OBD1 vs. OBD2 Comparison: How to Tell the Differences?

When you’re driving your car and realize the check engine light is on, the right thing to do is use an OBD scanner to detect the problem. But if you’ve never used an OBD before, you will be left to wonder which OBD system you should use. Is it OBD1 or OBD2 scanner? What is the difference between OBD1 and OBD2? Read this comparison article to find details about this.

We’ve compiled crucial information that you need to choose the advanced OBD scan tool. On top of that, we’ve included their differences and indicated who should pick which scanner. Continue reading to discover the OBD scan tool that is ideal for your vehicle’s make, model, and year.

Both OBD1 & OBD2 Compatibility: Launch X431 V+ PRO
Recommended OBD2 Device: OBDLink MX+
Best OBD1 Tool: INNOVA 3145

What does OBD mean?

OBD stands for Onboard diagnostics. Your vehicle’s onboard diagnostic system is a computer that’s responsible for controlling your engine via a series of sensors. On the other hand, OBD systems allow you to read and diagnose error codes your vehicle shows. In short, the device helps you know the problems your car is facing. That’s why mechanics use these devices to diagnose car issues.

Related article: How to fix the OBD2 port if it is not working?

However, there are two types of OBD scan tools: OBD1 and OBD2 scanners. You need to select the right scan tool to diagnose your car issues.

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How can I tell if my car is OBD1 or OBD2?

Is your Car OBD1 or OBD2 supported? If you don’t know what OBD your car comes with, it is straightforward to find out. First and foremost, you can check beneath the hood. Most car manufacturers indicate what type of OBD the vehicle has below the hood. Secondly, you can tell by identifying when your vehicle was manufactured. If it was manufactured before 1996, then it is OBD1, while if it was manufactured after 1996, then it is OBD2. Alternatively, you can key in your car’s details online, and you will know whether it is OBD1 or OBD2.

OBD1 vs. OBD2: Comparison Chart 2024




Car supported California standard vehicles/ cars manufactured before 1996Federal universal/ vehicles manufactured in 1996 or newer
Type of Interface Manufacturer-specific. It only covers one car per OBD1Universal. One OBD2 scanner covers various vehicle types and makes
Connection Corded connection onlyCorded/Wireless connection
Accuracy Not very accurate. Obd1 only indicates the CEL messages with no further interpretation.OBD II is accurate. It displays codes and explains their meaning.
Functions It has the ability to test the sensor and actuator for signs of high resistance, opens, and shorts. Values out of range are forwarded to the ECM.It can perform all the OBDI functions together with other advanced functions like smog tests, graphical presentation of data, battery usage, performance level, etc.
Outcome generation Provides outcomes after considering energy and fuel use and comparing the outcome to the outputProvides better signaling protocols and messaging formats to give outcomes by considering various factors
Popularity LowHigh
AreaCaliforniaFederal Universal
PriceLowLow to High

What is OBD1?

OBD1 is the Onboard diagnostics standard used for vehicles made for California from 1991 to control vehicle emissions in the state. Every car sold in this state had to be fitted with the OBD1 system to read engine problems and report trouble codes. Even though the OBD1 is a California State Standard, it can be found on most GM and Ford cars manufactured before 1996.

However, the OBD1 is not standardized across car manufacturers. This implies that an OBD1 scanner will usually function only on one vehicle make. Besides, the codes are also not standardized. For instance, an OBD1 scanner built for a Ford may not provide the same codes on a Toyota make with the same engine problem. Nonetheless, OBDI scan tools are also good at diagnosing your vehicle as long as it is built for your car.

What is OBD2?

The OBD2 system became the official Federal Universal Standard in 1996, and it has been in use ever since. Unlike OBDI vehicles, OBDII vehicles can use a universal scanner. Additionally, the trouble codes have also been standardized, even though manufacturers enable the system to send specific data. With the advancement of in-car computer systems, vehicle makers have added some capabilities to their vehicles’ OBDII systems. For instance, you can utilize an OBDII diagnostic scanner to check real-time diagnostic information, view freeze frame data, engine performance, and much more.

