What are your thoughts when the Check Engine light comes on in your car? The Check Engine light, or sometimes called the Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL), is an indicator that informs you something has gone wrong with one of the many emissions systems on your car. Thoughts of an unknown and expensive repair may fill your mind. An OBD-II scan tool like the BlueDriver from Lemur Vehicle Monitors can give you some peace of mind and provide the information you need to determine what’s wrong with your car.
What is an OBD-II Scan Tool?
When a failure occurs in your car’s engine, it is detected by the onboard computer system. The computer will log a diagnostic trouble code and turn on the Check Engine light. The diagnostic trouble code is the basis for determining what’s wrong with your vehicle.
Vehicles manufactured since 1996 are required to comply with the On-Board Diagnostic-II (OBD-II) standard, which defines automotive diagnostic information. An OBD-II scan tool allows you to access your car’s computer system to read the diagnostic trouble codes. Simply connect an OBD-II scan tool to the diagnostic connector in your car and you have access to a wealth of information. The OBD-II diagnostic connector is usually located under the dashboard on the driver’s side.
What Types of Scan Tools Are Available?
Aside from the expensive scan tools used by professional mechanics, there are a variety of affordable OBD-II scan tools available to the consumer. The traditional scan tools are hand-held units with a built-in display and a cable that connects to the OBD-II connector in your car. With the popularity of smartphones, companies have developed scan tools that allow you to access the OBD-II data with your smartphone. With this type of scan tool, a user will connect a wireless OBD-II sensor to the diagnostic connector in the vehicle. The wireless OBD-II sensor communicates with an app on the smartphone to display the diagnostic data.
Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi OBD-II Sensors
OBD-II scan tool sensors are available in two wireless versions: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. To use a Wi-Fi sensor, you need to connect your smartphone to the Wi-Fi signal generated by the sensor. This will likely cause you to loose Internet connectivity while using the Wi-Fi sensor. The Bluetooth sensors consume less power than the Wi-Fi sensors and have the ability to automatically turn off when not in use. The Bluetooth sensors are used by android smartphones, but are not always compatible with the iPhone. Most OBD-II sensors for Apple devices are Wi-Fi devices. To manufacture a Bluetooth product for Apple, a company needs to be approved by Apple as an MFi (Made for iOS) manufacturer. Therefore, any company that does not meet the requirements defined by Apple is restricted to using WiFi, which has more limitations than Bluetooth. One of the few Bluetooth OBD-II sensors available for Apple devices is the BlueDriver manufactured by Lemur Vehicle Monitors.
BlueDriver OBD-II Scan Tool
The BlueDriver OBD-II scan tool consists of two parts: a wireless OBD-II sensor and an app for your smartphone. The wireless sensor is a small device that simply plugs into the OBD-II connector in your vehicle and transmits data to the app.
When you purchase the BlueDriver, you will receive a small box containing the wireless sensor. The app is a free download from the App Store (or Google Play if you have an Android smartphone). Both the box and the label on the BlueDriver sensor have a QR code. Scanning the code with your iPhone will take you directly to the App Store where you can download the app. If you don’t have a QR code scanner, the app is easy enough to locate in the App Store by simply searching for BlueDriver.
The BlueDriver not only allows you to read and clear your vehicle’s diagnostic trouble codes, it also contains some features not found in the basic code scanners on the market.
- Read & Clear normal Check Engine light diagnostic trouble codes for all vehicles manufactured since 1996.
- Read & Clear Enhanced Codes (e.g. ABS, Airbag, Transmission, etc.) – currently available for General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler vehicles, plus Lemur is in the process of adding this capability for more vehicles. NOTE: This is not to be confused with reading and clearing normal Check Engine light trouble codes, which is available for all vehicles.
- Smog Check – many people use BlueDriver to prepare for their Smog Tests (or vehicle emissions tests).
- Live Data – provides an on-screen display of various engine parameters while the engine is running. When in landscape, the BlueDriver provides a handy interactive data graph.
A full list of the features can be found on the manufacturer’s website http://www.lemurmonitors.com.
Setting Up the BlueDriver
Once you plug the BlueDriver sensor into the OBD-II connector of your vehicle, a small blue LED on the sensor will illuminate. You can then open the Bluetooth settings on your iPhone to pair the BlueDriver to the iPhone. The BlueDriver should appear in the Bluetooth devices list on your iPhone and you will simply tap on it to pair the sensor with your iPhone. There is no 4-digit code to enter like other Bluetooth devices. It is truly one of the simplest Bluetooth pairings I have experienced.
Using the BlueDriver
Once the BlueDriver has been paired to your iPhone, start your vehicle and launch the BlueDriver app. The app will connect with your vehicle to establish communication. The home screen of the app displays icons for the main functions.
Select the Vehicle Info icon and enter the vehicle’s VIN. On some newer cars, the BlueDriver will automatically load the VIN if it is available in the OBD-II data. If no VIN information is shown on-screen, you will need to manually enter the VIN. It would be helpful if the app could use the iPhone camera to read the VIN directly from the vehicle, but this feature is not currently available. Once the VIN is entered, you will see detailed information about the vehicle. Entering the VIN is important because it allows the BlueDriver to accurately recognize manufacturer specific diagnostic trouble codes for your vehicle.
