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While there are plenty of apps that measure fuel economy and help with remembering maintenance matters, there isn’t one that actually tells you what’s happening under the hood. Automatic is an app and hardware combo that does exactly that: connects to your car’s computer and relays all that info straight to your iPhone. All this for hardware that is priced at US$70.
It’s as simple as plugging the little “A” labelled “box” into the car’s OBD-II Data Link Connector and it’s set. Now, you may not know what that is, or where it’s found, but rest assured that it is there, being standard on cars since 1996. It may take a bit of searching to locate, though.
From that port it gets all the vital information about the engine, mileage and fuel and sends it to your iPhone via Bluetooth, allowing you access to data that has thus far escaped your reach. Your iPhone then uses its GPS, map data and local fuel pricing it collects from the interwebs to put together an extensive picture of how you drive every day.
It even tries to get drivers to save fuel, be frugal, and save the planet. It analyses your driving style — particularly how you accelerate and brake, and if you speed — and brings your attention to how you could change it to save fuel. So, for instance, if you accelerate quickly, the accelerometer in the unit picks it up and gives off a little disapproving ‘ping’ to let you know you are wasting precious fuel. Automatic claims — via a report by the Department of Energy — that fast starts and heavy braking can increase fuel consumption by up to one-third.
By far the best aspect about it, though, is the fact that mechanics can never lie to you again. Automatic picks up the engine info when something goes awry from the engine alerts that mechanics use to diagnose problems. So when that dreaded “check engine” light comes on you can actually know why. It may not be able to tell you about any other problems outside of your engine bay, but it will definitely bring some piece of mind to motorists afraid of greasy-handed spanner monkeys taking them for a ride. It can even tell you things as small as the fuel cap not being on properly, or even an oil leak.
Other devices have been around that analyse the engine’s information, though none of them have decoded what the engine’s computer actually says. So, while it may not be the first device to do this, what Automatic does is allows the common Joe to be aware of their car’s needs by decoding the info and suggesting a course of action. It even brings up a map of mechanics in your vicinity if the car is in dire need.
As mentioned, this device carries an accelerometer on board, which is useful for more than just judging your driving style. In the unfortunate cases of accidents, Automatic recognises the signals of a crash and – where available – will inform Automatic headquarters about it, who will call 911 with your location. They will also call you in case it’s a false alarm, but if it’s not, they will call a family member.
I think Automatic is the best thing the smartphone has brought to the car. There are plenty of gimmicky apps that consolidate information about your car, but none that get right into the heart of things. And this is just the beginning. All those strange happenings under your car’s hood are now accessible, and the next step may even be monitoring how others drive your car. Imagine being able to see how your 18-year old son is treating your car on his first night out. The next step could even be setting limits on how he can drive.
Image: Automatic hardware via SBNation
Image: Other images via Automatichardware