Automatic Link

While I'd consider my house to be "connected" — I can't say the same for my car. I currently drive a 2004 Mazda 3 that's slowly on its way to the grave, but I'm holding onto it as long as I can (it was my first new car purchase). It doesn't have any sort of connectivity built-in — no Bluetooth, no navigation system, no nothing. I've added some things in over the years like a standalone GPS unit, an XM radio receiver (which I've since stopped using), and even a BlackBerry Music Gateway to get a Bluetooth connection to the stock stereo. Most recently I've added the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant.

This little dongle connects to your car's OBD (on-board diagnostics) port and relays all kinds of fun info back to a companion app on your Android or iPhone device. With Automatic in use, you can track all of your car trips, miles per gallon, distance traveled, and even see where your car is parked. While driving, Automatic can also alert you to rapid acceleration, hard braking and excess speeds as well — which all have an effect on your driving score. Bad habits be gone!

Setting Up

Automatic Link

To get started, you first need to download the Automatic app from iTunes or Google Play. Once installed, fire up the app, register and begin setting up your Automatic Link. The app walks you through the process of plugging the Link into your car, turning the car on, and pairing to your phone. Once you're done you're then free to go about your business. The Automatic app will connect to the Link in your car whenever you turn the car on — it's that simple. I actually forget I have it at times since there's nothing required other than to have Bluetooth enabled, which Automatic can do for you automagically if you'd like (it's annoying though so I don't use that option).

Hit the Road

Automatic Link

While using Automatic, every time you start your car, the app will connect to your Automatic Link and report back to track your data. Currently the app tracks your fuel usage, trip times & locations, estimated fuel cost, miles per gallon, and where your car is parked. It also gives you a driving score on a weekly basis, which takes into account rapid acceleration, hard braking, and excess speed over 70mph. I learned a lot about my accelerating and braking habits, but anyone who's been to New Jersey knows that everyone drives over 70mph on the highway. Sadly there is no way to set the top speed for the app, so you're stuck with this as is. You can also choose to have audible alerts when each of these hazards occurs, but for me these quickly become annoying and can thankfully be disabled.

After you finish a trip — be it across the country or just down the street — the Automatic app records all the info so you can view it later. You can see the times traveled, location, MPG, fuel cost, where you last parked and even a map view of your trip — though sadly you can't actually expand the map to make it worth viewing. Under the map you can how many (if any) hard brakes, excess speed or rapid acceleration instances you had. The fewer you have over the course of the week, the better your driving score. Your score is based on these three factors throughout a 7 day period — steer clear of any bad driving habits and you'll score 100 for the week.

The driving info is the meat of the Automatic app, but there are a few other features that will come in handy to many drivers as well. The biggest of the bunch is the ability to check and clear engine codes on your vehicle. Automatic will keep an eye on your engine reports for things like check engine lights, low oil and the like, and alert you if anything needs attention. Many times you'll be able to clear the codes on your own, but if not, you can easily find and contact a mechanic directly within the app.

The last (and arguably most important) feature of Automatic is their built-in crash alert — a safety feature that will alert loved ones and the authorities should you ever be involved in an accident while driving. If you're in an accident, the Automatic Link will play an alert sound, at which point you can cancel through the app if you need to. After a 45 second countdown, the app sends details of the crash to the Automatic call center, then an agent will call you to confirm & dispatch local authorities. They'll stay on the line with you and also call your emergency contacts to let them know. Hopefully a feature that no one will ever have to use, but at least it's there if something does happen.

It's Totally Automatic

Car Keys

Overall I really like Automatic. It's something that I don't have to think about and it gives me some useful info that can help better my Jersey driving habits. Anyone who is hardcore into tracking mileage and MPG will certainly love to stalk the data reports after a drive. The built-in engine code feature is nice too, but I haven't been able to use it yet during my test. If something does come up I'll be happy to have the app to check things out, but it's one of those features that I'd prefer just not to have a need for. Same goes for the crash alert — I love that it's there, but I really hope to never need to take advantage of it. Also, there's no way to export any of this data (for right now at least) which is a pretty big deal. You can only view it in the app, not export it to a document for viewing elsewhere.

At $99 Automatic isn't cheap, but it looks good, spits out some great data, and just works well. Android users can still grab any number of inexpensive OBD readers and use an app like Torque to get much deeper into their car stats however, though you won't get the look and ease of use that Automatic provides. Automatic also integrates with other software and services, like IFTTT, so you can go beyond just looking over your car's data. Still, it's hard to justify the price for some features you may never use too, but it's one of those things that you may be thankful to have should you ever be in a bad situation.

Should you buy one? If all of these stats and mappy things are something you'd love to have, then go for it — but for $99 it's a bit much when there are other (but not necessarily better) options available.

 
There are 26 comments

r1fo says:

have you tried using this while also connected via bluetooth to a car stereo system? Any issues there?

SuperTongue says:

While I can't speak for Automatic's adapter, my Civic's bluetooth system works fine when my phone is also connected to a cheap OBDII adapter. Music streams just like normal while it also pulls the live stats from the device while driving.

I imagine the Automatic adapter is equally as capable - it likely comes down to your phone. Mine has worked with the Note 3 and HTC One M8.

