With smartphones getting smarter and app makers tapping into ever more exclusive areas, performing DIY vehicle diagnostic tests just got a whole lot easier.

WE’VE WRITTEN ON the importance of performing regular basic car maintenance before, and in many cars this is stuff you can do with your own two hands.

Well, now app makers have got in on the act to help drivers perform basic health checks on their car with nothing more than an Apple or Android smartphone

Using a little input slot in your car known as the on-board diagnostic (OBD) port, you can get a reasonably accurate idea of what might be causing your car to miss a beat. You can even clear fault codes and check engine lights – though obviously this should not be done unless there is a fault with the sensor and not the part.

So what is an OBD port, exactly?

The OBD port is a universal access point that was originally conceived to allow professional mechanics to plug a cable into your car and connect a computer. The computer software, which was mostly tailored to the car make and model, would then tell the mechanic how the car was running and what might need fixing, using data sent to it from the car’s ECU.

In the last year or so, this information has been democratised and made accessible to consumers by various Bluetooth and WiFi plugins and matching smartphone apps. Essentially, you can now simply plug a little dongle into the port and it will communicate to your phone, tablet or laptop. And there is any number of apps available to help process that information.

What’s more, you don’t even need to open the hood of your car and have a play around as the port is generally accessible from somewhere near the driver’s seat. A quick Google search will usually turn up its location on a model-by-model basis.

What you use it for is really up to you – the port spits out information, via the dongle, to your phone, including fault codes, sensor read-outs, top speeds, brake performance as well as a host of other information. Mostly, however, you will be guided by the app that you use.

Where can I buy an OBD2 Bluetooth dongle?

A Bluetooth dongle will plug into the port and allow you to connect a mobile phone to it. They can be cheap like this ELM327 V1.5 (For Android) (under $12) or more expensive like this BlueDriver Bluetooth Pro (about $130) that works on both iPhone and Android.

We’ve had good results with the Amtake unit (above), which works for both Android and Apple devices, including iPads, and costs $22 delivered.

What OBD2 apps can I use?


The reason for dash’s popularity is no doubt its day to day utility for those of us who are less car savvy and more concerned with improving the daily efficiency of our driving. It gives useful information like route history, what to expect from a mechanic and where you parked your car. It also includes a “gamification” type module that scores your driving performance and matches it against friends – this is perhaps a fanciful feature that assumes a driver requirement that potentially doesn’t exist.

Check it out here.


In the same space, you also have Automatic. Like dash, Automatic offers a boatload of utility, and purports to be a little less passive than dash – actively sending you notifications when your car has health issues or is low on fuel. It also offers driving history, parking location and seems to present a little more in the way of diagnostics. It takes more of a stance on offering efficiency tips relating to fuel consumption, braking distance and the likes, however, it’s hard to imagine an app like this dramatically changing your driving habits.

Check it out here.


The best local app is probably gofar.co – built by a company based in Sydney. GoFar gets into the nitty-gritty of drive economy based on petrol consumption, stored kinetic energy, stopping distances and other detailed data. GoFar then gives you feedback on the steps you need to take to improve that economy. It’s an interesting proposition, but again, potentially a stretch for the casual driver. Like the other applications, GoFar also rates your driving performance and pits you against friends in a league table.

Check it out here.

Quick and easy to use OBD2 apps

OBD Auto Doctor has a slick interface and can record and send data to an email address. Check it out here.

Torque Pro is a comprehensive app that has been around a long time. Check it out here

BlueDriver is a free app to use but you have to use it with a BlueDriver dongle (listed above). Check it out here.

OBD Fusion is a full-featured OBD app, accessing fuel consumption, fault codes, engine statistics and more. Check it out here

On balance, with apps such as these, the golden rule still stands – “less is more”. In a nascent market, the most successful of the apps will be the ones that provide real utility – breakdown assistance, fuel economy and enough diagnostic information to help you keep your mechanic honest in the case of bigger issues.

For the casual driver, one of these devices could represent a savvy investment when you weigh up the cost against the potential benefits. I mean, not to knock mechanics, but we’ve all had a stoush with one, right?

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Practical Motoring

The team of journalists at Practical Motoring bring decades of automotive and machinery industry experience. From car and motorbike journalists to mechanical expertise, we like to use tools of the trade both behind the computer and in the workshop.

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