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.

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17 Responses to “Automatic: The smart driving assistant for the iPhone era [Review]”

  1. Been using it since it was a project. Currently, it’s nothing more than a novel toy. Pretty useless aside from cool factor.

  2. Too bad it doesn’t work with any BMW’s :(

  3. If they threw in some more ODB options like clearing codes, it would be a no-brainer!

    • Already has it. Check out the app description: “Know what that check engine light means and clear it with a tap.” Even has a screenshot. Yes, this article should have mentioned it but I’d recommend doing some research yourself.

  4. You should NOT be writing an article about Automatic without going into the massive privacy intrusion that it is. Why does Automatic send off your VIN and your location data? With this info they always know where you are, where you go, how long you’re there for, etc… This is powerful information. I stopped using it the moment I saw what this “cool” app was really about, feeding the NSA all our data.

  5. hmurchison says:

    I already know how to drive safely so there’s no need for me to spend $99 nanny device. Automatic needs diagnostic tools and as Jesse says the ability to clear codes and then it would be a decent utility. As of now it’s a solution in search of a problem.

    • Jon Shanahan says:

      It does allow you to read error codes and clear check engine lights. It tells you what the codes mean and how they can be fixed. It has saved me 3 trips to the mechanic since July for little problems that didn’t need immediate attention. That’s where I find all of the value.

    • It has them. App description in the App Store, complete with screenshot. So is $99 now worth the diagnostics info, fuel spending tracking, car location tracking, crash alert, and driving assistant worth it? Another thing this article should have mentioned is support for multiple vehicles and multiple drivers. Got one in my car and both my wife and I use it. I can show up to a place where my wife dropped off the car and find it without calling her. I’ve been able to confirm my good driving habits and my wife has improved hers (and consequently decreased our monthly fuel spending). Crash alert came just in time for her to go on quite a long road trip with some friends and I felt safer knowing that I would be alerted if something happened while she was gone.

      So for some of us, this easily solves a quite a number of problems and is well worth it’s cost.

  6. I’ve had it since beta and I like it. It’s nice to see what engine codes are lighting up my dash and the beeps keep me conscientious of not driving like a maniac. My only gripes are the 70mph beeps when I’m on the 75mph interstate, and that it doesn’t seem to shut off when the vehicle is off. I notice my bluetooth trying to connect a lot when I’m in my house and my vehicle is in the garage. There’s no reason for it to be on when the vehicle isn’t on. I’m not paranoid enough to be worried or care about black helicopters tracking me.

  7. I have been using it for a few weeks now. Great device. It lets you pull codes from multiple cars and help show you (and others) how well or poor of a driver you are. Use this link to save $20. https://www.automatic.com/order/?ref=TUCK499

  8. I have been using it for a few weeks now. Great device. It lets you pull codes from multiple cars and help show you (and others) how well or poor of a driver you are. Use this link to save $20

  9. I have been using it for a few weeks now. Great device. It lets you pull codes from multiple cars and help show you (and others) how well or poor of a driver you are. Use this link to save $20 https://www.automatic.com/order/?ref=NADI859