Most drivers today are familiar with the lights and indicators on their dashboard, especially the dreaded check engine light. However, did you know these lights are the surface level indicators for a complex system of diagnostic signals that constantly work to monitor the health of vehicles? From Cars to commercial trucks, these systems, called OBD systems, have become a standard, making vehicle diagnosis and maintenance easier than ever before.
What is OBD?
OBD stands for On-Board Diagnostics and is a computer system inside of a vehicle that tracks and regulates a car’s performance. The computer system collects information from the network of sensors inside the vehicle, which the system can then use to regulate car systems or alert the user to problems.
A technician can then simply plug into the OBD system to collect vehicle data and diagnose the problem. On-Board Diagnostics was initially originated in the 1980s when vehicle monitoring systems were developed in response to several factors, including Emissions control, Electronic fuel injection and Electronic components.
How Does OBD Work?
A basic OBD system consists of a central system, a network of sensors, a connection point and indicators, creating a complete monitoring system with standardized access and readability.
This vehicle diagnostic device can be used to read the data that is recorded while driving your car. The data collection initiates as soon as you start the engine. The central part of the OBD system is the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) which collects input from various sensors throughout the vehicle.
There are sensors throughout vehicles covering every area from the engine and chassis to the electronic system itself. If a sensor sends information to the ECU that falls outside of the normal range, the ECU saves the information as a code called a Diagnostic Trouble Code, or DTC.
The DTC code essentially is a list of letters and numbers, which indicate the source and nature of the problem. When the ECU collects a DTC code, it sends a signal to the vehicle dashboard to turn on the appropriate indicator lights. These lights, known formally as Malfunction Indicator Lights or MILs, provide an early warning system for vehicle malfunctions.
In general, if the light turns on and stays on, the problem is minor. If the light flashes, the problem is urgent. With an OBD reader, it is only possible to diagnose certain car brands, since each car brand has its plug.
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