Should You Buy an OBD II Scanner? – Ultragauge Review

 

Ultragauge MX 1.4 is an OBDII scanner that plugs into your cars OBDII port and relays information from the car to display it all for you to see in real time.

The Ultragauge is the very first thing I did in the build process of building my Mazda BT-50 for touring!

Read about the rest of the build here.

 

In this Ultragauge review post I will also delve into:

  • What made me choose the Ultragauge over the competition?
  • What are the pros and cons of the Ultragauge?
  • How I set up each page of the Ultragauge.
  • What every available gauge there is on the Mazda BT-50.
  • A quick rundown of what an OBD II scanner is.
  • Why you should consider getting an OBD II scanner for your 4WD build.

Before we look specifically at the Ultragauge review section, we will briefly cover what an OBD II scanner is for those that don’t know.

If you wish to skip this section, jump to the Ultragauge reviewor overview section using the tabe of contents, or keep scrolling 🙂

*Disclaimer

Affiliate links may be present on this page. These are links to websites such as Amazon, where if you decide to purchase something, then they will offer me a tiny commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and is just a way for me to try and support myself and the blog. I only link to the best of the best with careful consideration, thank you.

About OBD II scanners

 

Here we will briefly look at what OBD II scanners are and explain what they do without specifically discussing the Ultragauge.

 

 

What is an OBD scanner?

 

OBD stands for On-Board-Diagnostics, basically your car records a ton of information at all times that you are blissfully unaware of as you drive along.

Mechanics will use your OBD II port to hook up their own OBD scanners to gain vital information about the vehicle to better assist in diagnosing a problem with the car.

This is also how check engine lights are removed, if a car is in limp mode, the mechanic can get it out of limp mode by clearing the fault (hopefully after rectifying the issue). But you can also do this yourself.

 

 

Should I get an OBD II scanner?

 

I think for a 4WD that will be used for touring it is essential that you do, as it is not an overly expensive piece of kit.

You can buy them for any car, it doesn’t need to be a 4WD, most cars post 1996 will allow you to take advantage of the OBD II information, but newer cars often give more information than older cars.

I set my OBD II scanner up to monitor my automatic transmission temperatures and engine temperatures, but there’s more you can do than just that.

The Ultragauge allows full customisation of the page layout and you get to select what gauges you want to appear and where they will appear.

Further down I will explain how I set up my Ultragauge for travel, I only use 4 pages out of a possible 7. Each of my 4 pages displays 6 gauges, allowing me to monitor 24 items I find important.

 

 

What can an OBD II scanner tell me?

 

Every car’s port will give different information according to the make and model of the car, usually the same manufacturers’ different models will have access to the same information within similar car build years though.

Further down I will list what the Ultragauge will display for the Mazda BT-50, but I can not say what every  car will show you because they are all different.

All units have alternates such as MPH/KPH, KPA/PSI, Litres/Gallons etc.

Ultragauge Overview

 

So now that we know about the OBD II scanners, let’s look at the Ultraguage MX 1.4 that I have purchased.

 

 

How much does the Ultragauge MX 1.4 cost?

 

The Ultragauge MX 1.4 cost me $176, but this is only because I purchased from the USA website. Read this post to see how I did that and saved over $100.

If you buy it from an Australian dealer it will cost closer to $270 at the time of writing.

I also purchased the A-Pillar mount for $40, which is by far the best mount I have seen and it is not sold on the USA website. More on that later.

 

How do you mount the Ultragauge?

 

The Ultragauge comes with a set of different options, the main ones being:

  • Vertical surface mount.
  • Horizontal surface mount.
  • Windscreen mount.
  • Sticky backed Velcro mount.

The best of the lot though is available in Australia and that is the A-Pillar mount, more on that in the review section.

 

Why did you buy Ultragauge?

 

The reason that I bought the Ultragauge over the others available is because of the nicer display and better mounting options. The MX 1.4 variant of the Ultragauge allowed me to input custom codes for gauges that don’t come standard programmed from the CANBUS system.

Namely automatic transmission fluid temperature, this is what people want to see when they buy these OBD II scanners for a 4WD build.

 

What are the alternatives?

 

The main competitor, in fact the largest share of OBD II scanner sales would go to Scangauge II, see their website here.

The thing I don’t like about the Scanguage II is their poor display and mounting options, but function wise they serve largely the same purpose. You can also get the Ultragauge for cheaper, with a better display and better mounting.

There are also Bluetooth options but I think these are not worth looking at, because the information is not displayed for you as you drive, you would have to look at your phone which is both illegal and just idiotic to do anyway.

