They may not show it, but our cars these days are packed with computers. Underneath the hood, so to speak, cars have a wealth of information stored away on various chips. The information is just waiting to benefit drivers, but the majority of us have no idea it’s even lying there. Thankfully, there are multiple mobile apps ready to help us save money on gas. Here are three Android apps that, with the help of an OBD2 (on board diagnostic) adapter, can pull this information out of automobiles and put it to good use.
To get started with Dash, pick up an OBD2 adapter of your choice (some options go for as low as $10). After that, the app itself is free to use. Dash tries to save you money by encouraging you to drive better, showing you your MPG and providing feedback to help you improve it. It also throws in a social dynamic, hoping a little peer pressure will provide greater encouragement. There’s a leaderboard available to compare the best drivers. You can also see where your car is located on a map and see what prompted your check engine light to come on.
The Automatic app recently arrived in Google Play following its early period of being available exclusively on the iPhone, and its concept is similar to Dash’s. This app, too, tries to save you money on gas by encouraging you to drive safer. It alerts you (via audio cues sent from the adapter) when you’re accelerating too quickly, braking too hard, or driving over 70 mph. The app scores you on your performance, with a high score meaning you’re saving a bunch on gas.
Unlike Dash, you need to buy a $99 “Automatic Link” adapter to plug into your car’s data port. It then pairs with an app on your smartphone. The software looks at how much gas costs in your area and shows the amount of money you’re saving or wasting, depending on how you drive. It can also show where your car is parked, explain why your check engine light is on, or integrate with IFTTT to create automated tasks that depend on your car’s behavior or location.
Torque is the oldest and most complex app on this list. Like Dash, it works with an OBD2 adapter of your choice. The app itself comes in both a free and paid version. Rather than placing an emphasis on cost savings, this software provides whatever information a car enthusiast may be most interested in. It can serve as your car’s HUD, is themeable, measures engine performance data, and can export log files to KML or CSV file formats. If you want something powerful and customizable – a tool that you can make your own – then this is the one for you.
These apps all require a different degree of investment, and they’re each aimed at different types of users. Automatic and Dash are aimed at regular drivers, people just looking to save some gas, be better prepared when the time comes to deal with a mechanic, and learn a thing or two in the process. Torque is aimed more at car enthusiasts who want to get more specific feedback about their vehicles than their regular dashboard provides. Either way, many of us could stand to benefit from syncing up our phones to more than just the car stereo. Consider giving one of these apps a go, or if you already have, feel free to share your experience with us in the comments.