OBD II Diagnostics on Your Smartphone

The Actron U-Scan Smartphone Tool

Uh oh, that dreaded “Check Engine” light is glowing on the dash of your car. What does it mean? Actually, it means that one of literally thousands of trouble codes has been thrown by your car’s computer system and sensors.

Until now, you could check that code using a generic code reader, a hand held tuner/programmer/code scanner, or take your car to the dealer and pay to learn what code was thrown. But now you have a new choice, you can check your smartphone. Thanks to Actron, a major player in the professional world of diagnostic and repair tools, you can use your smartphone to not only determine what the code is, but also what mostly likely caused it for your vehicle.

The U-Scan tool consists of a small hand held unit that you plug into the OBD II port of your car (usually found below the dash under the steering wheel) and a free app you download to your iPhone or Android device. We got a unit from Actron to take around the block but you can find the tools online and in auto parts stores—we saw the tool on JEGS.com at the time this went to press for $79.95. The tool uses Bluetooth to communicate with the app on your phone.

We paired our phone and U-Scan tool with three cars and added all of them to our MyGarage manager in the app software. One cool feature is AutoID, on most vehicles made from 2000 and up the tool can automatically find your make, model, year and VIN number. All we had to do was manually input the miles on the odometer. The tool works with all OBD II vehicles and is guaranteed to link to all 1996 and newer vehicles. Once a car was added to MyGarage we could run QuickCheck™ which quickly checked our vehicle emissions codes. If the tool finds a code, after reporting it to you it allows you to erase the code and turn off the check engine light.

A great advantage of the U-Scan tool over other hardware based code readers is the inherent ability of a smartphone app to stay up to date. Like all of the other apps on your smartphone, the U-Scan app can be kept up to date with the latest versions and data.

The U-Scan tool also offers optional upgrades that are not only inexpensive; they turn the tool into something that crosses a code reader with an ASE technician in your phone. For $12.99 for one vehicle or $39.99 for all vehicles the CodeConnect™ upgrade grants your tool access to a huge database of over 4.3 million fixes that Actron has. This database contains Top Reported Fixes by make, model and year as reported by ASE certified technicians from all over the country. CodeConnect will provide you with the most likely fix for your vehicle for the code that your U-Scan has read.

Optional ABS code definitions will explain ABS brake system warning lights for most 1996 and newer GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota vehicles. The Powertrain Enhanced Data upgrade offers manufacturer-specific code definitions and live data, allowing you to view and graph engine RPM, coolant temperature and more. When we tested the U-Scan tool we were able to see basic data in real time while the engine was running such as RPM, temperatures and a few other things, so we’re not 100% sure what additional features the Powertrain Enhanced Data offers. The device is new and we had limited time to test it.

We got to use the tool on a friend’s car when it threw a code and lit up the check engine light. We plugged the tool into their car’s OBD II port then we launched the U-Scan app on our Android Galaxy S3 smartphone. The app quickly determined the year, make and model of the car and VIN. We entered the miles on the car and saved the car to MyGarage. We then ran a scan and determined the code that caused the check engine light. We then ran a code search and found out that the most likely cause of our code was a loose gas cap. Sure enough, when we checked it the cap wasn’t completely tightened. We tightened the cap, erased the code and turned off the check engine light.