While you’re still waiting on your refrigerator or your microwave to be as smart as your phone, the car in your garage is already ahead of the curve. If you own a vehicle made after 1996, you can connect to it with a simple device called an OBD-II adapter and find out your fuel efficiency, diagnose check engine lights, and gather a ton of other useful data.
Most cars manufactured since the 80s have an on-board diagnostics (or OBD) computer inside. These computers allow mechanics and regulators to troubleshoot any computer-controlled parts of the car. From January 1st, 1996 onward, all cars sold within the US were required to have an OBD-II compatible port. This allows anyone with an adapter to read information from the car. You may have seen this when a technician checks your emissions.
For the most part, OBD-II tools were only used by professionals to do things like figure out why you check engine light is on, or to make sure your car is meeting emission standards. However, OBD-II ports can be used to read a lot more helpful data. Recently, cheap Bluetooth adapters have made it possible for everyone to get access to that information.
While this might all sound dry, everyday consumers can do a ton of cool stuff with even a cheap OBD-II adapter. You can buy a basic Bluetooth adapter for as little as $20, though there are more expensive ones that offer even more features. I own this one which is $22 on Amazon. With it, you can connect to apps like Dash (Android/iOS) and Torque (Android). It’s important to note that many of the cheaper Bluetooth adapters may drain the battery if they’re left plugged in. These should be okay as long as you drive your car every day (or if you’ll only plug it in when you want to diagnose a check engine light), but if you leave your car idle over the weekend, you may want a more high-end adapter.
The more expensive whole-package OBD-II systems like Automatic ($80 for Lite, $130 for Pro, Android/iOS) come with adapters that connect to 3G networks, include GPS, and power-saving features, plus their own app. Depending on which adapter you get, you can do all kinds of things, including:
That’s a lot of power for a basic diagnostic system from the mid 90s. If you want to add your car to your arsenal of smart home gadgets, you don’t need an expensive head unit or a brand new car. The cheaper Bluetooth adapters are an easy way to get started if you just want to dip your toes in, though Automatic offers a lot of benefits that you don’t get from generic OBD-II adapters.
Once you’ve decided which type of adapter you want to use, you’ll need to plug it into your car. The OBD-II port on your car looks like this.Read More...
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