Tech Review: Automatic Link Makes Diagnostics and Driving Data More Streamlined

We’ve all been there and done that; you’re cruising down the road and the “Check Engine” light pops on. Then you have three choices. Choice No. 1 is simply ignoring the light and risking damaging important components on your car. Choice No. 2 is taking the car to the shop and pay upward of $100 just to have the light diagnosed. Choice No. 3 is to buy your own scanner for $50-plus and hope that you can sort out the problem.

Well, now there is a product named Automatic Link that takes the place of the standard OBD-II scanner and spits out the code that the check engine light was caused by and a general summary of the code right on your Bluetooth-compatible smartphone.

On top of being a rolling and wireless scanner, it also keeps tab on your driving style, mpg and so much more.

Click past the just to read our review on the Automatic Link

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Tech Review: Automatic Link Makes Diagnostics and Driving Data More Streamlined

There’s really not very much to the Automatic link, as it is little more than a small, white plug that connects to your car’s OBD port. If you are lucky enough to pay Progressive Insurance a monthly fee each month, you may notice this little gizmo, as it is the same as the Snapshot device that they claim to use to “offer you a discount.”

Like that gizmo, it typically hides under the dashboard and makes cool little beeps when you drive like a racecar driver (stop too aggressively or corner too fast). The only difference in look from the Shapshot device is that this one is a less intrusive white, unlike the blue one that the insurance giant ships you.

The Good

  • Small and easy to carry around
  • White is good for most interiors

The Bad

  • Some cars’ OBD ports are well hidden and hard to get the device hooked up to
  • On some cars, you are bound to smack this thing with your knee every five seconds
  • Annoying beeping sound when drifting (it’s sarcasm, guys)

Function

Who cares what it looks like? We want to know what this little box does that makes it so great. Well, it’s not really the box that is so cool, but rather the app that comes with it. You download this app to your smartphone and it directly connects to the main box. The box then relays information from each trip, like average mpg, ideal mpg, aggressive driving, average fuel prices relative to where you filled up, cost per mile driven, parking lot locator (for those that forget where they park) and a trip map.

All of that information is then put into the app’s algorithm and it shows you a score of how you drive. The higher the score, the better you drove, of course.

A big selling point is on-the-fly car diagnostics. Once that check engine light pops on, you just hop into the app’s diagnostics interface and it’ll display the P-code (trouble code) and the general description of the code. In some cases, it can also display common resolutions to certain issues. For example, a P0400 code is a small evaporative emissions leak, which is often caused by a loose gas cap; so, if you get that code, the system will likely say to try retightening the gas cap.

Unfortunately, just like any scanner, this app only gives you a general overview and does not tell you what is precisely wrong with the car. You have to have some mechanical skills to know where to go to next to fully diagnose the code. But, at least you have a general idea.

Tech Review: Automatic Link Makes Diagnostics and Driving Data More Streamlined

The last function of this tiny nugget of tech genius is emergency services. When this system detects an emergency, like a car crash, based on your acceleration and deceleration rates, it can call up to three emergency service numbers to get help. Kind of like a mobile OnStar.

The Good

  • Built-in OBD-II scanner
  • Gas price comparisons
  • Bluetooth connectivity and smartphone app

The Bad

  • Too many people playing backyard mechanic
  • People diagnosing their cars while driving
  • Do you really need all of that information?

Pricing, Compatibility and Availability

Automatic has listed the price at a pretty reasonable $69.95, which is not too bad considering the amount of work that likely went into developing the app and the box. As for compatibility, the EPA required every car sold in the U.S. from the 1996 model year and up to run OBD-II, so theoretically, every 1996 and newer car should work with this. As for phones, as long as you run iOS or Android, you’re covered.

iOS systems are currently sold out, but more are set to ship in July. The Android system doesn’t roll out until fall 2013.

Target Buyer

This product works for pretty much anyone. If you drive daily and need to keep close tabs on your driving style, the health of your vehicle or your average mpg, this is perfect for you. If you have new teenage drivers, you can sneak this bad boy in your teen’s car and monitor where he goes, when he went there and if you have a future racecar driver on your hands.

Conclusion

The Automatic Link really is a cool product, but its usefulness may not be quite as great as it seems on paper. You have to think about how often you really need the information that it gives you. If you practically live in your car for work, than the Link is likely a great tool. It also works great for monitoring a new driver. Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t make sense for a casual driver that only does a few miles per day.


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