Car apps can help your driving

Car apps can help your driving

How smart do you want to be about your car and how you drive it?

Apps are available that promise to help you become a better, safer and more fuel-efficient driver by monitoring your vehicle’s system and the way you drive.

My team recently researched two such apps, Dash and Automatic. They also interviewed several top-rated mechanics to get their take on automotive apps.

Dash, Automatic and similar apps use information gathered through small devices that plug into a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics port under the dashboard. The port connects to the engine management system. The devices record real-time driving practices, including braking and over-acceleration.

The Dash app, for example, alerts drivers to car problems, determines their severity level and approximate repair cost. The information is communicated, via Bluetooth, to the driver’s smartphone. The app provides a report at the end of each driving episode, scoring the driving on a 100-point scale, with point reductions for hard braking, speeding and other practices.

These kinds of apps rely on technology similar to that used in devices that large insurers offer drivers who are willing to have their driving habits tracked in hopes of a premium discount. The information the apps access is like what a mechanic sees when he or she plugs into a vehicle’s engine management system.

You can download the Dash and Automatic apps for free, but the devices that plug into your vehicle have a cost, ranging from $10 to $99.95, depending on the device model. But app promoters say they can save drivers money in repairs and fuel costs.

The mechanics our team interviewed thought the apps could be helpful but they all stressed that any alert about a significant problem should be confirmed by an experienced pro.

One shop owner noted that it’s important for drivers using tracking apps to make sure that alerts, especially if they’re audible, don’t distract them while they’re driving.

Check out the Angie's List Guide to Auto Service.


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A small device that hooks up to your car's on-board diagnostics system supplies real time information to your smartphone. (Photo courtesy of Dash)

Car apps hook into engine management system to record driving habits in an effort to make you a better driver, save money on fuel consumption.

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