Do you sometimes wonder how it feels to have one of those connected cars with all the new wonders of technology? If yes, we have a great way to transform your car into a connected smart vehicle. The best part about this method is that you don’t have to buy a smart car to have one. There are many gadgets and apps out there that can make your car feel brand new and will reinvent the joy of driving.
The Right Way and Wrong Way to Use Your Smartphone While Driving
Using your phone on the road is dangerous to yourself and others. The Federal Communications Commission states that the use of mobile devices is linked to a noticeable increase in distracted driving, which can cause traffic injuries and fatalities. Although texting while driving is a major concern, talking on the phone while driving is distracting as well.
Despite this, you can still put your smartphone to good use if you know which gadgets and apps to get. You can make your car a Wi-Fi hotspot, learn how to drive more efficiently and monitor the performance of your car with dongles and smartphone apps. While some of these devices are available for an inexpensive one-time fee, others require a bigger initial investment, a monthly mobile subscription, or both.
A Car Dongle? What’s a Car Dongle?
In 1996, the federal government made it mandatory for all vehicles made and sold in the United States to have an on-board diagnostics port. The OBD system was first introduced in the ’70s and early ’80s as an electronic means to control and diagnose engine functions and problems. OBD-II became the new standard in the ’90s and monitors accessories and parts of the body and chassis.
Startup companies have made car dongles for the port that analyze and translate the OBD-II system, giving drivers insight into the diagnostics that mechanics see. A dongle is an adapter that plugs into the OBD port and transmits data wirelessly using Bluetooth or a cellular service. These devices range in price, so here’s an overview of some of the most prominent ones:
1. Automatic: A Car Dongle that Tracks Almost Everything
This car dongle is available for a one-time price of $99.95, and it pairs with the Automatic app on Android and iOS devices. It provides a range of useful information about your driving habits and vehicle, including car location, engine problems, fuel efficiency, and low fuel. Automatic also has a “Do not disturb” feature for Android users, an app for the Apple and Pebble smartwatches, and a web dashboard with your trip history. It can even call for help if you’re in a traffic accident. The company partnered with other app-makers such as License+, Nest, UnMooch and Urgently to be able to offer more features.
2. Mojio Offers Driving Analytics and Vehicle Diagnostics
In a partnership with AT&T, drivers can buy the Mojio car dongle for $149 with 12 months of free network access. After that, it requires a $4.99 monthly subscription. Using cellular data and GPS, the dongle features driving analytics, location tracking, vehicle diagnostics, and maintenance and recall details. Mojio also has a network of apps for Android, iOS, Windows and the web.
3. Snapshot is a Car Dongle from Progressive that Helps you Keep Your Insurance Cost Low
This insurance plan comes with a car dongle to monitor your driving habits such as hard braking and accelerating. Your monthly insurance premium is partially based on those habits, potentially saving you money if you’re considered a safe driver. Policyholders in eligible states can use the Progressive app on their Android and iOS devices to monitor their progress.
4. Torque: Tracking Fuel Efficiency, Speed Timing and Temperature
Torque is actually an Android smartphone app that can connect to several types of car dongles, which range in price from $20 to $180. Although the Torque Lite app is free, the Torque Pro app costs $4.99 and offers a wider range of features such as
- CO2 emissions tracking
- a compass without magnetic interference
- a customizable dashboard
- fuel efficiency calculations
- a heads-up display
- profiles for multiple drivers
- screenshot sharing on social media
- speed timings
- transmission temperature readings
- trip tracking
- video recording
5. Zubie: Free Dongle with a Subscription Plan
This is a free dongle that requires a $99.95-per-year subscription service. You can purchase a subscription for more dongles for family members at a discount. If you wish to make your car a Wi-Fi hotspot, you pay a one-time fee of $99.95 for the dongle and $10 per month for Verizon cellular service. You can access the data that Zubie collects via its app in the Apple App Store, Google Play or on the web. Some of its features include:
- engine diagnostics
- gas station locator
- insights about your driving habits
- location tracking
- maintenance alerts
- roadside assistance
- speed limit alerts
- trip tracking and tagging
Smartphone Apps for Drivers
Although you use smartphone apps with the dongles above to see the data they collect, you don’t always need a dongle to improve your focus on the road or the efficiency of your car. Additionally, not all vehicles come with infotainment systems, but some apps can make them feel like they do. Take a look at some these amazing apps:
1. Car Minder Plus
For just $2.99 on iOS devices, this app keeps a record of maintenance, allows you to email service records and reminds you about upcoming maintenance for multiple vehicles. It has a fuel log for tracking fuel consumption and calculating average mileage as well. Car Minder Plus even syncs your iTunes account, so you don’t have to worry if you break or lose your phone.
This free Android and iOS app helps you find the best gas prices near your current location. It also helps you find the cheapest fuel by zip code or city, which is ideal if you’re planning a trip and want to plan stops for gas along the way. You can even report gas prices to help others and earn points that can be exchanged for rewards.
Make sure that you never get another parking meter citation by using this app, which costs only 99 cents. It displays a minute-by-minute countdown on its icon to indicate the time remaining on the parking meter. Only available for iOS devices, Honk uses GPS to give you directions back to your car. It also helps you find ATMs, cafes, gas stations and parking garages nearby.
Probably the most interesting app on this list, iOnRoad uses your smartphone camera, GPS and sensors to track how close you are to the vehicle ahead. By calculating your speed, it can detect when you’re driving too close to brake in time to avoid a collision. The forward-collision warning includes audio and visual notifications. iOnRoad also has a car locator, heads-up display, speed sign detection and video recording. You can even leave it running in the background while you make calls or run other apps. The app is available for just $1 in the Google Play store, and you also have an ad-supported version for free.
Older vehicles don’t have the technology that we use to stay connected on the go, but you can make your older car feel brand new with an upgrade using these dongles and smartphone apps. Have you used any of these devices or apps in your car? What other gadgets and apps make driving more convenient for you?