Thirteen OBD Frequent Questions/Answers and help you have a preliminary understanding of OBD
Thirteen OBD Frequent Questions/Answers and help you have a preliminary understanding ofOBD(1)What is OBD, and what are its benefits?OBD stands for “on-board diagnostics”, a computer-based system built auto diagnostic tool intoall model year(MY) 1996 and newer light-duty cars and trucks. OBD monitors the performance ofsome of the engines’ major components, including individual emission controls. The systemprovides owners with an early warning of malfunctions by way of a dashboard “Check Engine”light (also known as a Malfunction Indicator Light or MIL, for short). By giving vehicle ownersthis early warning, OBD protects not only the environment but also consumers, identifying minorproblems before they become major repair bills.(2)How do I know the OBD system is working correctly?When you turn on the ignition, the “Service Engine Soon” or “Check Engine” light should flashbriefly, indicating that the OBD system is ready to scan your vehicle for any malfunctions. Afterthis brief flash, the light should stay off while you drive as long as no problems are detected. If so,you’ll be glad to know that your vehicle is equipped with an early warning system that could saveyou time, money, and fuel in addition to helping protect the environment!(3)What does it mean if the light turns on while I’m driving?If the light comes on and stays on, the OBD system has detected a problem. Your vehicle mighthave a condition that wastes fuel, shortens engine life, or causes excessive air pollution. If leftunaddressed, these conditions could also damage your vehicle and lead to increasingly expensiverepairs. For example, OBD can identify a loose or missing gas cap (which wastes fuel andcontributes to smog) or engine misfire (which can lead to severe or permanent engine damage).(4)What should I do if the light stays on?There is no cause for panic. The vehicle is just telling you to seek attention soon. When you reachyour destination, make sure the gas cap is not loose or missing. Always turn off your engine whenrefueling. If the light does not go out after a few short trips following gas cap replacement ortightening, have your vehicle serviced by a qualified repair technician soon! Delaying assistancecould lead to more expensive damage.(5)What does it mean if the light is blinking?If the light is blinking, a severe engine problem such as a catalyst-damaging misfire is occurringand should be addressed as soon as possible. You can still drive safely, but should minimize yourtime on the road. Try not to drive the vehicle at high speed or with excess weight (such as towingor carrying heavy equipment).
(6)What will my technician do when I take my vehicle into the shop?Ask your repair shop if they employ trained OBD technicians. A modern repair shop or dealershipshould have an OBD scan tool (a small, hand-held scanning device) to diagnose the cause of yourvehicle’s problem. These technicians will have the proper tools and will know best how todiagnose your vehicle.The technician will connect the scan tool to your vehicle’s computer (usually through a connectorunder the dashboard) and download information that can pinpoint the problem. The technician canthen repair the vehicle based on manufacturer recommendations. OBD actually helps repairtechnicians do their job more quickly and reliably, helping you avoid unnecessary repairs and tripsback to the shop.(7)Will the repair be covered by warranty?Warranty coverage varies depending on components and individual manufacturer warrantyprovisions. In most cases, however, responding sooner rather than later is likely to minimize theindividual owner’s repair liability. The CAA requires an 8-year or 80,000 mile warranty on themajor emissions control components such as the catalytic converter, and a 2-year or 24,000 milewarranty on other emissions control components.(8)Are repair costs going to increase?Thus far, no increase has been seen. Real world experience from operating programs has shownthat the average cost for an OBD-triggered repair is comparable to that associated with repairstriggered as a result of more traditional tailpipe testing of OBD-equipped vehicles. Regardless ofthe test used to identify a failure in the I/M lane, it is standard operating procedure for a repairtechnician to consult a vehicle’s OBD system before attempting a repair. In fact, the repaircommunity has been using the kind of information provided by OBD systems to diagnose andrepair vehicles for more than twenty years. The fact that these systems and the information theyprovide has been standardized since MY1996 makes using this information easier while leading tomore accurate and quicker diagnoses and more cost-effective repairs than possible with earlierOBD systems.(9)Can the OBD system be repaired, deactivated, or modified?The rule of thumb when it comes to emissions-related vehicle repair is that any modification thatchanges the vehicle from a certified configuration to a non-certified configuration is consideredtampering: this applies to both vehicle owners and repair facilities and is, therefore, a Federaloffense. Replacing a catalyst with a straight pipe is one traditional example of tampering.Likewise, overriding the OBD system through the use of high-tech defeat devices or non-certifiedcomputer chips, for example, would also be considered tampering. The OBD system may,however, be repaired back to its original certified configuration with certified “performance chips”or appropriate aftermarket parts.
