There's an outlet located under your steering wheel in your car that connects to your vehicle's onboard diagnostic computer. You probably don't think about unless you're taking your ride to be serviced. But you can take advantage of a bunch of data it tracks with a new piece of hardware called Automatic. It has the potential to make you a better driver and save you a little money along the way.
We saw Automatic in action on a little drive around the streets of New York City last week. Along with an iPhone app, the little dongle will track your gas mileage and remember where you parked. It'll also even give you a little notification if you're braking too hard or accelerating too fast. Why? These are apparently a couple of habits that make you use more gas than you need to. How are you driving? It'll give you personalized feedback every week in score from 1-100. And it tries to lookout for your car too. Engine light flips on? You can tap a notification to see what the issue is. If it's no big deal, you can turn the light off all from within the app. Or you can look up a nearby mechanic to get things sorted out. And god forbid you get in a wreck, Automatic will automatically of course call emergency responders and send texts to three numbers you pre-determined to let them know you're ok.
Automatic doesn't do anything like turn-by-turn navigation. It's pretty pared down in terms of functionality—the founders told us they weren't trying to do things that other apps are already doing, like giving directions. That simplicity is kind of nice, though it certainly leaves a little bit to be desired. The dongle goes on sale today for $70 on Automatic's site and ships in May. For now, the app only works on the iPhone 4S and 5, but there's an Android version coming this fall. It works with most every car because the onboard diagnostic computer has been mandatory in cars since 1996. So even if your ride is a total hoopty that's old as hell, you can still make the most of it.