We all love great road trips. Make sure your vehicle is prepared before you get on your trip. It doesn’t matter if it’s your own vehicle or a rental car. You would think a rental car is always fit and ready to go. Oh boy, I have seen things you wouldn’t believe. A couple of examples, a rental car was automatically assigned to me via their online system and I walked straight to it at the rental car center to pick it up. I have learned from previous experiences that a walk around the car is always good before you drive off. So what happened? The back windshield wiper blade was missing and the arm just folded up, but the agents checked it in as ready to go. My probably most horrifying experience was when I rented a car at the Denver airport station. I checked the car itself but forgot to check one important thing – the tires. It was springtime and in Colorado, there is still snow everywhere on the sides of the road and you always have to expect new snowfall. After a stop and grabbing a bite to eat I walked back to my rental car and for some reason I took a closer glimpse at my tires. I was like, what the hell is this? The tires had almost no threads left. This can be dangerous on snowy and icy roads as you lose all your grip. I made it through the short rental period of a few days and when I returned it, I talked to the manager at the station. As I knew I would be back in a few weeks, we agreed on a deal. So now you know, check also the tires, not just the car itself.
So now you checked everything, even double and triple checked everything and off you go. Now the most horrifying scenario ever as you drive down the road, hours or days away from home. The check engine light comes on. What to do now? Is it something supercritical? Can you keep driving or do you have to pull over immediately? The check engine light, doesn’t really tell you exactly what’s going on, but there is one thing it doesn’t mean at all – ignore it. It depends where you at, most of the time there is a nearby car shop who can help out and fix the problem for you. But what if you are out in the middle of nowhere, a couple of hours away from civilization?
It’s great to have a nifty little tool handy – an OBD Scanner. This tool can hook up to your car and can read out error codes that are stored in the car’s ECU. Don’t just stop reading here. This is not as geeky as you think. You don’t have to be an engineer to use it. It is actually very simple and easy. The tool tells you what the check engine light actually means and it allows you to erase the code. Of course, you should fix the issue first. During one of my rentals, I was driving a GMC Yukon Denali and for the first day, everything was just fine. The second day, after about half-way the drive to work, the check engine light came on. I hooked up my OBD Scanner and cleared the code, as the message was just a warning. The light never came on for the rest of my 3-week rental.
OBD Scanners come in all kinds of different sizes and hardware. There are the fancy ones your car shop uses for a few thousand dollars which come either as a table or use computer software, and there are the small universal ones, which offer almost the same functionality for a fraction of the price and size. These small adapters have one amazing advantage, you don’t need a laptop or handheld unit to use them, all you need is your smartphone.
My favorite tool for years is manufactured by OBDLink.
Many years ago, I started out with one of their wired diagnostic tools. This was about 10 years ago and technology has evolved so much in the meantime. I had to upgrade to a new device, as someone broke into my car and stole it. I know what you will say now, don’t leave valuables in the car! Well, lesson learned. Anyway, I upgraded now to the OBDLink MX+. This is one of their top models you can buy from OBDLink. As I love this technical stuff and use it a lot as a technician, it was absolutely worth every penny. It runs about $100 bucks and there are sales throughout the year. It is my personal favorite, but it makes only sense if you need all the extra stuff.
There is also an entry-level model called OBDlink LX. It has the same functionality as the MX+ model in regards to the regular OBD diagnostic. However, you cant access the proprietary Ford & GM vehicle networks (MS-CAN and SW-CAN) in addition to the standard OBD-II protocols. The OBDlink LX costs just under $60 USD. Both models, the MX+ and the LX connect to your phone via Bluetooth.
To actually use it, you have to install the free app OBDLink. This app is available for Android and iOS devices. This is the advantage of OBDLink over competitors, as the app to use the hardware, comes free of charge.
Usage of the OBDLink App
The usage is straightforward. First, plug the adapter into your ODB port in your car. This port is most of the time located on the driver’s side somewhere under the steering wheel. After you have your adapter plugged in, turn on the ignition and open the Bluetooth settings of your smartphone. Look for the adapter to show up in the list and pair it with your phone.
Once done, you can open the OBDLink app. To see the engine codes, click on Diagnostic and the software will scan your car for errors which will then be displayed on your screen with some information on what the error code is about. At the very bottom of the screen is a button to erase the codes. Do so only if you are sure what’s going on. But erasing the codes won’t help you if it’s an ongoing issue with the engine. The check engine light will come on again either straight away or after a short while.
Use it as an extended Dashboard
You can do more than just clear error codes with this OBD adapter. Extend your dashboard. The app can show you the basic vehicle information, maybe even some which are not even accessible on your dashboard in the car. My favorite app for this is Torque which is only available for Android. You can create custom dashboards and even manage multiple cars. It’s great for performance tracking and much more. The options are pretty much endless. There are many apps out there that allow the usage of this adapter. Some free, some for purchase. It always depends on what you want to do with it.
These are only a few options. There are even more apps out there and there is also software for Mac and Windows/Windows Phone. I love the Torque Pro app, you have to buy it, but there is a lite version of the app in the Google Play Store to try it out first.
All opinions are my own and I am not affiliated with OBDLink. I am sharing my personal experience with these devices and don’t receive any compensation for writing this post.
Peter has a passion for Traveling, Photography, and Geocaching. These are the best ingredients for amazing adventures all over the globe. “Traveling is fun, no matter if you stay in a luxury hotel or travel like a backpacker.” Peter shares his experiences on his Blog www.gatetoadventures.com
Some of Peter’s photos are published on corporate websites, in-flight magazines, travel guides, and much more.