OBD1 vs OBD2 Scanners: What Are They and How Do They Differ?

Difference Between OBD1 and OBD2 Scanners

OBD scan tools are devices that make diagnosing system malfunctions and other issues within your car a lot easier. Without them, it is much harder to know what’s wrong with your car. Mechanics and DIY repairmen alike use these devices to diagnose car problems. There are two main types of OBD scanners on the market: OBD1 and OBD2 scanners. 

This article explores the difference between the two so that you know which OBD scanner you need.

What Is an OBD Scanner?

OBD stands for on-board diagnostic and is an onboard computer system. With OBD diagnostic tools, mechanics can easily scan the OBD system within vehicles and easily diagnose malfunctions within multiple vehicle processes. 

It is a tool that acts as a code reader whenever there is an issue with your car. It is plugged into a diagnostic connector located right under the steering wheel.

Fault codes aren’t the only data you can retrieve with a scan tool. You can easily access real-time data and monitor engine running performance, engine temperature, mass airflow, and more.

Some drivers may also apply changes to their vehicles through coding and even detect car scams.

Currently, there are two scanners available on the market: OBD1 and ODB2. Let’s dive into detail about them.

What Is an OBD1 Code Reader?

The OBD 1 mandate had to be initiated to control emissions in 1991 in California. It was meant to become a universal diagnostics system. However, in practice, car manufacturers could install OBD1 of their own make and design. This led to the production of scan tools that showed error codes that were different for each car make and were rather general than specific.

The OBD1 code reader is now used for general issues related to emissions, engines, and fuel systems.

Cars with built-in OBD1 have a diagnostic connector located in the engine compartment. Alternatively, a test light with a jumper cable will let you read the error codes, too.

Reading OBD1 codes is a task that requires patience and knowledge. The error code for your car model may mean something different for another one.

For example, to understand the code for the GM vehicles of 1995, there is a purposely designed GM OBD code reader. The isn’t any app to see the error code — instead, you count the flashing lights on a dashboard and then look into the manual book for description.

When Did OBD1 Start?

The predecessor of today’s vehicle’s on-board computer is OBD1 which was first designed for and installed in Volkswagen cars in 1968. A decade later, Datsun came up with its own diagnostic system.

In 1979, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) first proposed the standardized diagnostic connector and a set of test signals. One year forward, GM introduced a simpler way of checking test signals by counting flashing Check English Light.

By 1991, SAE again brought up the issue, proposing to standardize OBD. And only in 1991 did California state call for all vehicles to have OBD 1 installed.

Soon after, the state of California required all vehicles sold within to have installed the diagnostic system that the SAE proposed. The primary purpose of the OBD was not to find the fault codes as we have but to perform emission testing.

The transition to universal OBD – now OBD2 – was due in 1996 and applied to all cars manufactured in the US. Not only was the diagnostics system universal, but also the Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs).

What Is OBD2?

OBD2 was mandated to be installed in all cars manufactured in 1996 in the US and later in Europe. Unlike OBD1, the system and the codes were universal across all car models.

The OBD2 scanner can provide data about your vehicle’s coolant, temperature, road speed, throttle position, and more.

There are currently two devices available for OBD2: scan tools and code readers. Scan tools can access the vehicle’s recorded data, troubleshoot issues, and customize your car. In contrast, most basic code readers are less sophisticated tools and can access limited data, for example, manufacturer error codes.

Which OBD Scanner Does Your Vehicle Support?

From 1988 onward, all cars have some sort of OBD feature.

OBD systems can monitor a range of car processes, depending on the age of the vehicle you own. Cars manufactured from 1988 through 1996 typically have OBD I and cars made in 1996 or newer feature OBD II systems.

What Is The Difference Between OBD1 And OBD2?

Obd1 vs Obd2 scanners

The main difference between OBD1 and OBD2 is that OBD2 systems provide better and more standardized vehicle protocols and system checks. OBD1 systems are less comprehensive, though they can still read a number of trouble codes that help diagnose malfunctions in multiple car processes.

OBD1 Scanners

OBD1 vs OBD1 Scanners

OBD1 is a diagnostic system that supports cars made between 1988 and 1996. The downside of these scanners is that they are manufacturer-specific. One scanner won’t work on two different brands, even if they have the same issues. For example, an OBD1 scanner for Toyota won’t work for Ford.

