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Auto Computer Codes, What They Are, and How To Read Them

by Eddie Carrara

In 1996, OBD2 was introduced to all new vehicles built in the US and now mandated by the government. The OBD2 systems have become very complex over the years and, to this day, installed in all new cars, trucks, and SUVs. These emission controls help lower vehicle emissions and make them less intrusive to the environment. 

What is unique about OBD2 is that it is a universal application for all late-model vehicles. Mechanics or DIYers access the information through a universal port called the DLC (Data Link Connector) or OBD2 port (On-Board Diagnostics 2 Port).  Car manufacturers have installed these connectors under the dash on the driver's side on most vehicles. 

Honda, some other manufacturers have placed them behind the ashtray or center console. Still, for most cars, looking up under the dash below the steering column near the knee bolster is where you will usually find this connector.

In earlier years, you would have to bring your vehicle to a mechanic or own an OBD scan tool to extract the computer codes or DTC's from the cars ECU (Engine Control Unit). Now it's as easy as pulling out your Smartphone, iPhone, laptop, or tablet and connecting it wirelessly to retrieve the DTC's. Now you can buy an app and a Bluetooth adapter for the cost of eating out, but the price is minimal compared to what it would cost to have a garage or shop pull the code. Shops usually charge a minimum of 1 hour to check a DTC, and that does not include repairing the vehicle.

Benefits to Knowing Diagnostic Trouble Codes

The benefit to having this Bluetooth adapter is that if you have a simple code, like a gas cap code or a misfire code, you can diagnose it where ever you are, clear it, and be on your way. The second benefit is knowing what the code is. Even if you're going to have a garage or shop repairing it for you, you'll know what's wrong with your car before they even look at it, that information is priceless, and you can't get taken for a ride! 

The average cost of an ELM 327 Bluetooth OBD2 scan tool is $15- $60, depending on your specific application. If you own an iPhone, I recommend buying the iOBD2 for $60 and spending the $4.99 on the App. You're guaranteed not to have any problems with communication or App conflicts. If you're using a Droid, Samsung, or HTC, it will cost less for the adapter, and the Free App will give you all the information you need, there are paid Apps, but unless you want to get techie, there is no need to spend the money.

Buying a ELM 327 Bluetooth OBD2 Code Reader

Before you rush out and buy your auto computer codes reader, I highly recommend researching which scanner is right for your phone. The vehicle's diagnostic trouble codes are universal, but the phone adapters are not. I recommend reading customer reviews on the product before making a decision. I also recommend purchasing it from an online retailer with an easy return policy and not just a drop shipper, only in case you have any problems, you don't want to have any hassles if you need to return it. 

Let me know your thoughts by leaving questions and comments in the box below, and if you know of anyone who could use this information, share it on Facebook, Twitter, or send them a link.

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