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Car Tech 101: OBD-II apps and dongles: CNET On Cars

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CNET On Cars: Car Tech 101: OBD-II apps and dongles

3:04 /

Brian Cooley explains how the OBD-II port under your dash can feed a secret interface to your car for moment to moment diagnostics.

The OBD-II or Onboard Diagnostics Generation II port is located under your dash on any car sold in the U.S. since 1996, or in Europe since 2001. Look for it within a couple feet of the steering column. Usually right about where the dash tram panel stops and the ugly parts begin. Now, the WD2 port is collecting data from sensors all over your car, in the engine bay, in the suspension, parts of the ABS system that detects movement and G forces. Generally speaking, the newer your car, the more data feeds are coming in there. Things like throttle position, fuel flow, steering wheel angle and tons more data, all right there. Now you get the data out of that OBD2 port into your phone or tablet, most likely, through an app that talks to one of these wireless dongles. These cost anywhere from ten bucks to a hundred dollars or more, but it's basically your range. So they take the data, harvest it, and send it out via bluetooth. Now the difference in price can be quite dramatic, because some of them are a little more limited than others. I would spend a few more bucks and make sure the app you're using is compatible with the dongle you're about to buy. Most apps support notes will tell you which ones work the best with it. Pair it once. And now the fun part. For the car geek, there are apps like Torque, that give you amazing amounts of data from the car. In multiple, configurable dashboards. Many of these apps also merge in GPS and time stamping from your phone. You can even add a video recording app, to record a view of your driving. With some virtual data read outs. Of your choice overlayed on the video, and GPS trajectory and speed, replayable later over a track or road map. For the everyday driver who wants to save fuel, Automatic gets a lot of buzz. It's both a proprietary dongle and an app. Its focus is not the firehose of data we just saw, but rather conclusions based on it that coach you to drive more efficiently. It can also do automatic crash notification. If your car doesn't have that function. And beep to warn you if you're braking too hard, accelerating too hard, or exceeding the speed limit. For the driver who wants to save on their insurance, there's a breed of paid, or pay as you drive OBD Dongles. These monitor your actual driving usage, and can then often qualify you for a discount on your premium. These also tend to roll in things like vehicle locating monitoring and the ubiquitous crash notification service. See if your insurance company offers one of these. Some of these combos of dongles and apps also allow you to view and clear diagnostic trouble codes, like those check engine lights. Look for that function if it's important to you. By the way for the tuner, you have to step up to something a little different. We've been talking about readers that mostly go one way, reporting vehicle data. But tuning your car to hot it up requires something different, like the COBB Accessport, which does connect to OBD2, but with a custom controller and cable. And only for a limited number of performance cars. If you're at all interested, get out there and know your car better. The data is free and the faucet is right under your dash. [MUSIC]

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