Volkswagen pioneered onboard vehicle electronics with scanning ability in 1969, today called OBD (onboard diagnostics). A modern car like the ninth-generation 2021 Chevy Malibu uses the latest OBD-II standard. This standard has been mandatory on all cars sold in the USA since 1996, from the base model to the flagship in each range. An OBD-II scanning tool would even be able to read an old fifth-generation 1997 Malibu’s OBD data. This is why so many car enthusiasts buy these scanning tools to get access to lots of data that their cars log but that aren’t necessarily displayed on the dashboard.
In our new Chevrolet Malibu, the OBD-II port is on the driver’s side under the dashboard, to the left of the hood’s release lever. Most OBD-II ports are in the driver’s vicinity and you can check the location of yours in your car’s handbook or online. Two types of OBD-II scanners can be plugged into this port. Handheld models have their own screens to display data and wireless scanners transmit the data to a device such as a tablet or smartphone, with an app on the device to read and interpret the data.
Wireless Bluetooth OBD-II Scanners
First, you have to buy the hardware and for this, you must read a review of every scanner that is compatible with your car, as well as its features and specifications. Do you want to use it mainly for maintenance purposes or just as a fun tool to monitor your car’s vitals or performance? In comparison to handheld scanners, wireless Bluetooth scanners are cheaper and you just connect your phone to them. Read the specs and decide how much functionality you want. First read the scanner’s online literature to make sure it’s compatible with your car.
Here are a few examples of some of the features many of these scanners offer:
- Monitoring your car’s fuel economy and performance data
- Some with enhanced diagnostics can diagnose ABS and airbag systems as well
- They can be used by fleet operators to monitor their entire fleet of vehicles
- Many offer subscriber services with repair estimates and on-call mechanics
- They can reset the “Check Engine” light
- Many are compatible with several different apps
The Best Android OBD-II Apps
Here are five of the best 2021 apps currently available on the Play Store:
- Torque: One of the best-known and best-rated apps there is a Torque Lite (free) and Torque Pro (paid) version. Torque Pro can display a whole dashboard of graphs and dials to monitor your car’s vitals in real time, including acceleration, horsepower, torque, engine speed, and road speed. An entire fault-codes section accesses the vehicle’s logged faults and breakdown data, where you can view the codes and the explanations and technical data associated with each to understand the problem at hand. You can change the app’s theme, get CO2 emission readouts, and share data screenshots to social media. You can set alarms for excessive coolant temperatures and it even has a built-in GPS compass. Additionally, you can record 0-60 mph sprints. It also has a HUD mode to project data onto your windshield with an appropriately mounted smartphone.
- InCarDoc Pro: A free version of this app can be downloaded to first check adaptability before you commit. This powerful app supports not just Bluetooth, but Wi-Fi and USB as well – but requires an ELM327-compatible scanner. It offers GPS support and you can upload your data to the cloud. It offers GPS support, has acceleration and MPG widgets and it has an overlay that can display economy data over a running application or in background mode.
- OBD Auto Doctor: While OBD Auto Doctor can do most of the real-time monitoring and diagnostics that other apps can, it also has the ability to export your data in CSV format via email. It can monitor over 18,000 error codes and offers a 24/7 helpdesk. It can monitor your vehicle’s status and let you know when it is ready for emissions testing.
- OBDLink App: This app can carry out emissions tests, display data from oxygen sensors, record journey information, and do GPS tracking. You can email diagnostics reports directly from the app. Take note that this app supports only OBDLink’s own hardware, namely the OBDLink MX, OBDLink LX, and OBDLink SX USB adapters, which is why is one of the reasons it works so seamlessly – there are not compatibility problems.
- Car Scanner ELM OBD2: This app is free and can also check engine fault codes and monitor vitals via a customizable control panel. It can monitor all sensors on one screen. However, what makes this app a little different is that, just like Torque Pro, it has a HUD mode that can use your phone to project data onto your windshield while you are driving. Another boon is that many connection profiles are available for several car brands such as Toyota, Subaru, Kia, GM, Hyundai, and Volkswagen to give you some extra features for your specific brand of vehicle.
OBD-II scanner tools are not just for car nuts and fleet operators. Yes, enthusiasts can monitor vehicle parameters and see all the behind-the-scenes information and sensor data that they’re not normally privy to, but others are actually very useful tracking and trip aids too. However, there are many devices out there, so the best advice we can give the average person is that a cheaper Bluetooth scanner that connects to your smartphone via an app is the most economical way to get access to all the data you will likely ever need.
First, identify the devices that are compatible with your car, read their reviews to see which features you need, and consider one of the above apps or one of the many other available ones to interpret and display the data. Try out the free versions of “Pro” apps first to avoid spending unnecessary money although most apps are quite cheap. You can soon have access to all manner of interesting and useful data such as your real-time gas mileage, sensor data, and more that can help you enjoy, maintain, and repair your car.