Car Diagnostics (OBD) on Android

I was in the market for an OBD-II (a.k.a. OBD2 or OBDII) car diagnostics solution that works with my Android devices. It turns out there are several good options both from a hardware and a software standpoint. One unexpected bonus is that Bluetooth has become a very common approach to interfacing to the OBD port making it easier for the hardware dongle to support multiple hardware platforms in addition to being more convenient than a cable-based solution.

The first thing I found was that there are a few name brand adapters as well as several generics. The usual rules of the road seem to apply here: the name brand adapters cost more (~$100 and up) and are generally a 'safer' choice while the generics are much less expensive (~$25 or less) but what you get (both in terms of product and after sale support) may vary widely. After doing some digging, it looked like the BAFX Products - ELM 327 Bluetooth OBD2 scan tool was a good choice so I ordered it. On the software side, Torque looked promising so I installed the Lite version to take a look.

The OBD adapter didn't disappoint. It arrived promptly (no surprise as Amazon handles fulfillment on this product), and is a solid little device that feels like it was built to last a while. When plugged into the vehicles tested (a Pontiac and Toyota), the power light comes on letting you know the device is alive. So now the real test: on my Android phone (Nexus S running 4.0.4) go to Settings->Bluetooth->Search for devices. It finds the device without a problem, pairs using the default password as expected. Next I fired up Torque Lite, pull up the options menu and go to More->Settings, confirm the Connection is set to Bluetooth and set Device to CBT and... done. Torque now recognizes the device and starts displaying data which the dongle confirms via blinking leds indicating send/receive activity. Total time from opening the car door to receiving data: about 2 minutes. Another plus is that the adapter can be paired with multiple devices so it's possible to configure it with a phone and a tablet without needing to re-pair when switching between them.

After deciding that the Torque app both worked with the device and would do everything needed, I purchased the paid Torque Pro app. The app description understates how much of an upgrade the Pro version is: once you've confirmed Torque Lite is able to communicate with your OBD adapter, don't hesitate to buy the Pro version as it not only provides many more features but is also a more polished app overall as the Lite version is based on an older version of the app.

Something I originally thought would be useful but am now convinced it is not is an on/off switch on the device so that it could remain plugged in. Given the position of the OBD port in my car and the amount the device sticks out of it, I can very easily see myself banging into it so it will definitely remain unplugged when not in use.

A word of warning to Ford owners: based on comments I've read about the BAFX device, it looks like at least some (most?) models of Ford vehicles use a perfectly valid variant of OBD-II that this device does not support. If I had a Ford vehicle, I most likely would have purchased the PLX Devices Kiwi which seems to get high marks across the board but is more expensive.

While not something I plan on doing at the moment, it appears that both of these devices are also fully supported on iOS (iPhone and iPad) as well as Windows/OS X/Linux and it's just a matter of picking one of several applications available on your platform to work with them.

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