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Game-like feedback encourages you to drive more efficiently.
Our iPhones might still be a few years away from self-parking, but they can already do a lot of incredible things behind the wheel. iOS in the Car is on the verge of taking over our dashboards, and car manufacturers have long been using connected apps to add value to navigation systems, letting us lock our doors or monitor our engine health from afar.
But for all we can do with them, iPhones haven’t actually made us better drivers. They’ve certainly made our rides more entertaining, but for the most part, our cars are still great unknowns; we fill the tank when the gauge tells us to and try to keep our speed within reason.
Automatic looks to change all that. Even if you still use a cassette adapter to play the tunes on your iPhone, your car is more high-tech than you think. Since 1996, every vehicle sold in the United States has been built with a universal on-board diagnostics port that tracks every piece of data that displays on your dash, from the odometer to the oil light. Automatic unlocks all of that info and uses it to analyze your driving—and promises to save you a few bucks in the process.
There are two components to Automatic: a surprisingly attractive dongle and a sleek, minimal iPhone app. Setup was fairly breezy, guided mostly through the app (which needs to be downloaded before the device is plugged in). A simple 6-digit code smoothly synced the software with hardware, and after a few taps, we were ready to take it for a spin.
The Automatic Link plugs into every car made in the US since 1996.
Like its name suggests, Automatic doesn’t need any prodding once the initial connection is made. Each time you start your car, data is fed to the app (assuming your iPhone is somewhere in the car), where it is processed and displayed in an attractive, easy-to-read array. Audible feedback from the dongle lets you know when your foot is too heavy on the gas or brake, or if you’re driving more than 10 miles over the speed limit.
While its beeps may help you develop better pedal habits, Automatic really shines after you’ve reached your destination. As soon as the car is turned off, all of the data that has been recorded is beamed to the app, where you’ll find all sorts of useful tidbits, including distance, time, and average miles per gallon. Automatic takes all of these numbers and plugs them into an algorithm that grades your driving on a score from 1 to 100.
The higher your score, the more you’ll save on fill-ups, and to drive that point home, Automatic even estimates the cost of each trip based on how much fuel you burned and the average price of gas in the area. The whole process is very gamified, down to the matchbox car icon that guides you from point to point as you review any potential pump pitfalls, and we found ourselves doing all we could to increase our score.
Automatic also monitors your engine health and plans to add crash alerts in the near future, which will send a text to the authorities and your loved ones if you’ve been in an accident. All in all, it’s a splendid device with an Apple-esque attention to design and detail.
We experienced one hiccup while using Automatic. An initial syncing issue prevented it from recording our trips, but launching the app within proximity of the dongle fixed it for all future excursions. We also had to trim the fuse box cover in our Hyundai Veloster to fit the dongle, but your mileage will vary.
The bottom line. Automatic’s tightly integrated system will definitely save you money at the pump—and might even save your life one day.
Vehicle made since 1996; iOS device
Easy set-up. Exquisite interface. Excellent monitoring tools
Some issues with initial syncing. Dongle can be tricky to fit in some car models.