Tapping the Read Codes icon will scan your vehicle and display any diagnostic trouble codes from the engine along with enhanced trouble codes for the ABS system, SRS (airbag) system, and transmission for General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler vehicles. If a diagnostic trouble code is found, a detailed explanation of the code along with the most common fixes for the code are available under Repair Reports section. The Repair Reports are very helpful in determining possible causes of the problem.
The app also has an option to Clear Codes. While this will delete the codes and turn off the Check Engine light, it does not fix the underlying problem. The Check Engine light will eventually return if the problem isn’t fixed.
When I was testing the BlueDriver, none of my vehicles had the Check Engine light illuminated so no codes were detected. I tested the BlueDriver on a 2009 Buick Enclave, 2009 Honda CRV, 2005 Chevy Impala, and a friend’s 2014 Mazda CX-5. Although none of the vehicles had any failures to report, it should be noted the BlueDriver successfully communicated with all the vehicles, both domestic and foreign manufacturers.
To fully test the BlueDriver, I needed to find a vehicle with an active Check Engine light. Luckily, my friend is the owner of an automotive repair shop. A quick stop by his repair shop provided an ample supply of test vehicles.
First up was a 2003 Chevy S-10. My friend had already read the diagnostic code with his expensive professional-grade OBD-II scan tool, so we were checking to see if the BlueDriver would identify the same code. Sure enough, the BlueDriver successfully identified the same diagnostic code found by the professional-grade scan tool. My mechanic friend really liked the Repair Reports generated by the BlueDriver app. He found the information about the most common causes and possible solutions for a diagnostic code to be helpful.
Next up was a 2000 Chevy Impala. The BlueDriver successfully identified multiple diagnostic codes from the vehicle and displayed Repair Reports for each code. In each test case, the BlueDriver worked as advertised without issue.
Selecting the Live Data tab in the menu at the bottom of the BlueDriver app allows you to view and collect a wide variety of data parameters as the engine is running. To get started, tap the gear icon to select the data you want to log, such as engine RPM, throttle position, oxygen sensor data, or a wide variety of other parameters. The list of available parameters varies based on the data supported by a particular make and model of the vehicle.
As the live data is collected, it is displayed in a list on the main Live Data screen. For each parameter there is a small graph of the data, but it isn’t always easy to read in this view. For a better display of an individual parameter, tap the arrow to the right of the parameter to display a gauge. Rotating the iPhone to landscape mode displays a graph of the data. You can control the graph by pausing, panning, and zooming to view different parts of the data. To see data points more precisely, tap and hold for a crosshair.
The BlueDriver app will automatically log the data as long as you remain on the Live Data window. Switching to a different screen will reset the log. It would be nice if there was a way to save a log file, but currently the only way to save a data log is to tap the Sharing icon and send the data to your email address. The data is sent as a CSV file, which can be opened with most spreadsheet programs.
If you are looking for a little peace of mind before taking your vehicle for the next smog test (or emissions test), the Smog Check feature will check the various vehicle emissions data and provide an assessment if your vehicle can pass. This is not a guarantee your vehicle will pass the official test, but your confidence level should be pretty high if it passes the BlueDriver test.
The BlueDriver app has additional features such as Freeze Frame that shows a snapshot of data from the moment the Check Engine light was triggered. MIL Status provides details about how long the Check Engine light (Malfunction Indicator Light) has been active. Mode 6 shows more detailed diagnostic data that can be used to further diagnose trouble codes. There is even a flashlight feature that turns on the iPhone’s flash to use as a flashlight while trying to find the OBD-II connector under the dash. If you are using the app on an iPad, the flashlight feature turns the screen white to help illuminate the dark areas under the dashboard.
The Bottom Line
There are many affordable OBD-II scan tools available. At just under $100, the BlueDriver is not the cheapest; but given the features it offers, it is certainly a very good value for the money. In addition to reading and erasing diagnostic codes, the BlueDriver can also read and clear Enhanced Codes such as ABS, SRS (airbag), and transmission for General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler vehicles; plus Lemur is in the process of adding this capability for more vehicles. The Repair Reports and Smog Check are helpful features that is not available with most other scan tools. The Live Data feature is extremely useful for anyone serious about working on their vehicle.
Don’t be confused by older reviews that mention additional costs associated with the BlueDriver app. This is no longer the case. Lemur no longer charges fees for additional features or additional Repair Reports. Once you purchase the BlueDriver OBD-II sensor and download the free BlueDriver app from the App Store, there are no additional fees associated with the use of this scan tool. This makes the BlueDriver an exceptional value.
The BlueDriver app offers more features and makes reading the data easier than most standalone OBD-II scan tools with a fixed monochrome display. Since many people already have a smartphone, using the BlueDriver app will feel very natural.
If you know someone that is an automobile enthusiast or a professional mechanic, they would likely be interested in the BlueDriver.
Note: In an effort to provide full disclosure, the Amazon link above is an affiliate link. If you purchase the BlueDriver from the Amazon link, I will receive a small commission on the sale. Thank you for helping to support the iAnswerGuy website.