A True Do-It-Yourself Tool – A Topdon Elite ODBII Review

November 3, 2017 at 8:24 pm by

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A prized possession of a lot of us is our car and automobiles. To most people its how we commute, to others, it’s their livelihood. Instead of horses, we rely heavily on automobiles to transfer ourselves, goods, and services. Therefore, it’s easy to get into a bind if your car happens to break down.

When the dreaded ‘check engine’ light is illuminated in an automobile, the car’s computer detects a fault in the emission system and is attempting to report the problem to the driver. A common fault is an oxygen (O2) sensor failure and such a failure puts the automobile into an inefficient configuration, therefore costing you more on fuel and potentially producing more emissions.

Replacing an O2 sensor is typically easy to do and should be completed in a matter of minutes, not an hour as quoted by a car mechanic. The problem, is how do you know that the ‘check engine’ light is referring to the O2 sensor and not a camshaft position sensor?

Every modern car is equipped with the standard On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) system that allows a specialized device, an OBD Reader, to communicate with the car’s internal computer and receive a response for code faults.

While a light may not mean much to the driver it can certainly have a lot to say to the OBD Reader. In the past, these devices were only purchased by car mechanics but today they can be picked up for consumer use.

Every time you become sick, you may take a look on WebMD to see what the problem may be based on your symptoms. We don’t run to the doctor for each and every cough so when it comes to our cars, shouldn’t we do the same thing? Check to see what the problem may be before running to a mechanic.

The latest edition for a car’s computer is the OBDII standard. By checking on hundreds of systems at once a car’s job is never done and it is always making sure that you have the smoothest ride possible. We should return the favor by taking good care of our cars.

Fun fact: if a check engine light is flashing, the car should not be driven whatsoever. A flashing ‘check engine’ light indicates a critical fault in the engine and driving with one may completely destroy the engine.

On Amazon, there are a lot of difficult OBDII readers, some that do the basics, others that do more. Today, Topdon is in the spotlight for their Elite OBDII reader to make sure you never have to pay a mechanic to identify a fault again.

With a device that requires no batteries and is self-dependent, the Topdon Elite OBDII reader is a tool that lets you become your own mechanic and may possibly save you hundreds of dollars in car repair for something that is easily resolved with your own hands.

Welcome to my review of the Topdon Elite OBDII Car Repair Tool

Design

While remaining fully portable, the Topdon car reader is fairly big for what it does. Constructed out of a plastic body, the teal and black device is visually appealing for a mechanic’s tool.

Shaped in an odd way, the device rests in the hand pleasantly and is light enough to be carried around from car to car. Sprouting out of the top is a thick and lengthy cable that terminates at the OBDII adapter.

On the front, there are large rubber buttons that help you navigate through the on-screen menus that appear on the LED display. While self-explanatory, the buttons are labelled for left, right, up, down, okay, back, and help.

One dislike I have about the buttons is that they require a lot of force to press down. I understand this may be to stop accidental button presses, but they are too strong for my liking.

Above those buttons is the color LED display that provides you with all of your OBDII information. To the right of the screen, along the side, is a plastic cover that conceals a microSD card slot and a mini USB port.

When the reader is not in use, Topdon provides a hard vinyl case that stores the reader in a foam block. Additionally, the case contains a user manual, microSD to USB adapter, and a mini USB to USB cable.

Functionality

People tend to believe that car repair is often challenging and something that they should leave to the professionals. On the contrary, car work is very straightforward and you just need to understand the basics to get started.

Knowing about OBDII readers and how cars work, using the Topdon scanner seemed like a no-brainer for me. Plug it in and begin checking my car’s statistics and status.

For those who are more of a novice, Topdon provides a somewhat useful user manual that teaches the basics of using the tool. Menus and functions are explained in the manual, including how to begin updating and downloading car manufacturers’ data to the scanner.

Offered for Windows only, the Topdon Elite software is a free tool that is so horrendous that it warrants a disapproval for the entire product.

The software is only downloadable through the Topdon website, for which you need an account. When setting up an account, you have to enter an email address into the “Username” field. Entering a valid email address returns a red text warning message that it is a valid email. For a while, I thought I was entering an incorrect email address and it’s quite poorly represented.

Nevertheless, entering an email address will have Topdon send you a verification code for account creation. Odd, but understandable to stop robots from creating accounts. The verification code can take anywhere from a second to minutes and sending a second code can sometimes be quicker than the first code.

The email will contain the text: “Your Topdon verification code is589650”. Now, at first, I thought the “is” was a part of the code, until I realized they forgot to put in a space. You then need to select a password for this account. Make sure you select a memorable password, because not only can you not reset the password, there isn’t a confirmation field for the password and what you’ve typed in the one and only box is what will be accepted.

I thought the account creation screen was the worse of my problems, but the quirks continue. Topdon will provide you with a RAR file for the software instead of the expected and typical ZIP file format, so you’ll need a tool like WinRAR or 7-Zip to open the file.

What looks to be designed for Windows 2000, the gray looking and clunky software starts asking you for all sorts of information. It needs a serial number from the device, which only shows up on the reader during boot for about one to two seconds, and a “password”, which really isn’t a password. Instead, they use the term “password” to mean the device’s registration code that is shown on the display.

As I stumbled my way through the process, I eventually got the software installed on my PC. Afterwards, it was much easier. You can select your car’s manufacturers that you want to be loaded onto the device so if you only plan on checking on a BMW, you only need to load their coding(s).

The software also has the benefit of updating the OBDII reader and transferring log files.

Pushing the software aside (maybe even uninstalling it), you can begin using the OBDII reader for what it was intended for. For power, it takes battery juice from the car when plugged into the OBDII port. If you’ve never seen such a port, every car has one. Just check underneath your steering wheel for a black port. Sometimes they are hidden behind a small panel.

When the device boots up, the menus are basic but navigable and functional. The first scan option allows you to select a car manufacturer and begin processing engine scans. Oddly, Ford is not on the list of cars to check.

OBDII diagnostics begin talking to the car’s computer to measure different engine parameters and check their status. Then, there are the OBD review data. Think of this section as a log for previous codes and problems. This is great for checking a code and then rechecking the code later on while at a computer or at a shop.

There are tool settings which can help you change the language, units of measurement, and the logging modes. Then, for the last option, there is a Help guide that has tables to check what the codes returned were returned by your engine.

Using the tool is straightforward and provides a good understanding of what is going on inside your engine. However, the reader isn’t providing any additional information over any other tool on the market, just a fault code provided by the engine.

I used it to check for a bad O2 sensor on a car and it returned the correct value for which O2 sensor was faulty. I replaced the O2 sensor and the car was happy to continue driving.

Unlike other OBDII scanners, the Topdon unit here can also read ABS and SRS error faults which is considered rare for most readers. It can also communicate with a plethora of different car protocols.

What the Topdon reader has going for it, is that the reader is entirely independent of anything else. I love my Bluetooth OBDII reader, but it requires me to pair it to my phone, wait for an application to load, and then begin scanning whereas this tool is up and running within a matter of seconds.

My Final Thoughts

Priced at $109 this is not a tool that is worth that price. The OBDII reader itself is functional and useful once you get it configured and setup, but the software, and the process of updating it, is awful and totally unusable.

I like the design of the body, but the large buttons are pointless and take up more room than they need to. This device could easily be half the size. Plus, they are tough to push and actuate.

To top it all off, the biggest gripe I have with the Topdon Elite reader is that for $10 you can get an Android application called Torque Pro and a Bluetooth OBDII scanner to do the exact same thing, if not more, than this OBDII reader.

Buy it now:

© 2017 Justin Vendette

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