OBD1 vs OBD2 – 2020 Complete Round-up

Our vehicles are a crucial part of our life and thus it is crucial to keep them in good health. A car is a very complex machine, considering that it carries many electronic systems and components that need to be checked upon. Therefore, our cars carry an OBD (on-board diagnostics), which is a built-in diagnostic system. 

However, there are terms we often see being used, which are OBD1 and OBD2. These are the two classifications of an onboard diagnostic system. People are often confused about them; rightfully so, as all the information can be pretty overwhelming.

Thus, we decided to give you a detailed description of both of these variants. This post talks about what they are, how they differ from each other, what they are used for, and which diagnostic tools we recommend for each classification. 

Comparison of the Best OBD1 and OBD2 Scanners



  • Displays OBD2 freeze frame data
  • Can display codes in three languages
  • Features a patented 2.8-inch features all-in one-color display
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Autel MD802 Maxidiag Elite Full System and Live Data Multifunctional Scan Tool

  • Can diagnose ABS system codes
  • Multilingual menu and code definitions
  • Works for most 1996 and newer vehicles
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OBD1 Overview

OBD1 is a type of diagnostic system that your car employs to keep its health in check. This was a set standard for diagnostic systems of vehicles in the U.S and then later, worldwide. This says a lot about OBD1 systems, as they are still relevant and employed by owners of vehicles made before 1996. Let’s take a look at how these systems operate, when they came into being, and the advantages and disadvantages they hold. 

What is OBD1

You may be confused as to what OBD1 stands for and what it actually is. At times, it is called the first-generation on-board diagnostic system, which is the full form of OBD1. As we know, our automobiles are very sophisticated machines with plenty of electronic systems and components that help them work.

An on-board diagnostic system is like the health center of your car, which diagnoses any issues that may occur with its emissions or discharge systems and displays those issues in the form of a code. 

When Did OBD1 Start?

OBD1 was made in 1991 and was a part of all vehicles as it was made the standard until the next generation of diagnostic systems took over a few years later. However, it is still a part of vehicles that were made before 1996 and successfully diagnoses various problems from the system. Its primary focus is the emissions taking place and keeping them in check. This, in turn, proves to be good for the overall health of your car. 

Advantages of OBD1 

An OBD1 system was the first diagnostic system in cars, and to this date, plenty of cars use it. It was made standard all over the U.S and many other countries. Let’s take a look at all the advantages it carries so we can understand why it was such an important development at the time:

Easy to Use

Just getting a consultation from a mechanic cost one a hefty sum of money. Therefore, seeing the check engine light on could be such a horror. After the OBD1 system was introduced, individuals were able to self-diagnose the problem a vehicle was experiencing without going in for consultations. These were incredibly simple systems, which were easy to use and practical. You did not have to be tech-savvy to understand how they work. Furthermore, you wouldn’t face any trouble operating them as they were simple to work with. It made people more aware of their automobiles' health.

Increases the Lifespan of Your Vehicle’s Subsystems

The main goal of creating an OBD1 system was to keep the vehicle’s emissions and discharge systems in check. It was, therefore, a very reliable tool as it was able to keep your engine health in check and generate a warning if anything was not working properly. Since it was able to diagnose any problem arising in the subsystems of your car, it in turn helped their well-being. This resulted in better vehicle performance. 

Disadvantages of OBD1

Eventually, OBD1 systems became outdated and were replaced by the newer and more sophisticated OBD2 systems. Even though OBD1 systems are still installed in cars that were manufactured before 1996 and still work well, these no longer are preferred for modern vehicles as they carry a certain disadvantage:

Limited Functionality

As far as their functionality is concerned, OBD1 is pretty limited in two ways. 

First, OBD1 scanners tend to be brand specific. This means that a scanner from one brand won’t work for a different brand’s car. This already made it inconvenient to be used if you owned cars of different brands. If you were a mechanic, you would use multiple scanners to check the many cars you had to deal with. This would be the case even if two cars from different brands were experiencing the same problems; you would still require separate scanners to diagnose them. 

Furthermore, apart from being brand-specific, they also offered very basic functionalities and nothing more. They would just simply point out the problem your car was experiencing and not give any further explanation on what it was and how it could be resolved. This reason eventually led to OBD1 being replaced by a newer, more universal generation system. 

