OBD scanners

OBD-II Scanning

How to talk to your car

The basics

Electric Sidecar includes a powerful, built-in OBD-II scanner that's designed for the everyday car owner.

What is OBD-II?

OBD stands for On-Board Diagnostics. It's how your car monitors its health. Think of it as your car's way of checking in on itself to make sure everything is running smoothly.

How does OBD-II Work?

Modern cars rely on the CAN bus (the Controller Area Network) to enable car components, such as the engine control unit, transmission control unit, and anti-lock braking system to speak to each other.

OBD-II is like a translator for the data traveling over the CAN bus. OBD-II scanners transform data from the CAN bus into something car owners can understand.

Codes and parameters

Your car's check engine light indicates a problem lurking under the hood. OBD-II scanners come to the rescue by pinpointing the issue. These scanners unveil diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs), which act as clues for mechanics to diagnose and fix your car's problems. They're a key tool in keeping your car in top shape.

In addition to DTCs, cars can also define parameter ids (PIDs). PIDs allow scanners to request sensor data from your car on demand, such as state of charge, car speed, and temperature sensors.

OBD-II parameters allow you to see various signals from your car

Getting started

Electric Sidecar aims to make OBD-II scanning intuitive and simple. Follow these steps to get started.

Note: OBD-II scanning in Electric Sidecar requires a subscription or a ScanPass.

The OBD-II port

Step 1: Find your OBD-II port

Make sure your car has an OBD-II port before buying a scanner. Most cars manufactured after 1996 will have one, but it's a good idea to make sure your car has one before buying a scanner.

The OBD-II port is located inside the cabin, under the dashboard, beneath the steering wheel. It can be difficult to find while seated in the car, so consider looking with a flashlight and your eyes rather than feeling with your hands.

Step 2: Buy a scanner

Electric Sidecar supports Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE), Wi-Fi, and classic Bluetooth scanners.

BTLE scanners work best because they connect automatically when powered on and near your phone. Wi-Fi and classic Bluetooth scanners require you to manually connect them each time you want to use them, which can be a hassle if you intend to use the scanner for daily trip logging. BTLE scanners also work best with wireless CarPlay; WiFi scanners can't be used simultaneously with wireless CarPlay.

There are countless variations of OBD-II scanners on the market. A table of options is provided below:

Product iOS support Type PIDs / second Price (USD)
ELM327 Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner
Amazon
BTLE up to 4.7/s $17.99
Micro Mechanic
Amazon
BTLE up to 11/s $18.99
Veepeak Mini WiFi
Amazon
Wi-Fi up to 28/s $20.99
Vgate iCar Pro Bluetooth 3.0
Amazon
BTLE Unknown $25.98
Vgate iCar Pro Wi-Fi
Amazon
Wi-Fi up to 29/s $29.99
Vgate iCar Pro Bluetooth 4.0
Amazon
BTLE up to 34/s $31.99
Veepeak OBDCheck BLE
Amazon
BTLE up to 17/s $34.99
AUTOPHIX
Amazon
BTLE Unknown $39.88
BLCKTEC Telematics Lite
Amazon
BTLE Unknown $39.99
Carista
Amazon
BTLE up to 17/s $44.99
Veepeak OBDCheck BLE+
Amazon
BTLE up to 17/s $44.99
Konnwei
Amazon
BTLE up to 17/s $49.99
FIXD
Amazon
BTLE Unknown $59.99
Vgate vLinker MC+
Amazon
BTLE up to 34/s $62.99
OBDLink CX
Amazon · obdlink.com
BTLE up to 17/s $79.95
DND ECHO
Amazon · obd.ai
Classic Bluetooth Unknown $119.99
OBDLink MX+
Amazon · obdlink.com
Classic Bluetooth up to 27/s $139.95

Performance tests to determine commands/second were ran by ELMCheck, a companion app to Electric Sidecar.

App Icon

ELMCheck

Check the authenticity of your OBD-II scanner.

In summary: Vgate iCar Pro Bluetooth 4.0 is the best value, while OBDLink offers higher quality scanners with higher command speeds and support for a wider range of vehicles.

Step 3: Connect Electric Sidecar to your scanner

To connect to your scanner for the first time, follow these steps:

  1. Open Electric Sidecar's Settings tab.
  2. Enable "Vehicle scanning".
  3. Enable connections over Wi-Fi and/or BTLE.
  4. Follow further instructions based on your scanner type.

If using a BTLE scanner:

  1. Tap your scanner in the list of vehicle scanners to connect to it.

If using a classic Bluetooth scanner:

  1. Pair your phone to your scanner using the system settings app.
  2. Once paired, you may need to refresh the vehicle scanners list in Electric Sidecar for the scanner to appear.
  3. Tap your scanner in the list of vehicle scanners to connect to it.

If using a Wi-Fi scanner:

  1. Connect to the scanner's Wi-Fi network and that your Wi-Fi settings match the scanner's Wi-Fi settings.
  2. Tap your scanner in the list of vehicle scanners to connect to it.
Vehicle scanning can be enabled in Electric Sidecar's Settings

Auto-connect mode

If "Auto-connect known scanners" is enabled then Electric Sidecar will automatically scan for and connect to your scanner whenever the app opens or a trip begins.

Daily use

If you plan to use your scanner for daily use, here's a couple things to keep in mind:

  1. Be cautious about leaving your scanner plugged in and powered on at all times. Most scanners allow anyone to connect to them when they're powered on, which can create a security issue for your vehicle if left unattended.
  2. If you plan to use your scanner daily, consider getting an OBDII cable with a power switch (Amazon for $11.99 USD). You can then easily control the scanner's on/off state without having to plug and unplug it.

Note: all Amazon links on this page are affiliate links.