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Brian4.0
Jun 16 2002, 01:08pm
OBD-II Engine Diagnostics Interface review:

1997 Ford Ranger XLT 4.0 4wd
Bev Roadman's BR-2 OBD-II Diagnostics Interface
Part number: BR-2 (OBDII) Interface (completed unit) for PWM, VPW, ISO9141
Price $76 (includes S&H), via PayPal (can also send check)
Purchased at http://www.abcwc.net/accounts/quanta/

Description of the product:
This is an electronic interface box with two 6-foot cables coming out of it---one that plugs into your 1996 or later vehicle's OBD-II diagnostic port (which is inside your cab, lower driver's side dash), and another that plugs into a serial port on a DOS or Windows computer. Along with the free software that you download from the same website, this enables you to read out, get an English description of, and then clear your Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC's)--turning off the Check Engine Light (CEL).

This is basically what a good scan-tool (scantool) will do for you. But this does quite a bit more than a scan tool or code-scanner can typically do. Essentially, it can show you and continuously monitor (and even graph) the readings coming from nearly every sensor on your vehicle---coolant temperature, intake air temperature, mass air-flow rate in lbs/min and whether or not the engine is operating in open-loop (no O2 sensor feedback, like a cold engine) or closed-loop (normal hot operation).

This information can help you diagnose various problems with your truck's sensors. In my case, I had my CEL come on, and wanted to find out what it was without taking it to the shop. With the cable, I was able to pull the code (P1443 - Evaporative Emissions Control System Control Valve). Evap system problems (and CEL's in general) are often just a loose gas-cap, so I tightened the cap and reset the codes, turning out the light. After a couple of drive-cycles the light came back on. Obviously it wasn't the gas cap.

I had to do some more digging to figure it out---the codes don't simply point you to the exact part to fix, just to the system with the problem. I found a good description of the Ford Evap system online (http://www.asashop.org/autoinc/march2002/techtips.cfm) and was then able to diagnose a bad Purge Flow Sensor (by elimination, after making sure it wasn't the Purge Valve Solenoid). $18 later I replaced the bad part, cleared the codes again, drove around until the computer completed all its diagnostics (something else you can verify), and----success. No more "Check Engine" light.

What you liked about the product:
First of all, the price. $76 is cheap enough that it easily pays for itself if you can avoid even one trip to the shop. Fast shipping, too: I ordered it on a Wednesday night and got email confirmation on Thursday that it would ship Friday. I received it via Priority Mail on Tuesday.

Secondly, it'll work on a junked laptop. In my case, my brother-in-law found an abandoned DOS 6.2 / Windows 3.1 with 640K at his place of work. It's worthless--but perfect for this, and free for the asking. I have a feeling this is fairly common.

Third, you can download and preview the software before you decide whether to buy the cable (there are both DOS and Windows versions of the software).

Fourth, it gives you far more capabilities than simply reading out and resetting trouble-codes. You can also use it when you DON'T have any problems, just to see how much more air you're flowing after putting in that new K&N, for example.

Fifth, it works on any vehicle sold in the U.S.--a lot of these things require you to buy a much more expensive unit if you want it to work on more than one type of vehicle (Autotap, for example). I have verified that it works on both a Ford and a BMW so far.

Sixth, it gives me a chance to fix my own problem or at least work knowledgably with the shop about the repairs if I decide to have them fix it. Information is power.

What you disliked about the product:
First, it isn't perfect. It does not detect my Ranger's oxygen sensors, so I can't do real-time monitoring of those (although it DID capture the related fuel-trim info in the "Freeze Frame" data that occurs whenever your CEL goes on). If one of my O2 sensors goes bad the trouble-code should tell me which one it is, but technically the software should let me actually monitor them, and for some reason it doesn't work with my truck (although it did on an '96 2.3 Ranger we tried).

On the other hand, the woman that builds and sells these units (Bev Roadman, thus the BR-2 designation) is VERY helpful and responsive, and with feedback and help from a few Ranger owners, she may be able to correct this small shortcoming with a simple software update.

Second, you have to exit the main program to look up the English language description of the trouble-codes--at least in the DOS software. This is a minor inconvenience.

Third, the unit is a bit bulky--about 6x3x2 inches. Okay, I'm reaching for things to pick on, here.

I think if there is one caution that bears repeating it's that NO tool of this type will always point you to the exact part to replace when your Check Engine light comes on! You will still often have to do some more diagnosis like I did to figure out exactly which part or parts have failed. You still might have to take it to the shop---but again, at least you will be armed with knowledge about what system is involved. And, you can always use it just to learn or to see before/after changes of modifications you make.

How long was the install (if applicable):
Just a few minutes to download the software and plug the cables into the truck and computer. Took me longer to find my voltage inverter to run the laptop than anything else.

Other parts, tools, or materials needed to use/install the product (if applicable):
You need a DOS or Windows PC of some kind. It doesn't have to be a laptop but obviously that's a heck of a lot more convenient if it is. It won't work with a handheld, like a Palm---it has to plug into an RS232C Serial port (COM1 or COM2) of a machine that runs DOS or Windows 95 or higher. (I believe if you have a machine that has a USB port you can get an adaptor that will let you use that, but check her website for more info).

Do you recommend this product?
Boy do I. Even if there are some small glitches, you can at least download and reset trouble-codes on ALL your vehicles for $76---WAY less money than most places want for a handheld unit that doesn't do all the other monitoring.

If you have access to a laptop or you can scare up an old abandoned one like I did, this is a great way to get OBD-II diagnostics capability for next to nothing.