I've always appreciated John Denver and especially remember his song "Take Me to Tomorrow" in which he sings, "Take me to tomorrow, that's where I'd like to be; the day after tomorrow is waiting for me." I'm happy to report that, thanks to amazing technology advances, the day after tomorrow seems closer than ever. This month's column includes a small slice of that "getting-ever-so-close" day—by connecting your car to the internet of things!
PLUG IN TO YOUR CAR AND DRIVING PERFORMANCE VIA AUTOMATIC
I have been driving with the Automatic car adapter in my car for a month or so. It's a sort of like a Fitbit for your car. Every car built after 1996 has an OBD (on-board diagnostic) port, usually located underneath the steering wheel column. It's what your mechanic uses to find out what's going on with your car—therefore the name "diagnostic port." But you can use the port, too. That is exactly what Automatic does. Automatic connects the computer in your car to your smartphone. It records all kinds of information such as how fast you accelerate and brake, where you go, and how fast you drive. And it knows exactly what's wrong with your car when the check engine light comes on.
Installation is straightforward. The hardest part is actually finding the OBD-II port. I looked but didn't see the one on my car, so I took the easy way out. I dropped by my dealer's shop, and the device was installed in about 30 seconds. The mechanic told me these devices are gaining popularity, and he sees them quite often. Once the device was plugged in, I opened the app on my phone, followed a few simple one-time instructions, and was up and running. Now my phone connects the Automatic device via Bluetooth every time I get in the car.
The biggest benefit of Automatic is that it makes you a better driver. Each trip is scored between 0 (worst) and 100 (best!) based on acceleration rate, hard braking, and driving over 70 mph. Hard accelerations and brakes are shown on the map exactly where they occurred. Each trip is displayed separately showing a map of where you went and where you stopped; your record is also summarized by week. I quickly discovered that I am a pretty lousy driver—scoring a paltry 48 (shown below). But I then learned and improved, scoring consecutive weeks of 95, 91, and 95.
A solid tax benefit is that you can "tag" a trip as business and develop the ultimate contemporaneous log. The app also shows how full your gas tank is (though not on all cars) and estimates how many miles you can drive before running out of gas. An interesting side benefit is having the Automatic Apple Watch app show me exactly where I parked.
Automatic is just one of many OBD port adapters. It's important to note that this genre is yet another move toward the internet of things, using the "if this, then that" (IFTTT) platform (see "Expanding Your App-titude: If This, Then That (IFTTT): Create 'Recipes' for Success," JofA, Nov. 2014, page 86). In fact, I used IFTTT to push the above-mentioned log to a spreadsheet in Dropbox, automating that process.
- Website: automatic.com
- Cost: Device: $99.95; app: free; service: free
- Operating system: iOS, Android, web
OTHER OBD PORT DEVICES AND APPS
Dozens of devices are available with more coming on the market daily. A couple are listed below. While they provide different services, they all use your vehicle's OBD port. Welcome to tomorrow.
- Website: plxkiwi.com
- Cost: Devices range from about $90 to $250; app: free; service: free
- Operating systems: iOS, Android
- Website: hum.com
- Cost: Device and app are free; service: $14.99/month, $12.99/month for each additional family car, up to three
- Operating systems: iOS, Android
Greg LaFollette (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a strategic adviser with CPA.com, the commercial subsidiary of the AICPA.