For the past few months, I’ve been testing the Automatic Link which aims to make you a safer, more efficient driver. But is it enough to really change your driving habits?

With the holiday season quickly approaching and the hardware now widely available and in stock on Amazon (and Prime eligible at that), what better time to discuss my hands-on experience with the smart driving assistant…

What is Automatic Link?

Automatic works through a smart combination of both hardware and software… and your car.

Automatic Link is a small, white accessory that attaches to the onboard diagnostic port (if your car is from 1996 or later, trust me, the OBD port has probably been along for the ride with you this whole time). It can read certain data including the “check engine” light of some cars just like a mechanic would. The accessory retails for $99 (car not included… but you knew that) and includes many additional services without the additional expenses.

Automatic for iPhone (or Android if you want to beta test that) is the user interface to the entire system, all within an app right on your smartphone. The app is a free download, and as apps tend to go, receives frequent new features through software updates.

As for your car, the company Automatic has this to say: “Automatic works only in the United States with just about any gasoline engine car sold in the U.S. since 1996.”

Finding the OBD port can be somewhat tricky (at least for me it was), but it’s generally located just left of the area below the steering wheel. Try to avoid that fuse box as it’s not in there. Seriously, it’s much easier to install than you might imagine.

Technologies

The Automatic Link uses a combination of Bluetooth 4.0 (yep, low energy) and GPS data with your smartphone’s cellular connection to capture and present usable information about your driving. This data includes stats on abrupt braking and accelerating, excessive speeding, trip duration, and fuel cost and mileage.

The Automatic app presents this data by collecting your trips throughout each week and scoring that week’s performance.

Automatic also uses Location Services to determine where you parked your car. While this isn’t a problem that you might personally need solved daily, trust me when I tell you it certainly comes in handy when you do need it. Unlike plenty of apps that require you to check-in to save your location, Automatic automatically catches your last parked location.

This makes much more sense for a user because you are likely to remember precisely where you parked anyway if you took the time to check-in on an app, but the potential to help you is much greater if you don’t even have to think about the action.

Automatic also takes into account your current location if your check engine light requires professional attention by recommending nearby mechanics.

My favorite technology implemented by Automatic is a beta program known as Crash Alert. While the service doesn’t want to make promises that nature would force them not to keep, it will attempt to alert someone in the event that your vehicle experiences an accident.

Previously, Crash Alert would notify via text message up to three phone numbers with a notification of the incident. Since version 1.1, Automatic has improved on the service by adding the ability to automatically notify an emergency call center at the time of an incident.

What’s New in Version 1.1

We’re making great progress on the next major version of Automatic, but in the meantime we’re proud to release this update which replaces the automated component of Crash Alert with an emergency call center, staffed by trained human beings to assist you in a car accident, all at no additional cost.

The service is not without its disclaimer, but it’s still an added layer of security that I find greatly adds value to the Automatic experience, for me at least.

What do you have to gain?

Now for the question on everyone’s mind: Is Automatic really worth the hundred bucks for the accessory to have access to the service?

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It’s certainly a high price of entry if you don’t already have a smartphone (or a car for that matter… but then why would you need such a device?), but for the millions that already own a smartphone, $99 isn’t that bad considering the potential security of Crash Alert and benefits of driving better and decreasing fuel costs.

But does Automatic actually make you a better driver? The short answer is it can, but only if you want it to.

While Automatic can’t make you be a better driver, it can certainly help you along the way if you’re willing to take a little coaching. The accessory gives you a subtle beep when you break or accelerate too fast or break 70 mph. Take your weekly score into account, notice what behaviors you repeat, and most importantly aim for fewer beeps and you’re bound to improve… if you’re willing.

No matter how deep you look into it, Automatic is defintely a smart product and service that would make for a fun and interesting holiday gift. Download the app and pick up the accessory to check it out for yourself or someone you love.