(10)What should I do if the light goes out before I take the vehicle to the shop?Usually, nothing. If the problem that caused the light to come on is addressed, the OBD computerwill turn the light off. This is not an indication of a faulty OBD system. In fact, the system is doingits job by verifying that a problem temporarily existed but has since been corrected; perhaps aloose gas cap was tightened or a fouled spark plug was cleared. Your vehicle needs no specialattention unless the light comes on again.(11)Why are states required to include OBD checks as part of their inspection and maintenance(I/M) program(s)?This computer-based early warning system was required by the 1990 Clean Air Act (CAA) andcomes standard on all MY1996 and newer light-duty cars and trucks. The CAA also required thatchecks of the OBD system be included in all mandatory I/M programs to help ensure that vehicleowners take this early warning seriously. Many states have already incorporated OBD checks intotheir I/M programs, and many more are on schedule to do so within the next few years.Despite numerous improvements in automotive technology, motor vehicles continue to be a majorsource of air pollution, accounting for approximately 77 percent of the carbon monoxide (CO) and45 percent of the ozone-causing nitrogen oxides (NOx) in our nation’s air. I/M programs helpreduce excess emissions by identifying vehicles in need of repair and requiring that they be fixed.For MY1995 and older vehicles, the most effective way to identify needed repairs is by measuringtailpipe emissions. In some cases, however, a vehicle may need repair before emissions increase.For MY1996 and newer vehicles, the OBD system makes it possible to detect malfunctions beforeit leads to high emissions. The OBD computer monitors a wide range of emissions controls andlights the “Check Engine” light if a problem is detected.(12)Why can a vehicle pass a tailpipe test but fail an OBD test?OBD and tailpipe testing are two different approaches to identify vehicles in need of repair. TheOBD system looks for broken or malfunctioning emissions control components, while tailpipetests sample a vehicle’s exhaust to see if it is above or below certain prescribed limits. Given therobust nature of today’s emissions control components, it is entirely possible for an individualcomponent to malfunction without leading to an immediate increase in emissions at the tailpipe. Insuch cases, other components (like the catalyst) can temporarily compensate for the part that isbroken; however, these other components can only do double duty for so long before they, too,begin to malfunction. Because of its ability to monitor individual components, OBD is able to givemotorists an “early warning” that repairs are needed; it is because of this “early warning”capability that OBD will sometimes fail vehicles that would otherwise pass a tailpipe test. Inaddition, OBD also monitors for leaks and other malfunctions in the fuel system—problems thattraditional tailpipe tests were not designed to identify. Most state and local areas also include a gascap pressure test as part of an emission inspection.
(13)What else can I do to make sure my vehicle is running well and to minimize its environmentalimpact?Today’s vehicles are highly sophisticated and efficient. OBD helps to ensure these vehicles arerunning in top shape, but you still need to maintain your vehicle according to the manufacturer’srecommended schedule. Keep up with routine maintenance and keep an eye out for your CheckEngine light. Always turn off the engine before refueling and always make sure the gas cap issecurely tightened. You’ll save money on fuel and repairs while helping to do your part to protectthe air you breathe. In addition, driving as little as possible by combining trips, carpooling,walking, biking, or using public transit are all things you can do to help minimize vehiclepollution.