OnQ Blog

Vehicle Diagnostic Module Gets inside the Brains of Your Car

Techy DIYers can now easily and affordably experience the connected car

May 6, 2013

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

We root our smartphones, we modify our computers, and we hack our game consoles. But how come we don’t get “inside” our cars—I mean really inside our cars—into the brains of these high-tech machines? After all, with all their processors and sensors, today’s modern cars are really just computers on wheels.

Since 1988, new cars have used electronic control modules (ECM or drive by wire) to control timing, idle, and throttle response, as well as sensors that monitor temperature, steering input, road surface and beyond. When something goes awry, the dreaded Check Engine (CE) light comes on, followed by a sinking feeling in your stomach, which is usually alleviated by a trip to the mechanic and a reduction in your savings account.

So what’s the deal with that mystical “diagnostic machine” that your mechanic plugs into your ailing car and for which he or she charges you around $100 an hour? At your independent shop, it’s typically a notebook computer with some special/pricey software that allows it to communicate with your car. At the car dealerships, it’s an even more specialized computer worth many, many thousands of dollars. Both parties use computers to tap into the OBD 2 (On-Board Diagnostics Generation 2) port of your car, which is found in all models built after 1996, to pull Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs). It’s those codes that help your mechanic figure out what’s wrong with your four-wheeled friend.

You could purchase a generic OBD 2 reader and software (they don’t cost that much but they’re light on features), but you have to ask yourself “how often would I really use it if I have to take it out of storage, plug it in, and boot it up?” And, “how often does my CE light go off?”

There’s another option from Delphi and Verizon called the Vehicle Diagnostics Module (VDM). To use the VDM, you simply plug it into the OBD 2 port of your car and leave it there, turning your car into a “connected car.” The VDM connects your car wirelessly to Delphi’s file server via Verizon’s network. You simply access your car’s diagnostics via a free smartphone app or a webpage.

It’s important to highlight that the device offers more than just diagnostics. Say you have a new driver in the family who’d rather be “fast and furious” than “slow and insurance-premium friendly.” The VDM allows you to track your car’s location in real time, set up a “geo fence,” and receive email alerts if the car goes outside set boundaries or exceeds a particular speed limit. The VDM also allows you to unlock your car with your smartphone if you’re within 30 feet of the car (via Bluetooth)—no slim jim or hanger necessary—and see past driving history. There’s even a handy remote car start feature and a parking lot locator.

The Vehicle Diagnostics Module from Delphi and Verizon currently costs $250, which includes the module and two years of service. Thereafter, service is $5-per-month. The VDM is a great little device to add to your tech arsenal—it gives you greater insight into perhaps the most expensive mobile computer you’ll ever purchase (your car), and it exploits the power and versatility of today’s widely used mobile computer—the smartphone. And best of all, it’s an easy way to experience just some of the benefits of the connected car.

Opinions expressed in the content posted here are the personal opinions of the original authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Qualcomm Incorporated or its subsidiaries ("Qualcomm"). Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries. The content is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be an endorsement or representation by Qualcomm or any other party. This site may also provide links or references to non-Qualcomm sites and resources. Qualcomm makes no representations, warranties, or other commitments whatsoever about any non-Qualcomm sites or third-party resources that may be referenced, accessible from, or linked to this site.

Anthony Eng

Senior Marketing Mgr., Qualcomm Technologies

©2022 Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its affiliated companies.

References to "Qualcomm" may mean Qualcomm Incorporated, or subsidiaries or business units within the Qualcomm corporate structure, as applicable.

Qualcomm Incorporated includes Qualcomm's licensing business, QTL, and the vast majority of its patent portfolio. Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated, operates, along with its subsidiaries, substantially all of Qualcomm's engineering, research and development functions, and substantially all of its products and services businesses. Qualcomm products referenced on this page are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Materials that are as of a specific date, including but not limited to press releases, presentations, blog posts and webcasts, may have been superseded by subsequent events or disclosures.

Nothing in these materials is an offer to sell any of the components or devices referenced herein.