How to Read OBD1 Codes

The easiest way to read an OBD1 code is obviously by getting an OBD1 scanner. This will simply display the code and make you aware of what’s going inside your car system. Many scanners now available support OBD1 and OBD2 functions. Even though they are expensive, they carry additional features such as allowing you to view your data, turning off the check engine light by simply pressing a button after displaying the relevant information, etc. They save you a lot of labor and money from visiting the mechanic.

If you don’t have a scanner, there is another way of reading the OBD1 code, which isn’t as practical as the previous one but still works if executed correctly. You can read the OBD1 code without a diagnostic tool by means of a jumper wire.

Firstly, you will place the jumper wire between the two pins (PIN A and PIN B). Remember to connect a battery charger to your car whenever you are performing any electrical work, as low voltage can cause code errors. Afterward, you turn the ignition on without turning the engine on. You will notice that the check engine light comes on. You need to count the flashes. There will be pauses between codes if there are multiple error codes. After all the trouble codes, it will flash code 12. You can simply note all the codes down and check them against any error code list or manual to understand its meaning.

Review of Our Favorite OBD1 Scanner

Diagnostic tools are incredibly important, yet tricky to buy. You'll find several products on the market making big claims. To save you the struggle of examining them, we have picked the best OBD1 scanner on the market. It is highly reliable and of great quality. Let’s take a look:


  • Can easily read and erase check engine upon the simple click of a button
  • Well-designed and intuitive user-friendly interface and large screen
  • Features a memory battery backup which allows one to analyze and review data for off-car analysis
  • Highly versatile as it is able to retrieve OEM enhanced and transmission diagnostic codes for both OBD2 and OBD1 vehicles
  • Has a multilingual interface that allows it to display codes and their definitions in English, Spanish and French, so it is more widely accessible


  • Does not support Bluetooth settings
  • On the expensive end of the spectrum
  • Some troubles when checking the ABS system

What Recent Buyers Report

Buyers are very happy with this product. They have found it to be incredibly useful and versatile. It works for a wide variety of vehicles and is easily accessible for most people, given its user-friendly interface. Some buyers were a little concerned with the high price tag, but for a scanner that can work with both OBD1 and OBD2 codes, that is to be expected. It truly is a consumer favorite.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This device impressed us because it is equipped with multiple features that a generic OBD1 scanner would lack. It is able to read and turn off the check engine light easily. It carries a multilingual interface that allows it to be accessible and easy to understand for more people. Furthermore, it has a memory battery backup, which allows it to perform an off-car review and analysis.

Who Will Use This Most

This would be the perfect unit to scanner professionally. It is versatile as it works for OBD1 and OBD2 vehicles; thus, you won’t have to buy separate scanners for each car brand. Furthermore, its ease of use makes it incredibly easy to operate. It can work for both domestic and foreign vehicles, which is another plus point.

Bottom Line

Overall, this is a phenomenal product. It is incredibly versatile and well-equipped with multiple features to make it work well. It works for both OBD1 and OBD2 vehicles. Plus, its user-friendly interface is very easy to operate and read. All of this makes it a great investment.

OBD2 Overview

OBD2 refers to the second-generation diagnostic systems installed in your car. They are advanced and more sophisticated than the previous diagnostic system. They work to keep the overall health of your automobile in check and display a warning in case of an error. 

What is OBD2

OBD2 stands for "on-board diagnostic system second generation". These are normally installed in newer vehicles and work in the same manner as the OBD1. However, they offer a greater number of features and are more advanced. They keep a check on your car’s sub-systems and ensure all of them are working in the right manner. If something is odd and out of order, this diagnostic system will display a warning. 

When Did OBD2 Start?

They were installed in all vehicles, even a few electric and hybrid models, made in and after 1996. After being first installed in 1996, they became the gold standard for diagnostic systems. After that timeframe, most vehicles have OBD2 systems. 

Advantages of OBD2

OBD2 is more advanced and reliable than the first-generation diagnostic system. Let’s look at all the advantages it offers, so you have a better understanding:


OBD2 scanners offer a lot of features. Along with diagnosing all the problems that a previous generation system could have, it can also perform online programming, ECU programming, provide battery information, freeze frame data, etc. They work with wireless Bluetooth connectivity and are generally easy to use. 

Universal Interface

As far as their interface is concerned, these scanners can come handy in diagnosing vehicles from multiple manufacturers. You don’t need to purchase separate tools for each brand; instead, it works for a great variety of vehicles. It is applicable for most automobiles made in 1996 and after that. 

