OBD which stands for On-Board Diagnostic system is used on all of today’s foreign and domestic vehicles. There are two OBD systems, the first one known as OBD (now referred to as OBD1) and the second generation — OBD2 (OBD II).
This OBD II software system was introduced in the mid-’90s which was essentially an update of the first version, OBD1. The updated version has much more control of the engine cycle and performance, considering to be the engine’s brains. Various sensors positioned throughout the engine constantly feed the system with information, so electronic adjustments are made continually for optimum engine emissions and performance.
Today’s system have become so complex with integrated external systems that an automotive diagnostic OBD2 scanner is required to actually check the vehicle for any error codes or ‘Check Engine’ light.
The initial invention
The first OBD system was created through necessity to reduce emissions pollution. The problem solver was LA, the State of California which was desperately trying to solve the smog problem in that city.
Manufacturers started having serious pressure to reduce emissions on their new engines before even leaving the factory! This pressure was becoming so tough due to the massive increases in all types of vehicles on the road network, which in turn was increasing exhaust pollution extensively. The population awareness of the constant increase in exhaust emissions meant that this was becoming a huge priority on the State.
In 1966 the State of California started requiring emission control systems added on the new cars. The federal government then introduced these controls nationwide in 1968. The Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 and established the Environmental Protection Agency commonly known as EPA. Through this new EPA act, emission standards started improving gradually from newly produced vehicles, while the standards kept constantly becoming tighter throughout the years. Manufactures had to resort to other methods for emission improvement through better fuel/air calibrations to keep up with the EPA standards. This has led the manufacturers to move onto electronic control for fuel and ignition systems with sensors measuring engine parameters.
These new electronically controlled packages would adjust accordingly for better exhaust emissions. The same engine sensors had a dual purpose, adjustment of engine parameters which was also used for engine diagnostic assistance.
At the introduction of the new emissions legislation, manufacturers had few set standards between them, as long as they reached the EPA emission standards. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) intervened setting up a new standard. The connector plug was standardized together with a set of diagnostic test signals.
The OBD II software and system is an upgraded version of the SAE standards which was also adopted by the EPA and CARB (California Air Resources Board) which became implemented on January 1996.
The way forward
The main role of the EPA is to constantly keep reducing emissions to a new acceptable level. They are always moving on with new technology and so the standards are always being tweaked, meaning they always become tighter on the vehicle manufacturers.
Every car manufacturer must cater for the vehicle’s life span with the emission practices, meaning that the emissions must stay within the region of the manufactured parameters. This is where the diagnostic OBD2 scanner equipment enters the scene. Auto technicians, independent vehicle specialists and nowadays even the DIY-ers use their best OBD2 Scanners for read-outs of engine fault codes and sometimes to check and reset the ‘Check Engine’ light
Modern electronics and new technology has made these once-extremely expensive and prohibitive equipment, way more affordable to own. The standardization between manufacturers has helped immensely too, meaning that a Pro reader / scanner can be used on nearly all vehicles.