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Managing Your Car from Your iPhone Using the Automatic Link

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Jason R. Rich explains how the optional Automatic Link accessory for the iPhone can be used to help you drive smarter, save on gas, monitor your vehicles, track trip-related information, remember where you parked, and automatically get help if you're involved in an accident.
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For people who already own a GM vehicle, all they need to do is activate the OnStar feature that comes preinstalled (a monthly fee applies) and then download the OnStar RemoteLink iPhone app in order to remotely access vehicle-related information; check on the status of their car; lock or unlock the doors; or, in some cases, start the engine. If the car is running low on gas, the air pressure in the tires is low, or an oil change is required, a message on your iPhone's screen will bring this to the car owner's attention.

In addition to GM, many vehicle manufacturers are somehow incorporating iPhone integration into their 2014 model year vehicles, and more plan to do this in the future. However, if you already own a car or truck that lacks iPhone integration when it comes to monitoring vehicle management and maintenance, a company called Automatic Labs, Inc. has created a $99.95 solution that requires no monthly fees.

Figure 1 The Automatic Link (Photo © Automatic Labs)

Remotely Monitor Almost Any Vehicle from Your iPhone

Almost all 1996 or later model year vehicles have an OBD-II port built in. It's usually hidden somewhere near the foot pedals of the vehicle, under the steering wheel. This port allows for outside electronics to be connected to the vehicle and for the vehicle to then share diagnostic information with the equipment that is connected.

By plugging the Automatic Link device into your car's OBD-II's port (a process that takes less than 10 seconds), your vehicle will have the capability to wirelessly share information with your iPhone that's running the proprietary Automatic app.

Figure 2 The Automatic Link plugged into an OBD-II port (Photo © Automatic Labs)

Once the Automatic Link and Automatic app establish a wireless Bluetooth connection, it is then possible to remotely access a wide range of vehicle-related information from virtually anywhere.

Discover What Information the Automatic Link Shares

You'll discover that the newer your vehicle is, the more information the Automatic Link will be able to access and transmit to its app. For example, as you're driving, the app can detect hard breaks, speeding, and hard accelerations—none of which is good for gas mileage. When detected, the iPhone can generate subtle tones to alert you of these poor driving habits.

Because breaking abruptly and driving more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit reduces fuel efficiency by up to 15 percent, and quickly accelerating the vehicle by pressing hard on the gas pedal also utilizes extra gas. Becoming aware of these poor driving habits can easily help you drive more efficiently and save money on gas.

The Automatic app tracks your driving habits, plus keeps tabs on the trips you take. For this, a detailed map of where you've been can be displayed, which includes icons that represents your overall driving habits along each route.

Using the app, a weekly summary can be displayed on your iPhone screen that calculates your week's actual fuel costs, how many miles you've driven, and the average miles per gallon that was achieved. An overall driving score is also calculated, based on your driving habits.

Meanwhile, if the Automatic app detects your vehicle's Check Engine light comes on, it will determine and display the reason for this, and provide an easy to understand description of the problem.

Another useful feature that the Automatic app offers is the ability to remember where you've parked your car. If you forget, simply activate the Automatic app on your iPhone, and a detailed map will guide you to your vehicle's location. Plus, if you're involved in an accident, the Automatic Link can be set to have your iPhone automatically call for help and provide your exact location. At the same time, the iPhone can text message up to three emergency contacts and inform them of the accident and your whereabouts.

What's great about the Automatic Link is that you don't need to know anything about cars to make it work to your advantage. The most challenging part of using this iPhone accessory is locating the actual ODB-II port within your vehicle. Once you find it, the Automatic Link simply plugs into this port, which is as easy as plugging a lamp into an electrical outlet.

Set Up the Automatic Link to Work with Your Vehicle

The first time you install the Automatic Link into your car, and at the same time download and install the Automatic app, the setup process will take 5 to 10 minutes. Before plugging the Automatic Link into the vehicle, write down the unique six-digit Security Pin that's engraved on the link. This security pin ensures that the connection that's established is encrypted and secure.

Then, after the wireless connection between the Automatic Link and the Automatic app is established, you'll need to provide the app with details about yourself and your vehicle while setting up a free online account from your iPhone.

In some cases, the Automatic app can obtain your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) directly from the car. However, you may need to use the iPhone's built-in camera in order to scan the VIN barcode that's displayed on your vehicle, or manually enter this number into the app.

When prompted, start your vehicle so that the app can exchange initial information with the Automatic Link and learn about your vehicle. Within a few seconds, you'll be ready to start driving.

Once you begin using the Automatic Link with the Automatic app, it's possible to turn on or off the optional audible driving alerts that the app generates, based on your driving habits. If these alerts are turned on, and you have a wireless Bluetooth headset also linked with your iPhone, those alerts will be played through the headset, not the iPhone's built-in speaker.

Each time you enter your vehicle and start the ignition, the Automatic Link and Automatic app are designed to establish an immediate connection, even if the phone is in Sleep mode or you're using another app. However, due to what Automatic Labs refers to as "limitations of iOS 7," if you've recently accessed the multitasking feature of your iPhone and quit the Automatic app so it stopped running in the background, the connection between the Automatic Link and app won't always be created when you start a new trip. A problem could also arise if the Bluetooth settings on the phone have been altered.

To ensure that the necessary wireless connection is always made when you begin a new trip, after turning on your car's ignition, launch the Automatic app manually and then place your iPhone into sleep mode as you begin driving.

Once the Automatic app is running, you can turn on or off the audible alerts the app generates any time as you're driving. To do this (before you actually begin driving your vehicle, not while you're actually driving), tap the Menu icon that's displayed at the top-right corner of the main app screen and then select the Audio Feedback option. From The Audio Feedback menu screen, turn on or off the virtual switch associated with Hard Breaks, Speeding, and Rapid Accels.

Whether you have the real-time audible alerts feature turned on, the Automatic app will track your driving habits and display this information as part of its Week Summary report. If at some point you notice the Check Engine light on your vehicle's dashboard illuminated, launch the Automatic app and tap on the Check Engine icon that's found at the top-left corner of the screen.

A diagnostic message that explains the problem will be displayed. From this screen, tap the blue-and-white Nearby Mechanics button in order to access a list of the closest mechanics and obtain driving directions to them.

Final Thoughts

The Automatic Link is the perfect iPhone accessory for someone who spends a lot of time driving in their car, and who wants to achieve the highest fuel efficiency possible, while tracking the true cost of taking each trip. The other features built into this device and app can help you become a safer and more efficient driver, plus help you deal more effectively with vehicle-related problems that arise.

The Automatic Link is sold directly from the company's website, as well as from Apple Stores and Apple.com. If you're driving an older vehicle, consider visiting the Automatic Labs' website before purchasing the Automatic Link in order to look up the year, make, and model of your vehicle to ensure compatibility.

From the company's home page, click the blue-and-white button that says, "Is My Car Supported?" When prompted, enter details about your vehicle. In addition to being very easy to install and use, what's nice about the Automatic Link accessory is that you purchase it outright for $99.95, and there are no monthly fees associated with using it.

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