1, OBD II, Testing Failure

Q: We have gone to OBD 2 testing and my car won't pass because it refuses to talk to their computer hook-up. Why and how does this happen?

A: On Board Diagnostic of the second generation (OBD II) are becoming commonplace in many states as a requirement for inspection. My home state of New Hampshire is gearing up for a phase in of OBD II testing this fall with plans to have a full-blown program up and going in the spring of 2005. Most of the time, this form of testing is so quick that if you blink the testing is done, computers just chat and trade information that fast. Unless, in your case the computer doesn’t want to talk and tell. When a computer doesn’t chat, it is a problem. With the testing equipment this will be an issue when having an inspection performed. What is the most common cause for this type of computer silence? A bad fuse. Yes, it is often that simple. There are many fuses involved with the computer on your vehicle and it just so happens, that there is one responsible for the computer chat feature. A check of your fuses, I bet a coffee, a fuse will get your computer yacking away again.


2,  How to deal with ‘95 & Up OBDII 
Q: I've been in the automotive trade for 35+ years, I’m an ASE triple master tech, and love computerized technology. My problem is tapping into the OBDII computer for diagnostic codes, like it was done with EEC, CCC, etc. At this time I am running a small shop on my own, part time, and cannot warrant the cost of big time diagnostic equipment. Is there a way to jump terminals or something to get into the newer systems?? Thanks....Jim Bearfield

A: Today’s newer vehicle’s computer systems have a new generation of advanced On Board Diagnostics which is affectionately referred to in our industry as OBD II. The intent of the OBD II system was to create a common data port, with a common protocol, for accessing information, primarily emissions related. The key word is intent. The days of using a jumper wire or pin to flash codes from a vehicle’s computer is quickly fading away. If you wish to communicate with today’s vehicle computers you need to determine the level of information you want access to. The more information you want the more money you have to pay. A low dollar tool, for checking codes, turning off the Check Engine Light and with a wee bit of the computer info, cost around $300 to $400. For the privilege of the above, viewing more and opening a door or two to the computer jumps the price tag up to $2000 to $3000. Annual software updates range from $600 to $2000 and does not cover every vehicle. Now if you want the high, the book store, encyclopedia factory of information and the ability open all doors in today’s vehicle computers you need the vehicle manufacturer’s scan tool and software. Yeah it costs more but wow does this tool make things happen, but it only works on that manufacturer’s vehicle.

3, Handheld Heavy Duty OBD II Scanner Software

Q: My husband wants handheld Heavy Duty OBD II scanning software for trucks at an affordable price. He is a technician and someone told him about a tool that was reliable, upgradeable and available at a reasonable price but he does not recall the name of the tool. Can you tell me what software is available and the pros and cons?

A: There are some Heavy Duty OBD II software kits (with adaptors) for handheld purpose. Which will be the best? Good question. Start with a gift certificate, sort of on the line of check it out and get what you really need. Never just go out and buy this type of stuff. I would suggest you tell him to check out the trade publications or go on line. If he wants to stick just with heavy duty OBD II information there is a good assortment of affordable software. But, a word of caution: if he wants to be more vehicle/truck specific (which let’s you see more and do more with a specific make’s multiple computers) then I recommend NexLink NL102, which could diagnose both trucks and cars, mini vans, light duty. It is the best I have ever used.

4, Hot Diagnostics

Q: Can you help me troubleshoot my problem. A few days ago I lost the tail lights in my van. I thought I could smell something burning. Also the dash lights are out. I checked the fuse and it was spent. I replaced it with a new 15 amp fuse and it burnt right away. I went to 20 then 30, both burnt. I bypassed the fuse and started getting smoke (not too smart, huh). My brake lights work, my directionals work, but no my emergency or tail lights. I would appreciate any constructive advice rather than the obvious of going to see a tech.

A: Bypassing the fuse with a jumper is a sure fire way to get things smoking. You're likely to do more damage than good using that approach to identify the problem. Whenever a sudden electrical problem appears, the first question I ask is: what has been worked on recently? Has there been any body work or accessory upgrades such as a radio? A wire can be damaged during these procedures and become a problem a short time later. If I'm not mistaken you have problems with three different electrical circuits. The dash lights use a different fuse than the tail lights and the emergency flasher is another circuit in itself. The ideal approach would be to obtain a wiring diagram and start tracing the wires from the fuse panel to the first connector and disconnect it, then install a new fuse. If the fuse doesn't fail then you know that part of the wiring is good. Then move to the next wiring harness connector of that circuit and repeat the procedure. A good wiring diagram, patience and time is needed to diagnose a problem like yours. If you still come up short, take your car to a qualified tech.


5, Car Batteries
Q: Do today's car batteries need distilled water added periodically or are they truly "maintenance free"? Thanks..

A: Not all of today's batteries are truly "Maintenance Free", although you will find the term applied to almost every battery sold. A large portion of batteries still provide a point to inspect and, if necessary, add water to the battery cells. "Maintenance Free" means you don't have to worry about it until it breaks.