Review of ELM327 Wireless OBDII code scanner! - Toyota RAV4 Forums
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#1 (permalink) Old 07-03-2011, 02:45 AM
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Review of ELM327 Wireless OBDII code scanner!

With today's computer-controlled cars, a good scan tool can be very handy if you do your own maintenance. But even drivers who don't tinker under the hood can benefit from having a scan tool. If you want to find out what that check engine light means, have the ability to clear the codes and turn off the light, then one of these gadgets can be invaluable. You can verify the repair shop has made the right diagnosis and make sure the problem was fixed properly.

I was browsing through Amazon.com looking at scan tools when I spotted several of these inexpensive ELM327-based units that connect the OBD II diagnostic port to your laptop or netbook. Some of them connect to the computer using a USB cable but the one that caught my eye was the wireless version that pairs up with the computer using Bluetooth. With the proper app, you can even use a Bluetooth-enabled smart phone! Most of these units sell for less than $40, and a Bluetooth USB adapter can be had for less than $2, all with free shipping from Amazon. The one I chose was this one, which is now selling for $27.98:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FSoliport-Bluetooth-Diagnostic-Scanner-wireless%2Fdp%2FB004KL0I9I&tag=5336653677-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325

This Bluetooth adapter was $2:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FBluetooth-USB-Micro-Adapter-Dongle%2Fdp%2FB001EBE1LI&tag=5336653677-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325

Since it was so cheap, I got it and another one that seemed to have better reviews for $12.84:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2Fgp%2Fproduct%2FB0018O9JIG&tag=5336653677-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325

Turns out both of them work fine, so I plugged one in my laptop and the other in my desktop machine.

After a few days, the package arrived and here's what I got:



The packaging is minimal--each unit comes with a small CD with software and not much else. No written documentation at all with the scanner, and not much with the Bluetooth adapter, but, as it turns out, everything is pretty much plug 'n play. The ELM327 scanner is about the size of a matchbox with 5 unlabeled LED's on top that seem to correspond to power, transmit data, receive data, etc., just like a modem. The ELM327 is a chip made by ELM Electronics that converts the OBD II data to standard RS-232 serial bus data that any computer can understand.





If you have a laptop, netbook, or smart phone with Bluetooth, you're good to go. Unfortunately, iPhone users like me are out of luck because Apple has crippled the Bluetooth functionality, but if you've got an Android-based phone, check out an app called Torque (Torque — OBD2 Performance and Diagnostics for your Vehicle), it gets great reviews. Since my old Toshiba laptop doesn't have BT, I got the adapter. Before plugging it in, it's necessary to install the software on the cd. If you don't, Windows will detect it and install simple BT drivers that don't allow you to do much. After installing the software, plug in the adapter and it should be recognized and configured:



The software automatically set up a virtual serial port (COM12) for the BT to use, but I went ahead and configured another one as COM5.

Now it's time to plug the ELM327 scanner into the OBD II port:





When you plug it in, the lights cycle through a self-test mode until only the red LED is lit up. Note that the port is powered up at all times, so don't leave the scanner plugged in permanently or it will eventually drain your battery. The way the port is mounted on the RAV4, you can't see the lights very well but they aren't really necessary. Now you need to pair up the BT on the computer to the scanner. With this BT software you choose "Add a Bluetooth Device" and it will search for devices in the area. In my case it found the BluLogic in the RAV, my iPhone, and a device called "CBT Dev B" which is the scanner. Choose it and if the software asks for a passcode, enter 1234. This passcode was nowhere to be found on the packaging or disc, I think I found it in the Amazon reviews. Once the pairing is done, the CBT Dev B will show up as one of your BT connections. You should specify what COM port you want it to use, in my case COM5. Next we'll install the scanner software on the laptop and see how it works.