OBD1 scanners offer basic functionalities. They can check the emission system, read and monitor engine performance, and produce warning messages.

However, these messages only contain basic information. They only inform of the problem with no details of where the problem actually is. But they do have their benefits. They can enhance the engine’s life

OBD2 Scanners

OBD2 Scanners

OBD2 scanners support almost all models made in 1996 and after including a limited number of hybrid and electric vehicles.

They do not only offer basic features but come with advanced functions as well, based on which OBD2 scanner you purchase.

OBD2 scanners can perform and provide the following:

  • CEL, RPM, Fuel, Speed, Pressure, Coolant Temp, Live Map,
  • Air Fuel Ratio, Freeze Frame Data,
  • Battery Performance, Engine Performance, Oil Temp, Live Readings,
  • Coolant Temp, DPF Temp, Fuel Pressure, Smog Testing, Fuel Trim and O2 Sensors.

Some advanced features they offer include:

  • Online Programming, ECU Programming,
  • ABS, Misfires, Video Overlay, Battery Information,
  • Anti-brake Lock System, Video Relay, Air Bag Problems, and Key Coding.

Moreover, OBD2 scanners provide great customization and can also let you view data in graphical forms. They also pinpoint towards the problem and suggest reliable repair and fixes, unlike OBD1 scanners.

Comparison Chart: OBD1 vs OBD2 Scanners

OBD1 ScannersOBD2 Scanners

Cars Supported

Only supports cars manufactured in or before 1995, including some 80’s models

Supports cars manufactured in and after 1996
Manufacturer Specified: One car per OBD1 scanner

Universal: One scanner can support different manufacturers
Connects to the console but is quite easy to use

Works wirelessly via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

Corded options are also available.
Outcome Generation
Gives results after considering energy and fuel consumption and comparing the result to the output

Improved signaling protocols and messaging formats to provide results by taking into account different factors
Poor (only shows the CEL message with no detailed codes)

High (shows messages with a code to further specify where the problem is: For example: “Check Engine Light C2132.”
Can check sensor and actuator for signs of high resistance, opens, and shorts.
All out of range values are sent to the ECM.

Capable of performing all OBD1 scanner functions along with additional ones such a graphical representation of data, customization, smog tests, performance level, and battery usage.

OBD1 vs OBD2: How to Tell If Your Vehicle Is OBD1 or OBD2 Compatible

OBD1 vs OBD2 scanner comparison chart

OBD1 vs. OBD2 Scanner: Which One Should I Buy?

If compatible with your car, OBD2 scanners are the better choice. If your vehicle does not support OBD2, there are still some great OBD1 scanners on the market. Plus, to get the functionalities of an OBD2 scanner, look into an OBD1+OBD2 scanner that supports both older and newer cars.

When to Buy an OBD1 Scanner?

If you own an older car manufactured before 1996, you’ll likely need an OBD1 scanner. 

Although OBD1 scanners do not offer advanced functionalities, there are several great scanners on the market that provide accurate, reliable information about your ABS, SRS, transmission, and engine systems. Here are our favorite OBD1 tools currently on the market (2022).

When to Buy an OBD2 Scanner?

Car owners with vehicles made in 1996 and years after can go for OBD2 scanners.Here are our favorite OBD2 scan tools of 2022.

If you want to be a pro at solving car problems, then we recommend an OBD2 scanner that can offer both basic and advanced functions. Some advanced scanners are suitable even for professional mechanics.

BONUS: Oil Light In Your Automobile: Keep Your Engine Functions Longer!


Can I Use OBD1 and OBD2 Scanner?

Typically, OBD2 scanners are not compatible with OBD1 cars even with connectors or adapters, though hybrid scanners do exist. If you have an OBD1 vehicle, look for an OBD1 scanner, or an OBD2 scanner with OBD1 functions. 

Is My Car OBD1 or OBD2?

Put simply, if your car was manufactured before 1996, it is likely OBD1. Vehicles manufactured in 1996 or newer are typically OBD2 cars. 

What Year Did OBD1 Start?

OBD1 first started in 1991, when OBD became standardized throughout the automotive industry in California and then across the US. The true start of OBD came more than 20 years earlier, however, when Volkswagen came up with the OBD diagnostic scanning system.

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