As Uber drivers, keeping our cars in excellent condition is imperative. We must always go the extra mile in making sure our cars are clean, smell good, and are in good working order. As a result, it can get quite expensive to make sure everything is in order and in top shape.
Uber drivers need to always be aware of the condition of their tires, when they’re due for an oil change, and what is going on under the hood of their cars. How do you make sure everything is operating at optimum levels? You must have the right tools.
In the past, this was financially prohibitive. The price of diagnostic tools was more than the average person could pay. In addition to the outrageous price tag, diagnostic tools were make and model specific. So for each car, one must have a different diagnostic tool. However, as with most technology, the price goes down as competition in the market goes up. Today, a driver who is serious about treating their rideshare as a business can pick up an Onboard Diagnostics II, also known as OBD-II or OBD2, for a very reasonable price.
Getting an Affordable OBD2 Scanner
You can buy an OBD2 for under $20, or even download one on your smartphone as part of your list of apps to have when driving for Uber or Lyft. You can access most of the information you’ll need to interpret the diagnostic codes online for free. You no longer have to shell out $250 to a mechanic just to find out why the check engine light came on, possibly taking your car out of service for hours while waiting for an available appointment at the local garage.
While this sounds like a magic bullet, it is important to understand not only what an OBD2 does, but also what an on OBD2 doesn’t do. When you use a diagnostic tool for that pesky check engine light, it won’t tell you how to fix a problem. It may not even tell you what the problem is. It will, however, give you a code or even many codes, that you must use to diagnose the issue. Once you can read the codes, you have to find the information that pertains to those codes. It’s not a one-stop-shop.
OBD1 Vs. OBD2
Before investing in an OBD1 or OBD2 diagnostic tool, you must be aware of the differences to know which one you need. As mentioned earlier, Before 1996, most cars weren’t equipped with computerized controls. Vehicles manufactured before computerization had very little in common with each other. You’ll need a specific OBDI tool made specifically for the make and model of that car.
Cars newer than 1996 models will all use an OBD2. This diagnostic tool is basically universal, as these vehicles use a common diagnostic connector with the same universal trouble codes. There are at times manufacturer-specific codes, but for the most part, you can use an OBD2 code reader on any car produced after 1996.
Locating the OBD2 Connector
For the purpose of this article, I am going to focus on the OBD2 tool only. Once you have an OBD2 scanner and your check engine light comes on, what do you do with this tool? How do you use it? Where do you even plug it in?
Because the OBD2 scanner is universal and most vehicle computerized controls are basically the same, the OBD2 scanner is used in the same way. You can find the connector for the OBD2 scanner under the dashboard, just left of your steering column. The position of the connector can vary from vehicle model to vehicle model. But will be in the same area across most models.
Sometimes, you might have to look quite deep under the dashboard. In some cases, you may even find that the connector is behind a panel or plug. You will know it is the connector because it will be either rectangular or shaped like an isosceles trapezoid. It helps if you remember high school geometry to recognize the connector when you see it. In addition, you should be able to recognize the shape by the 16 pins configured in two rows of eight.
In very rare cases, the OBD2 connector could be located in the center console hidden behind an ashtray or other hard to find places. The owner’s manual will be your friend should you have difficulty locating your connector.
Using the OBD2 Scanner Tool
To use your OBD2 scanner tool to find out why your check engine light is on, you will need to make sure your ignition key is turned off or completely removed. Gently insert the OBD2 tool into the diagnostic connector that you have located. It should slide in easily if it is positioned correctly.
Once the tool is plugged into the connector, insert your ignition key and turn the vehicle on. This is necessary to provide power to the code reader. Some readers will prompt you to enter the Vehicle Identification Number, type of engine, any number identifying information.
When the information has been input, the scanner is ready to do its job. The more basic tools may just provide you with any number of stored codes, while more sophisticated (expensive) code readers may give you options to read the trouble codes or other provided data. This makes it easier to interpret the codes. Consequently, it could help you to avoid any potential car accidents that may be caused by undetected issues.
Understanding the Codes
If you have one of the basic code readers, you will need to note the trouble codes given and do some research to interpret those codes. For example, you may write down your code and go to your computer or smartphone to research your code and find that it indicates there is a problem with your oxygen sensor heater circuits. The tool will give you the information on where the problem is, but it won’t tell you what is wrong with the oxygen sensor heater circuits. Once you find out where the code indicates your problem is, you will need to do some more research to find the troubleshooting procedure.
