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Ford OBD – why on-board diagnostics can be so important!


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Ford OBD can be one of the most important tools for regular maintenance or used car diagnostics. The OBD port allows you to quickly check your Ford without having a lot of knowledge about automotive technology. For savvy technicians, Ford OBD provides the ability to pinpoint faults and diagnose a vehicle in minutes. In this article, we want to offer you all the information you need to make the most of Ford OBD’s capabilities.

Basically, the Ford OBD port offers the possibility to connect a diagnostic device, which can be used to read the fault memory of a motor vehicle. Nowadays, up to 100 different control units are used in vehicles for the various functions. All of them can issue error messages if there are technical problems. These error messages can be generic and brand-specific, indicating problems with the vehicle. So, it can be exceedingly beneficial for the owner of a Ford to be familiar with the vehicle’s fault codes in order to use them to quickly identify problems.

In this article, we want to provide you with all the information you need to know about Ford OBD and how you can put this knowledge to practical use.

What is the Ford OBD?

On-board diagnostics (Ford OBD) is a way to connect to a vehicle’s various ECUs . The numerous control units in a modern car are connected to each other with a data line. It ensures that all the information measured by the various control devices can be used anywhere. The control units have the ability to record values through various sensors, which can be very important for the control of the vehicle and its technical condition. If one of these values indicates a problem, the corresponding control unit issues an error message. These can be used to diagnose your Ford. This means that problems in the vehicle can be detected more quickly and more information about the specific fault can be read out.

Ford OBD – why on-board diagnostics can be so important!

Who invented the Ford OBD?

As early as the 1970s, the first attempts were made to equip automobiles with a diagnostic connector to simplify troubleshooting in workshops. As more and more electronics were installed in vehicles during this time, many different manufacturers made attempts to enable automated diagnostics in workshops.

Until 1988, there was no general standard for a general interface for querying vehicle-collected data. It was not until 1988 that the California Environmental Protection Agency (CARB) sought to enact a generally applicable benchmark. In doing so, the agency sought to use authority to enforce emissions regulations in California. Triggered by air pollution problems in California’s major cities, the agency thus enforced new emissions regulations that are still considered the strictest such orders in the world today. The agency’s problem was that the vehicles still had to comply with the regulations after several years. For this purpose, a possibility had to be created to be able to check the exhaust system of vehicles as quickly and easily as possible. The OBD1 standard was developed to ensure compliance with emissions regulations over the entire life of a vehicle. This provided for the vehicle to have its own electronic self-monitoring system, equipped with a signal lamp integrated in the dashboard, which could be interrogated via an external interface.

Over the last decades, more and more electronics have been installed in vehicles and the current OBD2 standard has been developed. It enables information to be queried via a serial interface on the CAN bus, which connects the individual control units. The OBD2 quickly grew beyond the actual task of monitoring the exhaust system and nowadays offers the possibility to perform in-depth diagnostics in the vehicle.

The OBD standard has also been adopted in Europe. Since 2004, the EU has stipulated, before order, that all vehicles must have an engine control light that can be used as a warning signal for OBD.

The tasks of Ford OBD

On-board diagnostics have long since outgrown the task of monitoring the exhaust system. Since vehicle manufacturers were forced to equip vehicles with a diagnostic system as soon as they wanted to sell cars in California starting in the 1970s, they also used the interface for other purposes. The series interface of the OBD has now become an ideal way to check the electronic components of a motor vehicle and use it to diagnose faults.

For vehicles manufactured in the last 20 years, all control units and sensors can now be read in. On-board diagnostics can be used to accurately identify faults if the correct OBD scanners are used for this purpose. For this reason, the OBD interface has also established itself as one of the most important interfaces for the diagnosis of modern vehicles.

Does my Ford have an OBD interface?

Ford has already delivered the first vehicles with OBD1 interface since 1984. Then in 1994, the Cougar 4.6 liter V8 was launched, in which Ford used OBD2 for the first time. From 1995 onwards, all engines with 6 and 8 cylinders were equipped with an OBD2 interface and from 1996 onwards, this equipment also applies to all 4-cylinder engines.

On Ford vehicles manufactured for the American market, a sticker indicates that the vehicle has an OBD2 interface. Vehicles for the European market that meet the emission class “Euro-3” must be equipped with an OBD2 interface.

Where can I find the Ford OBD connector?

Ford OBD connector

The OBD2 port is located in the passenger compartment, within 1 m of the driver’s seat. It has been mostly installed below the dashboard between the steering wheel and the driver’s door. This makes it easily accessible and the vehicle can be checked quickly. On most Ford vehicles, the connector is black.

What does the Ford OBD port look like?

