The car you drive is a rolling computer with a plethora of motors and sensors. How can you get more modern functionality in a car stuck in the past? There are affordable accessories and upgrades that can make your car smarter. We are going to look at three, including diagnostic adapters, Bluetooth auxiliary adapters for audio streaming and hands free calling, and lastly a look at infotainment system upgrades with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. If you have a smartphone and missed part 1, it explored apps to enrich your driving experience, add convenience, and save you money.
Smarter with Understanding Your Car
Most cars, model year 1996 and newer, have what’s called an OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostic) port. Mechanics use the OBD-II port to read the trouble codes from check engine lights and troubleshoot issues. You don’t need to be a mechanic to tap into the wealth of data this port offers and it isn’t limited to only diagnostic information. There are wireless OBD-II adapters that can sync with a smartphone app, either by Bluetooth or 3G cellular. Features vary but may include view/clear check engine codes, log trips and gas fill-ups, estimate average MPG, track your driving habits, and so on. Now you can easily tell, from the check engine code, if your damaging your engine by driving or if it’s only lowering the efficiency or expelling more exhaust emissions. There are super cheap Bluetooth OBD-II adapters but unfortunately they are slow, unreliable, and can drain your car’s battery if left plugged-in. If you don’t want any of those downsides, there’s the Automatic Pro and Lite.
Automatic Labs produces the best and most refined OBD-II adapters available, as of this writing. They have been providing regular updates and added features to their adapters and apps since 2013, when they launched their 1st generation Automatic Link adapter. Now in it’s 3rd generation called the Automatic Pro (3G cellular syncing) and a lower priced Automatic Lite (Bluetooth syncing using a smartphone). Wondering what the adapters can do for you, see a comparison of the features below:
The Automatic Pro has some huge benefits, it has 3G cellular so it doesn’t have to rely on your smartphone for updates or data syncing (you don’t even need your smartphone with you), track your car in real-time no matter where you are, find where you parked, and get help automatically in an emergency. Installation is super simple, find the OBD-II port on your car (generally under the driver’s dash), securely plug-in the Automatic adapter, follow the instructions in the app to create an account and set it up, and enjoy the benefits. You can leave it plugged in all the time, and it won’t drain your car battery unless you’re storing the car for months. Automatic Labs contractually has to advertise the 3G cellular on the Automatic Pro only lasting 5 years, but has publicly stated they have no intention of charging extra in the future. Below is a preview of the Automatic Pro app for the iPhone showing the trip timeline, trip details, and health:
With the Web Dashboard you can analyze your data with simple filters such as by car, date range, distance, duration, time of day, or tagged business. The Dashboard takes full advantage of the extra space on a desktop or laptop computer for displaying your data in a clean and readable layout (screen shot below):
In the Labs tab, are a plethora of tools to analyze your data. Below is the full list of current tools available (Note: some tools require a supported car or may not show data until an extended amount of driving and trip data is logged):
- Car Health and Driving Style
Gain deep insight into your car’s fuel efficiency, power, and your aggressiveness.
- Diagnostic Trouble Codes
What diagnostic trouble codes has your car triggered.
- Battery Health
Can your car battery hold a charge.
- Commute Analyzer
Break down your commute duration by direction, day of week and departure time.
- Year in Review
A summary of your driving (insert year).
- Hyperlapse Generator
Re-live any of your past drives with Google Streeview imagery of the route stitched into a time-lapse video.
Each place you’ve gone with Automatic shown as a heatmap.
- Trip Line Map
All of your driving ever overlaid on a minimal, nighttime map.
- County Driving Map
A map of all US counties and states that you have driven to.
- Carbon Calculator
Estimate your carbon footprint, Automatically.
- Trip Receipts
Download or print a receipt with a map for any trip you’ve taken with Automatic.
- Relocate you commute
Map your current patterns on top of a different city.
Smarter with Entertainment
Car entertainment has evolved greatly in the past few decades. We don’t use CDs or even MP3 players as much any more, but rather use our smartphones for almost everything, including car entertainment. Some new cars now offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, allowing you to connect your phone directly to your car’s infotainment system to have access to various apps. What can you do to an older car that has no Bluetooth streaming, hands free calling, or smartphone integration? You have a couple of options and both are listed below:
Auxiliary Bluetooth Adapter
You don’t have to buy a totally new stereo to get Bluetooth music streaming and hands free calling functionality. Many cars made in the last 10 years have an auxiliary 3.5mm audio jack that you can plug-in a Bluetooth adapter, giving play/pause, skip forward/backward, and hands free calling functionality through your smartphone. You set the input on your stereo to the auxiliary setting and after the initial Bluetooth syncing, in the future your phone connects automatically or with a simple button press. You can purchase them from many e-tailers, such as Amazon.com. Most good auxiliary Bluetooth adapters are USB powered, so you don’t have to mess with charging them. Below is a list of quality, affordable, and well rated adapters that are around the $20-$25 price range:
- Aukey BR-C8 Receiver (3 port USB lighter charger included)
- Mpow Streambot One (2 port USB lighter charger included)
- Anker SoundSync Drive (no lighter charger included)
Maybe your car has a tape deck or CD player but no auxiliary input, or you want a more advanced infotainment system. The most modern and advanced aftermarket stereos have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and in some cases both. These are not cheap, as they start around $400, but offer a more modern and vibrant entertainment experience and even GPS navigation (Note: installation fees and wiring harness/mounting adapter cost extra). Buy a name brand for a good quality stereo made by Pioneer, Alpine, Kenwood, Sony, JVC, JBL, and so on. A good place to research car stereos is Crutchfield.com and they also sell all the mounting adapters, wiring harnesses, steering wheel control adapters, and installation instructions if you want to do the installation yourself. Professional installation is an option too because there will be some dash disassembly and soldering involved. The somewhat affordable quality stereos with Apple CarPlay and/or Android Auto are listed below:
- JBL Legend CP100 (CarPlay/Android Auto, 6.75″ capacitive touchscreen)
- Pioneer AppRadio 4 SPH-DA120 (CarPlay only, 6.2″ capacitive touchscreen)
- Kenwood Excelon DDX6902S (CarPlay Only, 6.2″ touchscreen type N/A)
- Kenwood DDX9702S (CarPlay/Android Auto, 7″ touchscreen type N/A)
Smarter than Your Average Car
Cars are a huge part of our everyday lives. We use them to get to school, work, store, family events, holiday parties, vacations, and so on. Why not let technology make the experience a lot better. A wireless OBD-II adapter can tell you what’s wrong with your car, log your trips and gas fill-ups, and provide a plethora of information so you can be a better driver. Your entertainment experience can be enhanced with an auxiliary Bluetooth adapter or new stereo with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Just imagine the amazing things the near future could hold for our cars. Self driving cars anyone!
Disclaimer: These recommendations are for information purposes only. ITS does not have any contract or agreement that requires us to recommend any specific product or service. Some of the products listed require do-it-yourself installation, otherwise professional installation fees may apply. ITS does not provide support for any of these products directly. Reference the instruction manual, if available, or consult the manufacturer with any questions. Please follow any relevant laws regarding mobile phone use while driving. Keep our roads safe, don’t talk or text on your phone while driving. Products directly tested by ITS include the Automatic Pro/Automatic Link (of which over 2,000 trips and 33,000 miles were logged) and the Mpow Streambot One Bluetooth adapter.