James
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#2 (permalink) Old 07-03-2011, 02:54 AM
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Now that we've got the hardware configured, it's time to install the scanner software on the laptop. The small CD that comes with the ELM327 scanner has an assortment of compatible software. Unfortunately the only one that's free and not a demo is ScanTool.net for Windows v1.13, and it is very basic. You can scan for codes, clear codes and turn off the check engine light, and see several pages of sensor data. Here's what it looks like:







After looking at the other software on the disc, nothing really caught my eye. But I found a program on the web called TouchScan (ScanTool.net LLC - TouchScan OBD Software - ScanTool.net) that looked promising and they had a fully functional demo available for download. The demo only works for 14 days but that was plenty of time for me to evaluate it. TouchScan can not only retrieve diagnostic codes and clear them, it can also display a multitude of sensor data, real-time stats, freeze frame data, and vehicle information. There is also a dashboard mode which you can customize to show whatever gauges you want. But the best feature for me is the ability to record your test drive and play it back in real time!

After installing and running TouchScan, you will be at the setup screen. The easiest way to connect with the scanner is to click on AutoDetect. This will scan all COM ports until it finds the scanner. Next it will cycle through the various baud rates and protocols and display the results. In my case it found the scanner on COM5 and connected at 115200 baud using the ISO 15765-4 CAN 11 bit protocol. Apparently, that's the language the RAV4 speaks. After the AutoDetect finishes, simply click Connect and the red bars labeled Interface and ECU should turn green:



Now you can go to the dashboard and give it some gas and watch the gauges go up and down:



As I mentioned, the dashboard can be configured any number of ways:





So, what about reading trouble codes? To test this, I unplugged the MAF sensor on top of the air cleaner box. Started the engine, and it immediately died. Started it again and it ran but the CEL, TRAC, and VSC lights all came on:



I turned off the engine and plugged the MAF sensor back in, but of course the lights stayed on--the codes had been stored in the ECU. At this point I chose Diagnostics on TouchScan and it showed a P0102 and a P0113:





Then I looked at the Freeze Frame Data. This is a snapshot of what exactly was going on when the code was set. As you can see the engine was cold (118F) and the code was set 0 seconds after starting:



If this code had been set while driving, you would know exactly when the problem occurred, at what speed and RPM it happened, and lots of other data that is shown on that screen when you scroll down. So then I clicked on Clear Trouble Codes and the lights went out and everything was back to normal.

But the Record function is what really impressed me about the software. I was idling in the driveway ready for a little test drive. I clicked on Record and away I went:



After driving around for about 12 minutes, I returned home and clicked Stop. What I got was a detailed record of what was going on with the RAV for that drive. I disconnected the BT link, turned off the car and went inside with the laptop. At the kitchen table I clicked on play and I could see what was happening during my test drive in real time:



It was like analyzing a black box from an aircraft. I could switch between screens and see the gauges and sensor data changing as if I were still driving. Pretty cool!



Here are a few more of the information screens:









A couple of things about this setup. When you're finished, don't just close the TouchScan software. Go to Setup and click on Disconnect first. This releases the COM port from the program--if you don't do this and then try to connect again, it will show your COM port is already in use and the connection will fail.

As for the TouchScan software, it seems like a pretty good deal to me. They are selling the full version for $24.95 on their web site with unlimited upgrades. I'll probably get it unless I find something better.

So if you're looking for a inexpensive way to read diagnostic codes and help with troubleshooting engine problems, I recommend this setup highly. It gives you all the information you need and more, and for around 40 bucks you can't go wrong.

James
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#3 (permalink) Old 07-03-2011, 05:08 AM
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Excellent write-up! Even the low price on those never attracted me to buying them because I just figured "you get what you pay for." Your commentary may prove otherwise on this device...
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#4 (permalink) Old 07-03-2011, 06:27 PM
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James,

You really outpaced yourself on this one.
What an excelling write up.
Thanks for that!
Greetz

Pim

Driving a BMW318i with LPG at the moment. Had a 2.0 RAV4.1 1997 3drs 4WD euro model w/ABS dual sunroof blue two tone previously.
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#5 (permalink) Old 07-27-2011, 11:08 AM
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Seeking advice on scanner, OBD2 software

James,

Thanks very much for the detailed review. I'm impressed with the gift that you have given to this community.