To protect the OBD port from external influences, it is usually protected with a plastic cover. The plug has 16 different connectors, which are standardized. Some of them can be used by motor vehicle manufacturers for their own purposes.

Ford OBD connector pinout

Pin assignment Ford OBD2 connector

Pin no.Description
1Manufacturer specific
2J1850 Bus+
3Manufacturer specific
4Vehicle mass
5Signal ground
6CAN High (J-2284)
7ISO 9141-2 K Output
8Manufacturer specific
9Manufacturer specific
10J1850 Bus
11Manufacturer specific
12Manufacturer specific
13Manufacturer specific
14CAN Low (J-2284)
15ISO 9141-2 L Output
16Battery (+) voltage

The operation of the Ford OBD2 connector

Even though the 16-pin Ford OBD2 port was primarily designed to meet strict emissions regulations, nowadays it offers you an easy way to check all of your vehicle’s electronic components quickly and easily. Through the OBD2 connection, all data from the control units, as well as the current measured values of all sensors can be retrieved. Some vehicles even offer the ability to change settings through the OBD2 port.

This can be done using the CAN bus, which the German Bosch Group has been working on since 1983. This is a relatively simple network for the various control units in a vehicle. It enables communication between the individual components in an elegant and as simple as possible way. This allows all the complex components in a vehicle to communicate with each other and provide the occupants with many modern functions.

How does the CAN bus work?

The CAN bus(Controller Area Network) has been the standard for motor vehicles since 1994 at the latest. It has been a legal requirement for European vehicles since 2008. The CAN bus requires only two cables, which significantly reduces the number and length of cables in a vehicle.

Communication in the CAN bus is enabled by differential signaling. Simply explained, when data is transmitted, the voltage on one line is increased and decreased by the same amount on the other. This signal transmission is very fault-tolerant and is therefore ideal for use in motor vehicles. In modern vehicles, the High Speed CAN is used, which can transmit data at 500 KBit/SEC. Data can be transmitted with High Speed, Medium Speed and Low Speed CAN depending on their importance in each vehicle.

How are fault codes registered in the Ford OBD system?

For vehicle owners, the fault codes in an OBD system play the most important role. Even though the OBD standard was primarily designed to constantly check lambda sensor function, catalytic converter efficiency, and combustion misfires, nowadays many other fault codes are recorded with on-board diagnostics. These records can be interrogated through the Ford OBD2 port and provide an overview of a vehicle’s current condition.

If a control unit in a motor vehicle detects errors or data outside the specified range, the error messages are first stored in the debouncing counter. Only if the error occurs again in several runs, an entry is made in the error memory. If the defect is measured in only one pass, the error message is cleared again. This prevents an inaccurate error message from being recorded by a one-time message.

An error code is generated for each error, which is standardized by the DTC (Data Trouble Code). This is a five-digit code that can be used to read the messages in the Ford OBD. It is composed as follows:

The first letter of the Data Trouble Code stands for:

Since motor vehicle manufacturers can also define their own codes, the second digit in the DTC defines whether the fault is a (0) general fault or a (1) manufacturer-specific fault.

The third digit defines the subfamily of the error code. It breaks down as follows:

Since DTV also plays an important role in European legislation, it has also been specified in the SAE J2012 and ISO 15031-6 standards. Meanwhile, the standards include over 11,000 codes, all of which can be queried using Ford OBD.

The different modes of the Ford OBD

If you want to read out your vehicle with a Ford OBD scanner, there are 10 different modes available. With them you can use the various functions of the Ford OBD.

  1. Vehicle-specific diagnostic data
    In this mode, data values and sensor data can be queried in real time. This function can also be used to query the “Readiness Code”, which displays all components installed in the vehicle in a 12-digit binary code.
  2. Fault Environment Data or Freeze Frame Data
    When the control units detect a fault and the warning light is activated, freeze frame data is acquired and stored for this purpose. At the time of the fault, they are a snapshot of the data from the components and sensors. These can help diagnose the defect, as all data can be displayed from the time the fault occurred.
  3. Permanent error codes that lead to the warning lamp lighting up
    In this function it is possible to recall all the defects that led to activation of the warning lamp in the dashboard. Vehicle manufacturers also have the option of defining their own fault codes that can cause the warning light to be triggered and are stored in this memory area.
  4. Deleting the emission-relevant error codes and fault environment data
    In this mode, all emission-relevant data can be deleted with the Porsche OBD scanner. This includes the error memory and the freeze frame data. Under certain circumstances, the manufacturer-specific error messages can also be deleted here.
  5. Lambda probe monitoring
    This function can be used to query the continuous monitoring of the lambda sensor and display the test results.
  6. Non continuously monitored systems
    In this area, error messages are stored that did not activate the warning lamp. The errors have been detected but have no systemic consequences to activate the warning light.
  7. Continuously monitored systems, warning light not active
    All data that triggered an error message only in one work cycle and were not sufficient to store an error code can be queried in this mode. They can help identify potential sources of error.
  8. Manufacturer-specific test functions
    In this mode, manufacturers can include their own test functions. However, this function is not usually used by European brands.
  9. Vehicle identification
    In this mode, important data can be retrieved from the vehicle, which is stored in various control units. This includes, among other things, the vehicle identification number (VIN) as well as brand- and type-specific information.