10 OBD2 Modes:

Mode 01: Check powertrain codes
Mode 02: displays Freeze Frame data
Mode 03: Store emission-related trouble codes
Mode 04: Clear emission-related codes
Mode 05: Displays oxygen sensor-related problems
Mode 06: Tracks and compiles on “noncontinuous” monitors
Mode 07: Used by service technicians after a vehicle repair.
Mode 08: Enable the off-board test.
Mode 09: Retrieve vehicle information
Mode 0A: Store emission-related “permanent” diagnostic codes.

What makes OBD2 special is that it can be used on multiple vehicles, unlike OBD1 systems. So you can use one OBD2 scanner to diagnose several cars from different manufacturers.

Core Differences in Features: OBD2 vs. OBD1

From the comparison table above, it is evident that OBD2 vehicles have an advantage over OBD1 cars in many ways. First of all, OBD2 cars are easier to use and diagnose than OBD1 cars. This is because OBD-II can be connected via a cord or through wireless connections like Bluetooth/Wi-Fi. On the contrary, OBD1 vehicles can only be connected via the cord.

Additionally, OBD2 scanners are compatible with various vehicles, while OBD1 scanners work on only one vehicle.

When it comes to accuracy, OBDII scanners are more accurate than OBD1 scanners. Therefore, you can rely on OBD2 to deliver accurate results. That’s why professional technicians and mechanics use them.

When it comes to performance, OBD2 scanners still have the upper hand as they are very dependable. They will notify the user concerning the minor issues the vehicle is facing while the OBD1 scanner waits until the part is dysfunctional for it to alert you. OBD2 scan tool brands, including Autel, Launch, and Bluedriver, cover both basic and advanced functions, while the OBD1 scan tool only covers basic functions.

OBD1 or OBD2: Which one should you buy?

Before you rush to acquire any diagnostic scanner, it is crucial to understand your needs and demands to land the right scan tool.

Who should buy OBD1?

Car owners with OBDI systems are meant for people who own cars that were manufactured before 1996. These are usually older cars or vehicles without OBD2 systems.

OBD1 system is simple to use but requires a direct connection to the carport. They don’t have wireless options and provide limited functions. If you own vehicles manufactured before 1996 and after 1996, you can acquire a unit with OBD1 and OBD2 options. As a result, you can diagnose all your vehicles.

Note that OBD1 scanners have limited functions; thus, they cannot be utilized to provide advanced functions. Aside from that, the fixes are not always reliable and only highlight issues with ABS, ECU, and Transmission. Also, their codes are usually tricky to read and interpret.

Related article: How to Pass OBD ii Emissions Test With an OBD2 Device?

Who should buy OBD2?

If you own cars made in 1996 or newer, you can get an OBD2 diagnostic scanner. Furthermore, the TMPS OBDII code reader is best suited for professional mechanics who want to perform both basic and advanced functions on various vehicle makes and models.

OBD2 diagnostic scanners are easy to utilize. Also, you can use it as an OBD1 device via an OBD1 to OBD2 connector. You can decide to select one with a cord or a wireless unit. What’s more, some are supported by apps and display easy-to-read data with accurate fixes. If you don’t intend to diagnose many vehicles, a basic scanner such as Foxwell NT301 or Autel AutoLink AL319 is okay. But if you work on several car makes and models, then get an advanced OBDII scanner.

Final Thought

Diagnosing vehicle engine problems are quite tricky because trouble codes are different depending on different car models. After going through our detailed comparison article, you should easily pick the right OBD scanners. As you can see, these two have lots of differences, which is why differentiating them isn’t a problem at all. We hope that this OBD2 vs. OBD1 comparison article has given you a clear idea of their differences, and you can now diagnose OBD with the error codes on your vehicle’s computer without any challenge.

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