What is the Importance of an OBDII Scanner?

For the 4WDer planning on heading out into the middle of nowhere, we certainly take a lot of extra gear. Gear to ensure that we are comfortable, tools to help fix something that’s broken, and …

Club 4X4 Insurance
May 04 2023

For the 4WDer planning on heading out into the middle of nowhere, we certainly take a lot of extra gear. Gear to ensure that we are comfortable, tools to help fix something that’s broken, and enough recovery gear to get you out of bogging.

In this article, we would like to talk about keeping you moving.

I think it would be fair to say that older 4X4s were a little more predictable. When something went wrong, those with a bit of mechanical knowledge and some simple tools could usually get things sorted and be back on the road. They were extremely simple and basic compared to today’s vehicles.

Today, we have all sorts of electronics to make our world so much better. We’ve delved into that with a prior article on modern technology:

Is Modern 4X4 Tech Too Much?

We really are spoilt with so many systems providing us with driver assistance, convenience and comfort. But what do you do when you receive an error light on the dashboard, and you are in the middle of nowhere? All the recovery gear in the world won’t help you here.

All modern vehicle manufacturers have a requirement to provide information from their vehicle through a standardised protocol known as On-Board Diagnostics or OBD for short. This kicked off in the late 80s and early 90s but from around the year 2000 until now, most vehicles use the second generation, known an OBD-II, OBDII or OBD2. There are many different ‘scanners’ as they’re often called that can be plugged into the standard OBD-II port, which can usually be found in the driver’s side footwell under the dashboard so that the device can be viewed from the driver’s seat.

Imagine being parked on a sandbar on Moreton Island and your dash showed an error that you couldn’t solve. The tide is coming in and you simply cannot get the vehicle moving because of an electrical glitch. Or maybe you are on the Birdsville Track, your vehicle has a dashboard light showing an error and you cannot proceed.

Having a 4X4 go into ‘limp mode’ is something we have seen many times during our travels, and for the owner of the vehicle, it can be seriously frustrating. These errors can sometimes disable your vehicle or drastically limit its power to be limped home. If you are close to your vehicle’s service facility, they would plug the vehicle in and assess the error code supplied. They would then look into what is creating this error and assess if the item has failed or simply created a glitch. If there is nothing wrong with the item providing the error, the code can often simply be cleared and you are on your way again.

Well, the great news is that you can take one of these devices with you when you travel so in the event of having a code error which has either brought on a frustrating dashboard light or disabled your vehicle, you can assess the code and successfully clear it, allowing you to proceed.

We carry two different systems in our 4X4, the Mighty 79.

The first is an OBD-II plug-in Bluetooth device, which is a simple reader. After connecting it via Bluetooth to either your phone or in our case, a PVS head-unit, we can get real time input displays providing us all types of information. This is all done through a downloaded application and is completely customisable to provide the information I am looking for. We have tried quite a few but have settled with the app Torque Pro. The benefit with systems like this is we can track information like exhaust gas temperatures as we drive. By having a general understanding of what the normal temps are, we can then compare the temps whilst pushing extremely soft sand or towing up a steep hill. I have to admit, I use this system a lot as we travel and have customised the app to suit what I would like to monitor. With this system, you can also track error codes and in most cases, delete them. This will provide you the ability of continuing your journey. These error codes can be looked up on the internet to identify the actual problem, allowing for you to look further to see what has triggered the error.

Now the only problem with this kind of system is that the error codes delivered are simply a number. Without internet access, you simply have a number and no idea of where to look for the problem.

Fortunately, the 4WDer now has OBD-II tools specifically created to suit their vehicle manufacturer. The Autophix range of OBDII readers not only finds the error code number, but also provides information of what the error is. This will allow you to look specifically at the problem, then fix it before removing the error to continue in your travels. We carry the Toyota specific OBD-II Outback unit and the generic unit for other vehicles we are travelling with. Although we haven’t needed it for ourselves, we believe it to be great insurance to carry for that moment when you actually need to find what is causing unwanted warning lights to appear on your dashboard.

Unfortunately, there are vehicles that provide error codes more frequently than others. For these vehicles, I think a code reader like this is a must. But even the Toyota owner will most likely have a code at some stage that shows up due to maybe bad fuel, or a dirty air filter. You plug this device in, find the error code and the information that allows you to identify the problem, like a dirty filter, sort the problem and continue your trip.

I believe every vehicle owner planning on taking their vehicle into the outback should “Go Prepared” but in the event of their modern vehicle having a glitch and throwing a code, the only way they will be able to assess and sort the issue remotely is to have a device like this in their toolkit. It might just save you your holiday and a costly vehicle recovery from the middle of nowhere.

Check Engine Lights (CILs) and other Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) are there for a reason though, and not all of those issues can be simply cleared or fixed on the tracks. Club 4X4’s insurance is another essential part of my toolkit as if things go really pear shaped and I need a professional recovery, I know that their off-road recovery cover will have my back.


-Michael Ellem

Offroad Images

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