**As I write this post the USA website is now advertising the very first of the Scangauge III models which looks to have responded to a lot of the criticisms, but it doesn’t appear yet on the Australia website.

This is the Scangauge II, the most popular of the OBD II scanners.

What can the Ultragauge do for me?

 

The Ultragauge is capable of lots of things, further down the post I will specifically list the gauges available for the Mazda BT-50, but to give you an idea about how it might help you let’s look at a handful of points here.

 

Alarms

Set alarms, either low or high, this way the Ultraguage will tell you for example:

  • That your engine is running hot.
  • That you have been driving for 3 hours (stretch your legs).
  • That your fuel fell below your set level.
  • That it has been 10,000km since you last changed the oil.

Essentially, any piece of information available as a gauge is just a number, a set of information that you can set alarms against for high or low, the possibilities are down to your imagination!

 

Trip statistics

If you set off on a trip, you can reset the meters before leaving and have a complete run down when you get back on things like:

  • Total hours behind the wheel.
  • Average speed.
  • Average L/100km.
  • Total fuel used.
  • Total distance covered.

This way you could compare a trip while towing a camper trailer compared to one where you didn’t tow anything for example.

 

Long range fuel tank accurate readings

Through the calibration methods of the Ultragauge you can set your tank size to a larger number, then calibrate the fuel usage and you will have accurate numbers the whole time from 140L down to 0L.

Without this, your distance to empty and time to empty will not be accurate in the car, and your fuel gauge will just be “full” until you get beneath 80 litres for example.

 

True speed and fuel economy

Calibrate your true speed and have a nice digital display of how fast you are driving. Modern cars come out with ridiculous safety factors and when they show “100” on the speedo, you’re more than likely doing about 94-95 km/h, irritating people trying to do a true 100.

By calibrating the speed, you can also change tyre sizes, recalibrate, and then drive safely knowing your speed without getting speeding fines because your car’s speedo showed you were going slower than you were.

Also calibrate a true fuel economy as the one displayed on the car will be out by a bit to make your car look better than it really is.

 

Before and after statistics for modifications

If you put an oil cooler on, does it work?

Does your air intake get hotter after fitting bash plates?

With the Ultragauge you can fit the gauge before doing mods and you will know what to expect when driving around. After you do the modifications you will know where the numbers are affected and by how much, this can assist you in deciding whether to make further modifications to assist any issues that may arise.

 

Check trouble codes

If your car is in limp mode, you can check what the code is, fix the issue and then clear the check engine light code so that your car will drive normally.

Ultragauge Review & Deep Dive

 

The Ultragauge MX 1.4 is the higher end model of the Ultragauge line as it allows you to do some coding.

See here how I input the code for Automatic Transmission Temperature for the Mazda BT-50 and you can copy the code for yourself.

I have had the gauge for just under 1 year at the time of writing and I am super happy with what it offers at the price point.

In this section I will discuss the pros and cons, I will go through all the gauges available for the BT-50 (and probably the Ford Ranger) and I will show you how I use it, how my pages are set up.

 

 

How I set up my Ultragauge

 

I currently have the Ultragauge set up to display 4 pages out of the available 7 pages. This makes it quicker to cycle through the pages rather than having to cycle through 3 pages I have no use for, you can disable the pages you don’t use.

On each page I have set it up to display 6 items, totalling 24 pieces of information that I would like to see.

You can also set this to 4 items per page, or 8 items per page depending on if you rather larger screen real estate for the gauges or want to fit a maximum amount of information onto a page so that you can have less pages to scroll through.

Here is what I have for each page, and how it looks with a 6-gauge display setup. I will also show a 4 and 8 gauge display set up for comparison.

Page 1

On page 1, this is my main page that is displayed while driving. I have set it up to show my true km/h which assists me to set the cruise control accurately on long trips.

Outside of this I have my average fuel consumption, instantaneous fuel consumption, distance to empty, time to empty and how many litres of diesel I have left in the tank.

Page 2

Page two is largely dedicated to temperatures and information gathering.

It shows me my automatic transmission fluid temps, engine temps, ambient air temperature, intake air temperature and then I have added RPM to see exact numbers rather than use the gauge on the instrument cluster as well as % of engine load being used.

This page might change in the future as I may add some temperatures to page 1 to monitor more often, I may also remove the % engine load reading as I don’t see too much use for it outside of my curiosity when driving.

Page 3

This page I set up to show all of my trip readings.

These trip readings will be reset separately to the overall economy reading that is on page 1, so if I go away with a certain amount of weight in the car I can see how it affects the economy over the duration of the trip.

There is:

  • Trip distance.
  • Trip fuel economy in litres/100km.
  • Kilometres per litre.
  • Average KPH.
  • Litres of fuel used.
  • Total run time of trip (driving time).

