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OBD II Monitors

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) began regulating On Board Diagnostic (OBD) systems for vehicles sold in California beginning with the 1988 model year. The initial requirements, known as OBD I, required identifying the likely area of malfunction with regard to the fuel metering system, Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system, emission-related components and the Powertrain Control Module (PCM). A malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) labeled CHECK ENGINE or SERVICE ENGINE SOON was required to illuminate and alert the driver of the malfunction and the need to service the emission control system. A fault code or Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) was required to assist in identifying the system or component associated with the fault.

Starting with the 1994 model year, both CARB and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated enhanced OBD systems, commonly known as OBD-II. The objectives of the OBD-II system are to improve air quality by reducing high in-use emissions caused by emission-related malfunctions, reducing the time between the occurrence of a malfunction and its detection and repair, and assisting in the diagnosis and repair of emission-related problems. By the 1996 model year, all California passenger cars and trucks (up to 14,000 lb GVWR) and all federal passenger cars and trucks (up to 8,5000 lb GVWR) are required to comply with either CARB-OBD II or EPA OBD requirements. These requirements apply to gasoline vehicles, diesel vehicles and are being phased in on alternative-fuel vehicles as well.

The OBD II system monitors virtually all emission control systems and components that can affect tailpipe or evaporative emissions. In most cases, malfunctions must be detected before emissions exceed 1.5 times the applicable 50K- or 100K-mile emission standards. If a system or component exceeds emission thresholds or fails to operate within a manufacturer's specifications, a DTC will be stored and the MIL will be illuminated within two driving cycles.

The OBD II system monitors for malfunctions either continuously, regardless of driving mode, or non-continuously, once per drive cycle during specific drive modes. A pending DTC is stored in the PCM Keep Alive Memory (KAM) when a malfunction is initially detected. This pending DTC maybe erased on the third vehicle restart after two consecutive drives cycles with no malfunction. However if the malfunction is still present after two consecutive drive cycles, the MIL is illuminated. Once the MIL is illuminated, three consecutive drive cycles without a malfunction detected are required to extinguish the MIL. The DTC is erased after 40 engine warm-up cycles once the MIL is extinguished.

In addition to specifying and standardizing much of the diagnostics and MIL operation, OBD-II requires the use of a standard Diagnostic Link Connector (DLC), standard communication links and messages, standardized DTCs and terminology. Examples of standard diagnostic information are freeze frame data and Inspection Maintenance (IM) Readiness Indicators.

Freeze frame data describes data stored in KAM at the point the malfunction is initially detected. Freeze frame data consists of parameters such as engine rpm and load, state of fuel control, spark, and warm-up status. Freeze frame data is stored at the time the first malfunction is detected, however, previously stored conditions will be replaced if a fuel or misfire fault is detected. This data is accessible with the scan tool to assist in repairing the vehicle.

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