Diagnostic Capabilities

OBD2 has far greater diagnostic capabilities than the previous generation tool. It can scan not only many more electrical systems but also display the data in a customizable form. You can view the data in the form of graphs, etc. Furthermore, it will not just tell you where the problem is but also display a brief definition of what the error code means and how it is affecting your car. 

Disadvantages of OBD2

OBD2 is a pretty flawless diagnostic system with very limited cons. Let’s take a look at the only possible downside it might have. 

Can Drain Battery

OBD2 scanners work by utilizing your vehicle's battery, and if you leave the scanner plugged in, it might drain your battery. This is precisely why it is suggested to keep a recharged car battery when you are diagnosing the system as low voltage can cause problems while troubleshooting the problem. Therefore, it is essential to invest in a good and reliable scan tool, so it doesn’t harm your vehicle battery. 

How to Read OBD2 Codes

OBD2 codes can be read using a scanner, which is a diagnostic tool. It reads the codes displayed by your car and interprets them. It displays brief definitions on the screen for a better understanding of the user. It can also be used to read and erase the codes being displayed and also to turn off the check engine light easily. 

Scan tools should be plugged into the connector, which may be located near the steering under the dash. If you cannot find it, consult your vehicle owner’s manual. After plugging it in, you will turn the ignition on and keep the engine switched off. You will then either push the button or select the option, whichever is applicable to your device to read codes. Your scan tool will then display all the error codes and their brief definitions. If it doesn’t display the definition, you should likely note the codes down, so you can search it up in the code manual later. You can select the erase option to clear the codes once you’ve diagnosed the problem. 

Review of Our Favorite OBD2 Scanner

There are many OBD2 scanners available on the market; however, it can be tricky to pick one tool that is reliable. Thus, we have picked the best OBD2 scanner you can get your hands on. It is incredibly reliable, a product from a reputable brand, and of great quality. Let’s take a look:


  • Comes with a 12-month free warranty and lifetime free updates, thus is highly reliable
  • Incredibly versatile and offers a wide vehicle coverage for most 1996 and newer models
  • Allows you to easily see the cause of the check engine light (MIL) and turn the warning off
  • Carries a multilingual interface that can read and display codes in English, French, and Spanish
  • Provides an incredibly efficient and accurate diagnosis as it is able to provide ABS testing and DTC tips


  • Updating it seems to be a hassle
  • Directions may appear confusing in the beginning
  • Does not support Apple computers and needs a Windows PC to update

What Recent Buyers Report

Buyers are ecstatic about this unit as it performs incredibly well and is easily accessible. It is very affordable and works for a wide range of vehicles. Furthermore, it is easy to operate and carries a very user-friendly interface. Plus, it is very ergonomic as it has a bright screen and built-in speakers.

Why it Stands Out to Us

We find this to be a great pick for multiple reasons. First, it carries all the OBD2 features you would expect a good scanner to have. This includes it being able to read and clear codes, view live data retrieving, I.M readiness status, etc. Plus, it is incredibly easy to use as the interface is user-friendly.

Who Will Use This Most

This unit would be perfect for the diagnosis of most OBD2 vehicles, as it is highly versatile. It can work for professionals as well as being a great tool to invest in even if you are not a professional. It is easy to operate and carries a multilingual interface, which makes it accessible for larger audiences.

Bottom Line

This scanner seems to operate flawlessly once you get the hang of it. It is one of the best OBD2 devices you can get your hands on. Its incredible design and versatility make it leaps and bounds better than many of its counterparts. Overall, it proves to be an incredible investment.

OBD1 vs. OBD2 - Similarities and Differences

OBD1 and OBD2 are pretty common terms; thus, people, at times, seem to have them mixed up. These two generations of diagnostic systems do carry some similarities and differences. Therefore, in this section, we’ll discuss both of those aspects. Let’s look at how similar or different these two are, so you have a better understanding.

What Do OBD1 and OBD2 Have in Common?

These are two widely interlinked terminologies. Essentially, they work on the same principle of diagnosing any problems your car system is having. One is just a more polished version of the other. Let’s take a look at why that is the case and how are these two similar:

Multilingual and Accessible

Scanners these days are constructed to be multilingual. A lot of OBD1 and OBD2 have that option now. This allows them to be accessible to a wider audience. Furthermore, OBD1 and OBD2 scanners both can work for domestic and foreign vehicles. However, this depends on the particular scanner you purchased. 


