better cars.


Also known as the Federal Universal Standard. As the name indicates, this is a government-sanctioned method. Not only is OBD2 more updated than OBD1, it also has a lot more processing power.

OBD2 is more dependable and useful for mechanics. As a result, ODB1 quickly became archaic. Unlike OBD1, the “smarter” OBD2 checks all areas of the vehicle.

OBD2 is the ongoing industry official standard code. Ever since the inception of OBD2 in 1996, all mass-produced vehicles have this system installed because the diagnosis is real-time and, consequently, more efficient.

The first system, OBD1, was created to help manufacturers develop better cars for the future. Afterward, OBD2 was designed not only to help large companies it also helped individual vehicle owners.

Through the use of an OBDII scanners, individuals are able to identify problems with their vehicle on their own. 

mechanic using obd scanner

What OBD Does My Car Have?

If you are wondering what type of OBD your car has installed, there are two easy ways to find out. The first method is to check under the hood, literally. Under the hood, there should be a sticker that clearly defines the type of OBD your vehicle has.

The second method is merely to know what year your vehicle was manufactured. If your car was made before 1996, it uses OBD1. Any vehicle made after 1996 should use OBD2.

You can confirm this by also checking online.

Car Science Improvement

OBD1 was perfect for its time but it had very limited and restricted diagnostic capabilities. Some companies didn’t even bother to implement the OBD1 as some of the functionalities were not that relevant.

The worst part was that OBD1 scanners were very manufacturer-specialized; This meant if you got another brand of car, then you would have to use a different OBD1 scanner.

OBD2 was created to answer the lack of capabilities that were surrounding OBD1. One great benefit is that almost all cars can use the same OBD2 scanner and their are an astounding number of options

Connectivity was a very glaring problem with OBD1. This was emphatically answered by OBD2 by allowing multiple ways to connect to the scanners. Nowadays, you can run the diagnostics directly tethered to a cable, or wirelessly through Bluetooth and WiFi.


Main Differences

OBD1 has very limited uses and more critically, it can be very delayed in response time. Obviously, this is unacceptable when trying to pinpoint an engine concern. Even the problem description can be a little difficult to decipher.

OBD2 can let you choose which diagnostic system check you want to implement. You can “tell” the OBD2 to do a systems check on ABS (the anti-lock braking system), the SRS (Supplemental Restraint System or the Airbag system), or simply check your battery.

Final Words

Hopefully, this article has explained a little bit about the differences between OBD systems. The pros and cons and how to find out which system your car currently has. 

You may also like

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *