How to Use a USB Borescope on a Car

The use of borescopes has grown exponentially in a large variety of industries as these viewing tools have come down in price. Not that long ago, industrial borescopes were prohibitively expensive for small businesses and self-employed tradespeople — but now, you’ll find a borescope in the toolkit of any professional who occasionally needs to inspect hard-to-reach areas that are hidden from view.

HVAC technicians, home inspectors, chimney inspectors, pest control professionals, plumbers, and mold inspectors can all find a use for a borescope, for instance. Borescopes are especially popular in the automotive repair and maintenance, though. Given the fact that vehicles have so many hidden areas, all of which had to be disassembled before borescopes were so widely available, that is only logical.

Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find any auto body repair shop that doesn’t have at least one borescope — and relies on that borescope heavily.

Some car mechanics choose to invest in a high-end borescope with a higher resolution and an articulating tip that allows the camera to make a full turn. Many, however, prefer to stick with more basic USB borescopes, which can cost less than $100 (and, in some cases, even between $15 and $50). They often find that an inexpensive USB borescope meets their needs, and that they don’t need to upgrade to a more expensive model.

If you are a DIY enthusiast, and you like to tinker with your own car — either to diagnose and fix a problem, or simply to carry out regular maintenance — you might choose to buy a borecope of your own, too. (As an added bonus, any borescope you buy to use on your car is bound to be helpful in a variety of other situations, too, like when you have a clogged sink or you want to inspect the inside of your chimney.)

How do you use a USB borescope on a car, and what do you need to know before you get started?

What Is a USB Borescope?

How to Use a USB Borescope on a Car

A borescope is a remote viewing instrument that features a small camera, which is surrounded by LED lights to allow users to get a better look at the area they are inspecting, and a probe. The probe can be rigid, in which case it cannot be used to make curves or bends, or flexible. Flexible probes have cables that can be maneuvered around corners and bends, such as to inspect a car engine.

All borescopes will also have some sort of control system, which may be rudimentary or complex, and through which the user can switch the light of the borescope on and off, and (where relevant) adjust the light’s brightness settings.

Some borescopes have their own built-in LCD screens, through which users can follow the footage the camera shows in real time. These viewing screens tend to look a lot like the small cameras tourists might carry around to take quick snapshots. They can be water-resistant and often have removable media cards to allow users to share images or footage captured by the borescopes with others.

USB borescopes do not need their own LCD screens, because they are instead designed to connect to another device with a USB B or USB C port.

USB borescopes are less costly than models with built-in LCD screens for this reason — they only need a camera, LED lights, probe, control system, and USB port to work, although some USB borescopes also have WiFi connectivity that allows users to connect wirelessly.

What Do You Need to Consider When You Shop for a USB Borescope to Use on Your Car?

You do want to make sure that you get the right borescope for your needs, so make sure to check:

  • Whether the USB borescope is compatible with the device you are intending to connect it to. Some USB borescopes work with almost any device, including Android phones, iPhones, and laptops. Others are compatible with specific models or operating systems, so pay attention to this. To use a USB borescope with a smartphone, the phone will need to have an OTG function.
  • The diameter of the probe. These vary considerably.
  • Whether the USB borescope is waterproof or at least water-resistant, which is always useful.
  • The length of the optic cable the USB borescope ships with.

The ideal USB borescope to use in your car has a flexible probe, and models with a cable length of 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) will usually be sufficient.

How to Use a USB Borescope on a Car

How to Use a USB Borescope on a Car

Engine inspections are the most common use for borescopes in an automotive setting, but it is also possible to use a USB borescope to inspect the brakes, radiators, and water pump. Although many people are intimidated by the thought of using a borescope for the first time, it is really quite simple to use a USB borescope on your car:

  • Connect the USB borescope to the device that will serve as a monitor. Find an appropriate surface to set the appliance down on — it should be sufficiently clean while enabling you to view the images provided by the borescope the entire time. If you will be recording the footage, you may need to install an app provided by the borescope’s manufacturer, or you can use software such as OBS on a laptop. Otherwise, you may only need to launch the device’s preinstalled camera application.
  • Clear the working area to make it possible to insert the USB borescope, such as removing the spark plug.
  • Gently guide the borescope in, maneuvering it so that you can inspect the area. Make sure to view the screen the entire time. In the process, you may find the problem you are looking for (such as leaks or carbon deposits) or ascertain that everything is in good condition. Where necessary, and if your USB borescope allows it, adjust the brightness settings on the borescope’s LED lighting system.
  • Once you have completed your inspection, slowly remove the USB borescope from the area.

That is really all there is to using a USB borescope on a car!