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OBD Knowledge


History of On-Board Diagnostics (OBD)

Latest Update: Thursday, March 8, 2012

While the emphasis on improving air quality through the control of vehicle emissions has never been greater than it is today, concerns over the causes and effects of air pollution began as early as the mid 1950’s. Not surprisingly, most pollution regulations began in California, as its geography, population, and number of registered vehicles make it particularly susceptible to emissions-related air pollution.

Following is a “calendar” of the landmark events, innovations and legislation that have contributed to the development and continued growth of On-Board Diagnostics.



  • Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 lays the groundwork for research into the causes and effects of air pollution.
  • Los Angeles County Motor Vehicle Pollution Control laboratory established.



  • Legislation directs the state Department of Public Health to establish air quality standards and emission controls for motor vehicles.



  • Federal Motor Vehicle Act of 1960 requires federal research to address the issue of motor vehicle emissions-related air pollution.
  • Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board establish to test and certify emission control devices for installation on vehicles sold in California.



  • California Motor Vehicle State Bureau of Sanitation mandates installation of Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PVC) devices to minimize hydrocarbon crankcase emissions.



  • Clean Air Act of 1963 is enacted.
  • Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare empowered to define air quality criteria, and to provide grants to state and local air pollution control agencies.
  • PCV Requirement of 1961 requires that all vehicles sold in California are equipped with Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PVC) devices; essentially the beginning of what would grow to be “On-Board Diagnostics.”



  • Clean Air Act of 1963 is amended by the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act of 1965, authorizing federal regulation of air pollution and the establishment of vehicle emission standards.



  • Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board adopts vehicle tailpipe emission standards or hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide; the first such standards established in the country.
  • California Highway Patrol initiates random roadside inspections to verify compliance with state mandated vehicle pollution control device requirements.



  • Air Quality Act of 1967 is enacted, providing for the creation of “air quality control regions” based on local meteorological and geographical factors contributing to air pollution in the region.
  • California is granted a waiver to the Federal Clean Air Act of 1967, allowing it to establish more stringent emission standard for vehicles sold in the state.
  • California Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board and Bureau of Sanitation merge to form the California Air Resources Board (CARB).



  • United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) is established.
  • Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 are enacted, establishing the statutory authority for controlling air pollution, and thereby creating the basic U.S. program for air pollution control.



  • CARB Motor Vehicle Emission Control Program is instrumental in the implementation of the first two-way catalytic converter.



  • Volvo implements the first three-way catalytic converter to reduce hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides tailpipe emissions.
  • CARB places limits on the amount of lead in gasoline to prevent damage to catalytic converters.



  • CARB initiates “compliance testing” of vehicles to determine if “aging” emission control devices continue to comply with established emissions standards, prompting vehicle manufacturers to develop more durable and reliable devices to avoid vehicle recalls.



  • CARB lays the groundwork for “On-Board Diagnostics” by developing the first On-Board Diagnostics plan.



  • California Clean Air Act is signed into law, establishing the manner in which California air quality will be managed for the next two decades.
  • CARB requires that every vehicle sold in California be equipped with an On-Board Diagnostics system.
  • CARB adopts regulations (effective in 1994) that all vehicles sold in California are equipped with an “on-board computer” to monitor the vehicle’s emissions control systems and alert the vehicle operator when a malfunction occurs; essentially the beginning of OBD2.



  • Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 are signed into law, requiring the development of programs to reduce ozone, acid rain, toxic air pollution emissions and vehicle emissions, and establishing a uniform national permit system.



  • “Smog Check II” legislation signed into law, targeting “gross polluting” vehicles (vehicles that produce 2 to 25 times the emissions of average vehicles, and requiring the repair and retest of all such vehicles.



  • The U.S. “Big Three” auto makers commit to the design, development, manufacture and sale of “zero emission” vehicles.