It is hard to differentiate between an OBD1 and OBD2 scanner by just looking at it. This is because they may have identical designs. Internal features are what make the two different. Both types are constructed to be portable, lightweight, and easy to use. They come with similar accessories like a user manual, etc. 

Ease of Use

They are both constructed to be user-friendly. This includes their interface and overall construction. The main idea behind both the devices is the same, which is to diagnose any troubles with your car’s sub-systems. 

What is the Difference Between OBD1 and OBD2?

There are a few aspects of the two that separates one from the other. Let’s take a look:


Even though they were constructed on the same principle, OBD1 seems to have different functionality than OBD2. OBD1 displays the information without giving much further explanation of what the code actually means. Meanwhile, OBD2 comes with a brief description of the code being displayed. An OBD1 covers all the basic functionalities of your car’s health, such as engine performance, and helps improve its health. However, an OBD2 can do that and provide great customization on how you choose to view the data. 


OBD2 carries more features than an OBD1. Along with performing all the functions an OBD1 scanner can perform, an OBD2 carries advanced features such as online programming, ECU programming, ABS testing, air-bag problems, key coding, etc. 

Connectivity and Application

As far as their application is concerned, OBD2 works for vehicles manufactured in and after 1996. Meanwhile, OBD1 works for automobiles manufactured before 1996. Furthermore, OBD2 have wireless Bluetooth connectivity whereas OBD1 scanners need to be connected using a console

Top Pick Between OBD1 and OBD2

It naturally comes down to the vehicle you have. If you have a car that was manufactured before 1996 and has an OBD1 port, then naturally an OBD1 scanner will work best for you. Meanwhile, if you have a car that was manufactured in or after 1996, you will need an OBD2 scanner. If you're a professional who needs to work with different car models, there are scanners available now which read both OBD1 and OBD2 codes. They are a better investment than buying one exclusively for both diagnostic systems. 

However, there is no denying that an OBD2 is more sophisticated and modern when compared to an OBD1. OBD1 scanners have become outdated and work only in certain conditions, which makes them a little less convenient. Furthermore, they are brand-specific, and you have to buy one for each individual vehicle. Their limited capabilities are why they have been now replaced with newer and better alternatives, like OBD2. 


This post was written to deliver to you as much information as one can about the two diagnostic systems. Along with mentioning their differences, similarities, functionality, mechanism, and much more, we also recommended the best units for both the diagnostic systems. Our two recommended products are incredibly reliable, and thus you can’t go wrong with them.

It would suffice to say that buying a good diagnostic tool might be an overwhelming job. Thus, it’s crucial to read up on it, know your vehicle well, and research the options before you make a purchase. This allows you to make a smart investment and buy a great diagnostic tool.

People Also Ask

People tend to get confused about a lot of things, as buying an OBD device can be tricky. We took some frequently asked queries and answered them. Hopefully, this helps you get a better insight into the products we discussed in the post. 

Is My Car OBD1 or OBD2?

If your car model is made after 1996, it is OBD2. However, if it was manufactured before that, it is likely to be OBD1. Some 1996 vehicles were OBD2; thus, it’s best to check your owner manual, which is likely to have this kind of information. 

How is OBD1 Diagnosed?

OBD1 scanners are employed to read and display the error codes on your cars. 

Will OBD2 Read OBD1?

There are certain scanners that are able to read both OBD2 and OBD1 codes; however, OBD2 scanners exclusively cannot read OBD1 codes. 

How Do You Test OBD1 With a Paperclip?

This is another way to diagnose codes without a diagnostic tool and a simple OBD connector. You can do this by opening a paper clip and plugging it in the two slots named A and B. Their names may differ from vehicle to vehicle. Start the ignition without turning the engine on.

As the engine light comes on, it will flash. Now, note down the codes. The number of times the light flashes is a code. The first code is always code 12. If there is nothing wrong with the engine, code 12 will repeatedly flash. The flash will take longer pauses between codes. Note down the flashes and then compare it to a code manual to figure out which code it indicates. 

What Does OBD2 Stand For?

"OBD" stands for "on-board diagnostic system", and the "2" indicates that it is a second-generation diagnostic system.

Is it OK to Leave OBD2 Plugged in?

If you have a plug-in OBD2 device that works in conjunction with an app, then it is fine to leave it plugged in. However, one thing to take notice of is that it will likely draw power from your vehicle's battery.