I mean to buy a device such as this today and have it shipped overnight. I'm leaving on vacation in just over a week, towing my boat -- and the lights are on (again...).

I have some questions that you or others in the community may be able to answer.

First, I have to decide between USB and Blue Tooth. This device is available either way. The USB flavor is $20; the Blue Tooth is $28. The idea of using Blue Tooth is, of course, very cool. But the USB cable seems more bulletproof. I'm in a hurry, and I don't need additional hassles of finding an up-to-date driver for the 4-5 year old laptop, et cetera. Is there any overriding consideration to go either way? The laptop that I would use has Blue Tooth (Acer Aspire 3004), but I've never used it for anything, and so I don't even know if it works! (Curiosity question: Do you have any idea what the range is on the Blue Tooth device?)

[Further to that decision: I found this negative review of the device: "The price is right and the windows screen looks intuitive. It just doesn't work in either of my two netbooks running XP. The help files do not display the windows screen shots and the read.me files are unhelpful." I'm thinking that these comments would apply to both the Blue Tooth and USB versions, and that it has to do with the application software, not the device. Any thoughts?]

Second, regarding software: Amazon does not seem to list the package that you used, but they do offer ElmScan 5 Compact USB OBD-II Scan Tool & OBDWiz Engine Diagnostic Software. Looking at the screenshots, it appears somewhere between incredibly similar and identical to the software that you used -- and it is indeed from ScanTool. This package, I just this moment noticed, includes a USB connector device AND the software, for $30. Does anybody have any experience with this? I'm thinking that if I use USB, there's not going to be any meaningful difference from one device to another -- it's just a USB hookup...

I'm going to hold back for a few hours just to see if anybody writes back and says, "Don't buy it -- it's crap." Otherwise I think I'll go for it.

Side comment about the need: Within the last year I replaced the canister, and within the last month I had a coil replaced. CEL/VSC/4WD is on again. I want to know what the problem is so that I can decide to take it to my favorite indy, who is reasonably priced, trustworthy, and a nice guy, or to Toyota, who will do things like replace the coil at no cost to me under my platinum third-party 'extended warranty.'

Thanks in advance for any comments,

Paul in East Troy WI

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#6 (permalink) Old 07-27-2011, 12:06 PM
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Paul, I recommend you get that one from ScanTool because it comes with OBDWiz, which is an excellent package. Mine didn't come with it so I had to download TouchScan which is almost identical.

Yes, I agree that reviewer is talking about the software, but if the images in the help file aren't displaying, he must not have installed it correctly. The software works quite well and is very intuitive.

I like the Bluetooth because it's neater, and when going on a test drive you won't have a cable across your legs or lap. I can set my laptop in the rear cargo area and have it record my drive. The Bluetooth has a maximum range of 30 meters. But you need a PC driver for the BT that lets it emulate a serial port. I don't think the default Windows XP drivers do that--they are very basic, so I used the driver that came with my BT dongle.

James
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#7 (permalink) Old 08-04-2011, 10:39 PM
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Thanks for posting this review. I had no idea such a device existed at such a low cost. I am looking at the blue tooth version on eBay right now. Only 20 bucks with first class mail shipping. There is an app for the android phone that gets rave reviews. I think I am going to get this thing. When I do I will share my experience using the torque app on the droid x. Very timely as I am having an intermittent check engine light.
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#8 (permalink) Old 08-04-2011, 11:46 PM
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No problem, Jay! I look forward to hearing how the Torque app works for you!

James
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#9 (permalink) Old 08-05-2011, 12:52 PM
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Very nice! It would be perfect if they had something like that software for iphone/ipad...
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#10 (permalink) Old 08-05-2011, 02:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cpotoso View Post
Very nice! It would be perfect if they had something like that software for iphone/ipad...
Sadly, Apple has crippled the Bluetooth implementation on the iPhone so that it only works with phone calls and music streaming. You can't even upload your contacts list to the RAV4 JBL system with BT. There is an OBDII application for the iPhone that uses wi-fi--unfortunately the OBD wi-fi hardware is much more expensive.

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