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OBD Telematics: feel the fear but plug in anyway

We’ve been evaluating OBDII plug in telematics devices for the past seven years. Different manufacturers, different specifications and always the same fear….

“what happens if I plug this in?”

Reading the datasheets from all the manufacturers, it’s clear that lots of time, money and research has gone into these devices. All offer various protocols of CAN supported BUT it has to be remembered that these are generic standards, modified by the vehicle manufacturers so that even IF the device supports the protocol it’s very unlikely that the device will report all that it could. We have experience from work with an OEM that even if one vehicle in the product range reports all we’d want, another vehicle from the same range but with a differing model or even manufacturing year will not.

Could we expect that the telematics hardware manufacturers would spend all of their engineering time ploughing through and testing every single model out there, no mean task and in reality, it’s never going to happen.

So, how do I use an OBDII plug in device then? and why?

The why is the easy bit, install cost, no electrical installer needed, even the lowest costs are usually equal to the cost of the hardware itself. Plug in allows even the most non-technical individual to locate and plug into the OBDII socket (with a little guidance or the use of an extension cable for ease) but these really are self-install.

How do I use it?

In its simplest form just think of the device as a standard tracking device, with features such as driver behaviour (most have accelerometers to measure acceleration, harsh breaking or cornering) combined with standard track and trace via GPS and cellular connectivity. Some even offer Bluetooth (useful for adding a fob or button to select driver mode e.g. Private or Business miles) and the next generation will also offer the option to add WiFi and turn the device into a mobile hotspot!

What you don’t want to do is oversell the features to your end users, so here’s a Simple guide to what we believe you should achieve ‘out of the box’ in terms of features:


  • Start/Stop
  • Speed (GPS)
  • Direction
  • Latitude and Longitude
  • Driver Behaviour (harsh acceleration, braking, cornering and high-impact events)
  • Geofence
  • Vehicle Fault Codes (not decoded)
  • Virtual Odometer
  • Unplugged notification (if battery on-board)
  • MIL (Malfunction Indicator Lamp)

Whilst you may get some of the information below, this will not be across a whole fleet (unless all specific models, years) different device manufacturers will have test data for different vehicles, but it will give you a flavour:


  • RPM
  • VIN Number
  • Battery Voltage
  • Engine Coolant Temperature
  • Speed (OBD)


  • Fuel Level
  • Manufacturer Specific Codes such as Dashboard Odometer and Service Indicators

So, in summary, by all means use OBDII devices, they’re cost effective and easy to install. Don’t oversell the connectivity to the vehicle but look at them as a user install addition to your solution.

Want to talk more on the subject, get in touch, we’re here to help, share our experiences and help you get the most from your hardware.