Dongle. It’s a funny-sounding word. Most recently, you’ve probably heard it used in relation to the Apple iPhone 7 and the use of a dongle to utilize older headphones.
However, despite the goofy name, the dongle is the aftermarket’s “in” into the world of vehicle telematics, for the time being. A dongle is any device that plugs into another to afford it more functionality.
Most aftermarket telematics systems in existence use a dongle plugged into a vehicle’s OBDII port to access vehicle data. The OBDII port (which stands for onboard diagnostic) gives access to data and information from a vehicle’s subsystems. Once the domain of expensive diagnostic tools, and hence, only professional technicians, the dongle has become more mainstream in the last few years. Cheap, sub-$99 diagnostic tools have flooded the market. These connect to apps on smartphones and tablets and can read and turn off many codes.
Any 1996 and newer vehicle on the road has such a port. But it’s not always going to be that way. Automakers are looking for ways to remove the port. That’s actually good for both the automakers and aftermarket because it wrings a cost out of the equation. However, this fact means the aftermarket will need to continue to fight to keep platforms open which the automakers would like to close.