Monitoring & Diagnostics – Part 1

With the increasing complexity of modern vehicles a DIY diagnostic solution, in your toolbox, is as important as a set of spanners.  So, why is this part 1?  Well this is a complex area and I shall continue to a research a wide variety of options.  This post will focus, mainly, on engine monitoring.  In a later article I shall delve deeper into the actual diagnostic equipment available.

Although I have a nice new shiny car I am still keen to know whats going on with the engine so that I can can treat it with sympathy and prevent problems before they occur.  The disco suffered on steep climbs, mainly due to the power (or lack of) to weight ratio.  The Ranger has over 90% more power but will be operating near, or at, its maximum payload for most of our trips.  On top of this is could be doing so over some ‘extreme’ terrain and we are hoping to go to a few areas with a warmer climate.

My first foray into monitoring involved the use of my trusty iPhone.

OBD - 1OBD - 2All new cars manufactured for the EU market must be fitted with an OBD (on board diagnostic) plug.

More importantly they must all ‘speak’ a common ‘language’.

What this means is that aftermarket manufacturers can develop equipment that translates this ‘language’ into information that can be used to monitor the engine.

On the Ranger the OBD socket is located behind the drivers side ‘glovebox’.

Simply pull the box firmly, at the top.  It is only secured by plastic ‘lugs’ and a firm pull will release it.

This will reveal the fuse box and the OBD socket which is the white object you can see in the photo.

OBD - 3OBD - 4Next you need an OBD reader.

There are basically 3 types; wired, bluetooth and wifi. Obviously the wired models are less convenient but do open the door to different software (more in a later article).

The bluetooth and wifi options are really suitable for tablets and phones.  The wifi models can be used by any phone whereas the bluetooth is not suitable for iPhones or iPads.

I chose the “Stoga ELM327 WIFI Wireless OBD2 OBDII Car Auto Diagnostic Scanner Adapter” which cost £12 from Amazon.  The key phrases to search for are ELM27 and OBD2 and any of these adapters will work. They range from a few pounds on ebay to lots more for professional items.

OBD - 5I found that when this was fitted I couldn’t close the glovebox and so I also bought a “OBD2 16 Pin Male to Female Extension Connector ELM327 Diagnostic Cable” from ebay for £4.99.

This allowed me to keep the adapter connected and loop it into the glovebox so it was accessible.

I was a bit concerned about power drain when the car was left.  However so far I have left it in all the time and have not noticed any problems.

I think that if I was going to leave the car for several days or weeks then I would probably unplug the adapter as it does stay ‘live’ even when the car is off and locked.

The wifi range is also pretty good.  I can still access it from well over 30m away inside my house!

gauges - 1Next you need something to display the info.  There are several different apps available.  A search for OBD on iTunes reveals 100 iPhone apps alone.

They all display the basic information in different ways and with different degrees of customisation.  All will display the ‘basics’ but some will display more manufacturer specific data than others.

The apps will vary from free to a few pounds.  It is worth trying out a few different ones to find one you like.

Some are focused on pure diagnostics and others also include ‘gauges’ to display the data while you’re driving.

I settled on OBD Fusion which cost £7.99.  It seems to give a good diagnostic facility and allows you to create gauges with a number of customisation options to match your dashboard.  It also had a native iPad version.

This is a screenshot of the gauges I have showing at the moment.  These can be substituted and you can create multiple ‘screens’ with a different set of gauges showing with just a swipe.

Simply connect the phone to the OBD II wifi network and it will automatically start showing the data.

The gauges are very responsive and give a good insight into what is going on.

photo 1So this is my current view:

Is this the final setup?  Definitely not.  One of the main downsides is the fact that I use my phone for other functions when on an expedition.

Also I don’t always put my phone in the holder when I am just driving around locally.  In Part two I shall describe some other options that I have invested in which are of a more permanent nature.

The OBDFusion app is good but has limitations on the information it can display.  However it does have certain advantages over other options.  I shall go on to describe the diagnostic features in part two.

It’s important to note that, although it has limitations, I have only paid £25 for a decent diagnostic solution that will detect and clear fault codes as well as monitor some key engine parameters.  I can also use it on Belinda’s Freelander 2 or, in fact, any other modern car.  When you consider that a trip to the dealer just to clear a code can cost anything from £30-£60, that’s not bad! 😀

Part 2 coming soon.


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