However, if you have one of the more advanced (expensive) tools, it may be able to tell you exactly what the code means. Some may even provide you with step-by-step troubleshooting procedures.
Worried about the costs? Don’t be! You can always have it as a tax write-off when you’re preparing your tax returns. Just make sure to keep the receipts!
Completing the Repair
The code reader will continue to give you valuable information. Apart from letting you know where your problem is, some readers may also provide a handful of other valuable information. For example, one particular function gives you the ability to clear stored trouble codes, which you would do after you have completed the repair. If the same code comes back on after the repair, you’ll know the problem wasn’t fixed.
Many of the OBD2 scanner tools can give you live data from the majority of sensors while the engine is running. For more complicated diagnostic needs or to verify a repair was successful, you can access this data to see the information from a specific sensor in real-time.
Comparing OBD2 Scanners
OxGord OBD2 Scanner
OxGord makes a nice simple OBD2 Scanner that you can find on Amazon for just $14.95. The OxGord OBD2 scan tool MS300 allows you to read diagnostic codes, and clear trouble codes. It can also turn off the check engine light on US-based vehicles produced after 1996. Additionally, this scanner may also retrieve the VIN on all vehicles produced after 2002.
The OxGord OBD2 scan tool MS300 is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It’s also easy to use. With just two buttons, it quite simple to operate. The scanner can display more than 3000 generic and manufacturer specific codes on its easy-to-read LCD display. This inexpensive scanner could save you a lot of money, as you won’t have to take your car into a mechanic every time your check engine light comes on.
The OxGord charges itself with the OBD2 cable. It works with most cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs on the market today. This is a very basic OBD2 scanner. For its price, it is good enough for most Uber drivers.
Nexpeak OBD2 Scanner
Nexpeak has a nice middle of the road scanner. Like the OxGord, it’s also available on Amazon. You can get the Nexpeak OBD2 Scanner NX501 Enhanced OBD2 Auto Code Reader Car Diagnostic Scan Tool Vehicle Check Engine Light Analyzer for $65.45.
The NEXPEAK NX501 is an enhanced model. In addition to reading the trouble codes, it will also guide you through fixing your car, erase trouble codes, and turn off your check engine light. Also, it will give you the specific cause for the trouble code so there is no need to eliminate possibilities before arriving at the real problem. This particular scanner does not work with hybrid or electric cars.
Nexpeak supports all 23V vehicles made in the US after 1996. It displays the trouble codes on the screen directly after reading. Furthermore, this scanner reads stored freeze frame data such as vehicle speed, airflow, fuel trim, and engine coolant temperature. It also checks the voltage of your battery. Nexpeak can display sensor readings in both text and graph forms. It also retrieves vehicle information such as the VIN and CID. You can upload all recorded data to a computer to print out, and even edit the data before printing. The data is displayed on a 2.8-inch colored LCD screen.
LAUNCH CRP129E Scanner
If a top of the line OBD2 scanner tool is what you are looking for, you can buy the Launch OBD2 Scanner CRP129E Engine/ABS/SRS/Transmission Diagnostic Scan Tool with Oil Service/EPB/TPMS/SAS Throttle Body Reset on Amazon for $239.00.
This scanner comes with a 5-inch touchable HD 720P screen and keypad for easier operation. In addition to the features of the less expensive OBD2 scanner tools, this scan tool will also reset the TPMS and Throttle Body. It supports most vehicles produced after 1996 compliant with OBD2 protocols —more than 57 brands. It also comes with a built-in diagnostic trouble code lookup library to define the error code on the screen. This saves you the trouble of having to go online to look up the meaning of a diagnostic trouble code.
No matter what your budget is, it is clear that an OBD2 scanner is a valuable tool in an Uber driver’s toolbox. For many drivers, it’s one of the things you should have before starting your rideshare business. The scanner tool will save you money and time off the road, making your earning potential as a rideshare driver the best it can be. Whether you buy a $14 tool or a $250 tool, you can’t go wrong. In this case, knowledge is power. It is always better to know what you might be facing should your check engine light come on.