For those who like collecting data, these trip counters are great.

 

Page 4

Page 4 is very similar to page 3 in that it shares almost all of the same gauges. The difference here is that the “srt” stands for “short” and will reset itself after every turn of the key.

So this information is more of a journey reading than a trip reading. If you turn the key off and don’t check the information before hand it will be gone.

This is handy if I want to see how long I have been driving for, when I last rested and if that particular section of driving was economic or for some reason used more fuel.

In the bottom corner I also added a gauge that displays the kilometres done since the last oil change.

What other gauges can be programmed?

Without going into detail about what they all do as it would take too long and some I don’t even know, here is a list of the other gauges available. Note that if the gauge is available in °C than it is also in °F, as are gauges in KPH and MPH, PSI and KPA etc, I just can’t be bothered listing them all:

  • % Engine load.
  • Coolant temp.
  • Intake pressure absolute.
  • RPM
  • KPH
  • Intake air temp.
  • Ambient air temp.
  • Mass air flow g/s.
  • Throttle position % absolute.
  • Throttle position % command.
  • KM with check engine light on.
  • Fuel rail pressure.
  • EGR flow error %
  • EGR flow command %
  • Fuel level %
  • Warm ups trouble code cleared.
  • Distance since trouble code cleared.
  • Barometric pressure.
  • Engine control module voltage.
  • Accelerator pedal position %
  • Boost pressure.
  • Brake horsepower.
  • Brake kilowatts.
  • Torque.
  • Instantaneous economy (MPG or L/100km or km/l).
  • Average economy.
  • Trip economy.
  • KM since oil change.
  • KM since service.
  • Short trip – distance, economy, time, litres used.
  • Fuel level.
  • Distance to empty & time to empty.

 

I have grouped some of the above if they’re similar but they all represent their own gauge, distance to empty and time to empty won’t appear side by side for example.

Ultraguage pros & cons

 

So to try and summarise the Ultragauge review with what I think are the main pros and cons.

There’s definitely more good things about the Ultragauge than there are things that I would change. With that in mind we will discuss these good things first and follow up with the things that irritate me about the Ultragauge.

 

Ultragauge pros

 

The Ultragauge is small, but has a good large display that is easy to see from many angles. Because of this the options for mounting it are plenty, with the A-Pillar being one of the best mounting methods you can imagine.

As it sits where the pillar handle is (you can still use the handle) it therefore blocks none of your vision at all, but maintains a height that allows for easy viewing without taking your eyes off the road.

It’s as easy, if not easier than looking at your speedometer.

The Ultragauge offers plenty of customisation, you can have 4 gauges or you can have 56 gauges if you wish, but I find that way too cluttered.

As mentioned above you can set alarms, I have them set for automatic transmission temperatures, as well as to alarm when I am 1000km from needing an oil change or a service.

You can set all of your car’s details up and after doing speed and economy calibrations you will have the most accurate trip meters available.

When I fill up my car the Ultragauge is within 0.5 litres of accurately determining the fuel level (assuming the fuel pump is accurate and the pump “clicks” off at the same point each time).

 

 

Ultragauge cons

 

The Ultragauge is not perfect though. I think their website is horrible, there is a lack of information that is displayed well, which can put off beginners from buying the product.

The thing that irritates me the most is that the whole unit is one moulded item, you cannot disconnect the lead. from the device.

Where this becomes an issue is if you run the Ultragauge through the trim to hide all the cable then it is stuck there, you can’t disconnect it from the Ultraguage to hid the gauge in your glovebox.

I do however disconnect it from the OBD port side if leaving the car to sit for weeks as it has a slight battery drain.

This also means that if you damage the cable somehow, you will need to replace the entire unit, you can’t order a replacement cable, but you could try make a joint if you wanted.

Ultraguage Summary

 

For a 4WD build this to me is something you should get.

I know lots of people love statistics, they want to know how far they drove, how their fuel economy changes with differing driving techniques and what temperatures they are getting.

This to me is the best on the market, no offence to Scanguage II but I just don’t think the display or mounting options are as good and that is such a large portion of what this is all about.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, Scangauge have just released the Scangauge III which could yet prove to be better than the Ultragauge.

On first glance it appears to have addressed a lot of the concerns and downfalls of the Scangauge II. It isn’t on the Australina website at the time of writing but won’t be far off I imagine.

For now though, the neat little package from Ultragauge is the best in my opinion. There is a reason it was the first thing I bought for the Mazda BT-50, if I was to start the build again it would still be the first thing I purchased.

 

Happy travelling!

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