What is OBD?

Garry L. Dye

About OBD:

OBD is short for "On-Board-Diagnostic" and simply refers to those systems that are controlled or incorporated into the new automobile computers to monitor or control systems that affect the emissions. During the 1960's we became painfully aware of the pollution that automobiles were emitting. This pollution was attributed to many severe health problems. In 1966, California mandated emission control systems on cars. By 1968, this became the national standard. 

The Clean Air Act of 1970 established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several graduated emission standards were established over time. Manufacturers eventually turned to electronics to control the fuel and ignition systems to meet the standards. While each manufacturer had their own systems and signals early on, the EPA eventually set standards and practices for implementation by all manufactures.

All cars built since January 1, 1996 have what is identified as OBD-II. Due to minor variations in the circuitry of the manufacturers, one working on or checking out the car's computer should be properly trained and equipped. Usually a problem with the emissions system will alert the driver via "CHECK ENGINE" light on the instrument panel. Should this light appear, you should see your repairman right away. Usually the repair is minor and many times still under warranty. Lengthy delay in seeking repairs could cause major damage to your engine or its components.

There is now much talk of OBD-III system. This system would be more sophisticated and far reaching than the present system. Issues such as Fourth Amendment search and seizure, technologies, enforcement procedures, regulators, and aftermarket repairers among others are now being discussed and evaluated. OBD-III when implemented could substantially alter our driving habits. It will, however, help us continue along the path to cleaner air and, hopefully healthier lives.


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