What information is stored in the Ford OBD?

Each control unit located in a motor vehicle has memory. This can be divided into two different types. There is volatile memory that is erased when the power supply to the vehicle is interrupted. On the other hand, there is non-volatile memory that retains its information even if the power supply is completely cut off.

All both types of memory are used for error codes and other information. Vehicle manufacturers can store important data in it that can be used in other ECUs. This information can also be used for diagnostic purposes if the OBD scanner can read it.

It is interesting for the user that not only critical error messages are stored in the error memory, but also other interesting information under certain circumstances. They are used by the other control units and can also be used by the central control unit for diagnostic purposes. With the appropriate Ford OBD scanner, this data can be evaluated and used for diagnostic purposes. With the appropriate software, error predictions can also be made.

Are all the Ford OBD fault codes bad?

Not all error codes must directly cause a costly repair. If critical error messages are actually recorded, then the red warning light in the dashboard should also come on. Only then can it be assumed that the recorded error code poses a danger to the occupants. In this case, of course, direct action must be taken to correct the error as soon as possible.

However, the majority of fault codes can be considered informative and are intended to draw attention to special circumstances or conditions of the vehicle or environment.

What are the possibilities to read the Ford OBD codes?

Meanwhile, various ways are offered to read the fault codes from a vehicle. Every authorized Ford dealer must have a test station that is also capable of reading Ford OBD trouble codes. This equipment is usually rented by the vehicle manufacturer to the authorized workshops. The cost can be a few 1000 € per year, but because of the workshops have the ability to quickly and safely diagnose the vehicles. However, the high cost must be translated to the work performed, so Ford OBD reading at an authorized dealer can be expensive.

It is cheaper to have the OBD memory read out at an independent workshop if they have an appropriate OBD scanner. Unfortunately, these garages do not guarantee that the staff is familiar with the fault codes specific to the manufacturer and, accordingly, can make a detailed diagnosis.

A third, inexpensive and practical solution is offered by the Carly OBD Scanner. At a fraction of the cost of an OBD diagnosis at the authorized repair shop, it offers the ability to use Ford OBD and read manufacturer-specific data.

The advantages of Carly Ford OBD Scanner

While most OBD scanners are equipped with expensive screens and elaborate electronics, the Carly OBD scanner only comes with an adapter for the Ford OBD port. Carly’s developers use modern smartphones and tablets to read and analyze the data from the vehicle. Modern cell phones have a high computing power, which was not even reached by normal computers until a few years ago. This provides developers with an inexpensive way to read Ford OBD data and perform computationally intensive diagnostics.

With the Carly OBD Scanner, it only takes a few minutes to upload all the data from the vehicle to a cell phone via the Bluetooth interface. The error codes can then be displayed on the smartphone or tablet with the error descriptions. The Carly OBD Scanner software can also check if a vehicle’s mileage has been tampered with and what defects might occur in the near future based on the error codes. This is not possible with normal OBD scanners.

The Carly Ford OBD scanner is therefore ideal for checking used vehicles or constantly monitoring your own vehicle to ensure its roadworthiness at all times. In order to guarantee faster reading of the vehicle data, Carly Ford OBD scanner offers a traffic light display. Immediately after reading the data, the colors red, yellow and green indicate the real state of the vehicle. For the owner or the driver of the vehicle, this information makes it easy to see what condition the vehicle is in.

Ford OBD Conclusion

With the latest Ford OBD scanners, such as the Carly OBD Scanner, vehicles can be diagnosed quickly and thoroughly. Until a few years ago, this tool was only available to specialist workshops, which had to pay a lot of money for the current scanners. Nowadays, profound expertise is no longer necessary to read the Ford OBD fault memory. The complete vehicle electronics can be read out within a few minutes and thus all components can be diagnosed.

Reading the fault memory can be very useful to be informed about the current status of a vehicle at any time, or likewise to check a used vehicle. Expensive consequential damage can thus be avoided and the safety of a vehicle can be guaranteed.

Keep in mind, that every car has different software and modules built-in. Therefore specific features will vary with every model.

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