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.

From OBD-II to self-driving

Cars, like everything else nowadays, are getting smarter and smarter, and features that sounded futuristic just a few years ago now come stock in many new vehicles. But as we inch (or even sprint) toward self-driving technology, questions still remain about safety and privacy protocols.

Check out:
Fact or fiction: do you know what data your car is sharing about you?
Driving to distraction: does semi-autonomous car tech make us more distracted?




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about Jennifer

A Motor City native, Jennie spent a few years knee-deep in automotive before heading to San Francisco to join the Esurance team as a copywriter. In addition to words, she’s a big fan of running, Detroit Tiger baseball, and the Trader Joe’s cheese aisle.