Internet-connected devices surround us. Between smartphones, smart thermostats and smart refrigerators, smart devices are becoming staples of modern family and home life — but they’ve also become common in the modern car. Connected cars are the obvious precursor to autonomous vehicles, perhaps the most connected machines on the planet. In the meantime, several connected car devices exist, from built-in and add-on systems to plug-in devices. But do they really improve your drive?
Built-in Telematics Systems
The General Motors OnStar system was one of the first factory-installed telematics systems, but others soon followed, such as Lexus Enform, Ford Sync and Infiniti Connect. These built-in systems combine GPS location technology, vehicle monitoring and satellite or cellular communications. Basic functions include: remote diagnostics, remote access, customized routing and emergency services contact in case of a crash or theft.
There are some drawbacks, however. As these systems are built in, they leave little opportunity for customization, and they can’t be installed in just any vehicle. However, automaker developers are usually looking for ways to improve customer experience by expanding services and offerings.
Add-on Connected Car Devices
The most basic add-on devices can be installed in almost any vehicle produced since 1996, which is when OBDII diagnostic ports became mandatory in U.S. automobiles. You can find add-on connected car devices priced anywhere from $25 to $130, depending on their capabilities and support.
The least expensive ones are typically a simple OBDII dongle with Bluetooth connectivity. They use a smartphone or tablet to access OBDII data, such as emissions monitors, engine-running data or “check engine light” diagnostics. For example, the Actron CP9600 U-Scan Bluetooth OBDII and CAN Diagnostic Tool is a powerful and portable diagnostic tool that gives you insights into your vehicle’s inner workings — and much more.
Do They Improve Your Drive?
The short answer is yes. In combination with various available connected car apps, connected car devices can absolutely improve your driving. For example, driving with the check engine light on could impact your fuel economy by up to 40 percent, depending on the problem. Driving habits can also affect fuel economy, as well as safety.
Connected car apps, such as Dash, Torque Pro and Everdrive, give you insights into where and how you drive. They even give you tips on how you can improve your driving, such as avoiding harsh braking, rapid acceleration and speeding.
Other connected car devices offer vehicle tracking and geofencing, theft recovery, automatic emergency services contact after a crash and location-specific searches, such as for a check engine light or low-fuel-level light.
Eventually, autonomous vehicles could become the world’s most connected devices, able to plan routes on their own and in conjunction with each other. They may even anticipate their own maintenance and repair needs and their owner’s transportation requirements. Until then, however, you could be driving smarter.
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Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.