Today’s new cars are packed with high-tech features designed to provide drivers with an unprecedented range of feedback, data and entertainment options. Nearly all auto makes and models made today are equipped with infotainment systems that incorporate a dizzying array of ingenious technology produced in conjunction with industry leaders like Apple and Google. That’s all very exciting if you’re planning to buy a new car but what about those of us who drive older vehicles?
According to R.L Polk the average age of cars on the road today is 11.4 years so there are millions of vehicles that aren’t equipped with smart car technology. Does that mean older cars are destined to remain relatively “dumb”? Not at all. In fact, if your vehicle was manufactured any time after 1996 it has an OBD (On Board Diagnostics) port that’s already generating valuable information about your vehicle.
Originally intended for use by professional mechanics, OBD systems monitor various aspects of the vehicle’s performance and provides all sorts of feedback. This obscure little data port, which most owners would be hard pressed to even locate, has become one of the most hotly contested frontiers in the tech world and can turn your older vehicle into a much more tech-savvy ride. The devices that plug into the OBD port are generally referred to as Dongles.
Three companies currently making big impressions in the connectivity marketplace—Zubie, Mojio and Automatic—sell dongles and apps that are designed to collect data and deliver insights to the driver. Automatic (dongle sells for $89.99) translates data from your car via Bluetooth to your smartphone, Zubie (dongle sells for $99.95) partners with Verizon to give you in-car wi-fi. Mojio (dongle sells for $149) uses 3G connectivity instead of Bluetooth. All three companies partner with a variety of app makers to come up with all sorts of inventive ways to leverage the data your car puts out via its OBD port. And it turns out the possibilities are practically endless. App options include:
- License +: Designed to help teach new drivers, especially teens, how to drive. The app awards badges for smooth braking, measured acceleration and careful night driving. Parents can serve as “coaches” by reviewing general data about how their teen driver is progressing without having to know every detail of where they’ve been.
- Nest: Allows drivers to activate home systems like air conditioning and lighting remotely from your vehicle.
- Unmooch: This app crunches data about fuel usage to help estimate the cost of a trip allowing carpooling riders to assess and split the costs of any trip. It can even process payments electronically.
- Spot Angels: Sends you an alert to move your car before your meter runs out.
Automatic, Zubie and Mojio apps can slice and dice your OBD port’s data to remember where you parked, give you real time vehicle performance data, increase fleet productivity, monitor and plan vehicle maintenance, keep track of automotive expenses, plan trips, send for help when and where you need it, even get a mechanic to make a house call.
You may have reservations about simply plugging a 3rd party device into your car’s computer, especially considering that it’s a computer moving at 65 mph, but we’re happy to report that to date there have been no safety-related issues with the products we reviewed.
Owning an older vehicle doesn’t mean you’ll have to live without today’s connectivity. It turns out that cars made after 1996 have been talking to us all along. Now we’ve got great tools that allow us to hear what they’ve been saying.