David Nurbin says:

Yes, I have. It works fine. The driving alerts come from beeps on the ODB plug, not from your phone. It does not interfere either with calls or music streaming from my phone. Galaxy Note 3 running stock KitKat.

Thinking about this now...the feature list kept piling on and its pretty impressive.

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SuperTongue says:

I'd love to try this out and compare it to Dash, but I just can't justify paying $100 for something that I can do just as easily (and still designed pretty well) with Dash.

If it worked with a regular old OBDII adapter like Dash and Torque do, I'd give it a shot... but it doesn't.

Does dash do the same thing?

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SuperTongue says:

Yea, they're pretty similar apps except that Dash works with any OBDII bluetooth adapter. It maps your trips, give you lots of live stats, let's you know what error messages mean, etc.

You can check it out at dash.by or just grab it at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.dashlabs.dash.android&...

As far as I'm aware, it only works on Android though.

musicman555 says:

+1 for dash. I've used it for months now with a $20 adapter I bought from Amazon and it's worked perfectly. It connects just as easily and the ui is beautiful. Not sure why anyone would spend $99 on basically the same thing.

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Does dash have an emergency service as well? I have a feeling that's a major part of the cost...

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SuperTongue says:

Dash does not have this service. If you consider that worth the $70 or so more than an ordinary OBDII (and it understandably might be), by all means, go with Automatic.

They're both great apps, I just personally prefer Dash.

Well the way I see it is, that's kinda like saying you're paying a one time fee of $70 for that service, for the life of that device. I can remember back when I used OnStar that had that service and you paid a yearly fee for it. Can't remember how much but it was probably close to how much automatic is. So it seems worth it to me. Although I'm not saying I'm the type of person to want it. Now I would opt more for dash. And I just might...

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OK so I remembered I have an obd 2 connector but I think its an oldish one...it tries to connect to dash but it won't:/ it keeps failing and retrying. But it does fully connect to torque...and its cool but the interface sucks...really want to try dash now! Seems much cleaner.

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SuperTongue says:

If you're looking for one, this is the one I currently have and it works great with Dash:
http://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B005NLQAHS/ref=wms_ohs_product?ie=UTF...

I've also used this one as well:
http://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B009F4JHHO/ref=wms_ohs_product?ie=UTF...

Though the last one - just be sure you don't buy multiples for multiple cars. They all have the same MAC address (not good). I'd stick with the first one.

You can also find some that shutoff completely when you turn the car off, but it really shouldn't do anything to a modern battery.

Thanks, I'll check them out!

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steppek says:

Yes. Dash is much like this app and works well. Torque is good too...but it is more on the data side of the spectrum. I bought an ODBII device on Amazon for ~$25. The only issue I have with it is it doesn't turn off. More expensive models may...That said, it never drained my battery.

enoch861 says:

I bought a $15 one from Amazon and it's been working great.
The thing doesn't turn off but it's never drained my battery either so I'm assuming it's using a negligible amount of energy.
I see no reason to buy Dash especially considering Dash does the exact same thing and looks good doing it too for free.

tech_head says:

Overpriced for what it does.
$99?
The Dongle can be had for less than $20. There isn't $80 of value in the application.
I use Torque which does trip logging and you can get the combo by buying a RT dongle for $20 and Torque for what ever it costs which is less than $10.

YMMV but I think it's overpriced.

bjsstranger says:

Thank god you can turn off the alarm. I had the progressive snapshot device during this past winter in Michigan. Worst idea in the world. That thing was constantly screaming at me. The road conditions were so bad that I had to turn traction control off to keep from getting stuck. Then when the road conditions were good the stupid thing would want me to go through a yellow light I could easily stop for

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btswein says:

Torque>all.

Dizfunctions says:

Is there a Severus Snape version of this?

"Don't drive so quickly you imbecile"

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mavrrick says:

All I can think of when reading this is how easy something like this could be added to most Infotainment systems. It should be super easy to add this to my 2013 equinox with My Link. OnStar can already to much of it.

Of course then this raises the question if a little upstart can do this so reasonably why does OnStar add 199 minimum a year to the car.

Andro10 says:

$100 OBD connector? I bought a reputable OBDII Bluetooth connector on Amazon for less then $30 and it works flawlessly work Torque and other related car apps.

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The thing that I'm seeing as worth it is the emergency service. That could easily be an expensive, monthly service on its own. Yet you pay $100 one time and you have it for the life of the device. However, if you don't need/want that service, I could see it as being a bit overpriced.

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crxssi says:

>"While driving, Automatic can also alert you to rapid acceleration, hard braking and excess speeds as well — which all have an effect on your driving score. Bad habits be gone!"

Hard acceleration or braking or excess speed (which is even 1MPH over a posted limit) or higher-than-average cornering G force is ******NOT****** necessarily bad or poor or unsafe driving. Although insurance companies want you to believe it is...

Just saying!

pseudoelf says:

70 mph warning limit is lame. Many of the highways around me have 75mph speed limits.

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pseudoelf says:

What's with the Region A symbol? Does it only work in the Blu Ray region A area? :-D

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