OBD-II: What It Is and Why It Matters

Get to know your OBD-II, the powerhouse diagnostics system that helps helps make your car more eco-friendly and efficient.

In the car world, there are a lot of acronyms thrown around. Some have become commonplace (ABS, 4WD, and A/C, to name a few), but there are still plenty that send us straight to Google, seeking an explanation for the alphabet soup.

While you may have heard of OBD-II (and perhaps can even locate it in your vehicle), you might not know its purpose or potential. Lucky for you, we’ve got all the OBD-II info you need right here.

What is OBD-II?

“OBD” stands for on-board diagnostics and references the diagnostics computer that’s mandatory on all vehicles manufactured after 1996. OBD-II refers to the second (and latest) generation of the computer. The OBD-II computer is quite the powerhouse, monitoring various vehicle systems and collecting important engine and emissions data.

Where is my OBD-II port?

If your vehicle was made after 1996 (and is not a hybrid or electric car), it should have an OBD-II port. Typically, the port will be located under the dashboard in front of the driver’s seat. Locations can vary based on the vehicle year, make, and model, so check your owner’s manual if necessary.

Why do I have an OBD-II port?

During the 1960s, California was trying to improve air quality in smog-ridden Los Angeles. So, in order to cut down on car pollution, the state required that automakers include emissions regulations systems on all newly manufactured vehicles, a move that would extend nationwide by 1968.

Shortly after, in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded and the Clean Air Act was passed, greatly expanding regulations to control tailpipe emissions and reduce pollution across the country. To meet the new, stricter standards, car manufacturers developed electronic sensors to measure and control important vehicle systems, helping to maximize fuel efficiency and cut down on pollution.

In order to streamline the various criteria and systems being used to measure emissions, the EPA looked to the Society of American Engineers (SAE) and adapted their standard OBD port and emissions rating system.

Then, in 1996, the standards were updated and expanded, resulting in the second generation of the OBD system: the OBD-II.

Other than regulating emissions, what can my OBD-II do?

In addition to making vehicles more eco friendly, the OBD-II can also alert drivers to problems underneath the hood. When your Check Engine Light comes on, for example, it’s due to a malfunction detected by the diagnostics system. If this happens, a mechanic at a dealership or repair shop can connect a reader to your OBD-II port to get a diagnostics summary, which should help pinpoint the problem.

Additionally, there are tons of aftermarket products that plug into a vehicle’s OBD-II port to provide valuable information about vehicle performance and driving habits. Products including fuel economy meters, performance computers, and data loggers tap into the OBD-II computer to provide drivers with hard data about how many miles per gallon they’re getting, how hard their engine is working, how their driving impacts their car, and more.

Esurance and OBD-II technology

At Esurance, we offer 2 programs that utilize OBD-II technology to provide added value to our customers.

Using a small device that connects to your OBD-II port, DriveSense™ allows policyholders to track a variety of driving factors, from how much time they spend behind the wheel, to unsafe driving habits like speeding and sudden braking. Plus, depending on how safely they drive, DriveSense could save them money on their car insurance.

Our teen program, Esurance DriveSafe® combines OBD-II technology with a smartphone app to help limit phone use while driving. With the data gathered from a teen’s car, parents get essential information about their driving in order to better coach them on specific habits.

For more information on Esurance DriveSense or DriveSafe, or to enroll today, give us at call at 1-800-ESURANCE (1-800-378-7262).*

* Not available in all states

Taking advantage of OBD-II technology

Already tapping into your car’s OBD-II technology? Tell us why! Share how you use OBD-II tech to enhance your ride in the comments below.

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