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Automatic Wants to Make Your Dumb Car a Lot Smarter –– With Apps!

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor

Most cars on the road are dumb. Unlike the latest high-tech, connected vehicles with their touchscreen infotainment systems, most of us are still driving cars that came out when CD players were considered cutting edge.

Automatic Labs wants to drag your ’98 Corolla into the future. Today, it’s announcing a new system that can connect your dumb car to everything from your smartwatch to your smart thermostat, with its new, second-generation Automatic car adapter and Automatic app gallery.

The new Automatic adapter is basically the same as the original Automatic, which launched two years ago. It’s still priced at $99, and it still plugs into your car’s onboard diagnostic port, which is available in every vehicle built after 1996.

But this time around, the Automatic adapter can not only send information such as fuel efficiency and location to your smartphone, but also it can communicate with a growing library of apps via the Automatic app gallery.

The apps available now are a mixed bag. The two best apps we’ve seen so far are SpotAngels and YourMechanic. SpotAngels, which is unfortunately only available in San Francisco at launch, automatically monitors where you park and alerts you about area parking rules. So if you park your car overnight and have to move it by 10 a.m., the app will send you a message reminding you to find a new spot.

(Note to SpotAngels: Please bring this thing to New York City.)

YourMechanic, meanwhile, lets a certified mechanic monitor your car’s performance from afar, so he or she can diagnose any potential issues. If a problem is found, you’ll receive a quote from the mechanic telling you what’s wrong with your vehicle and how much the repair will cost.

Other apps include Jawbone UP, which monitors where you’ve driven and can tell you how many steps you would have taken if you had walked instead, and the UnMooch app, which can calculate how much gas you burned on a road trip and divide the cost evenly among your friends.


There’s also Pebble, which sends a reminder of where you parked to your Pebble Watch; Yo, which lets your friends know when you’ve started and ended a trip; and Concur, which tracks how much fuel you’ve burned so you can easily create an expense report for work trips.

Of course, there’s also an Apple Watch app that lets you know where you parked, as well.


The second-generation Automatic is available now for $99. Unfortunately, not all of the apps in the Automatic app gallery will work with the first-generation Automatic, so if you want to get the most out of your car, you’ll have to upgrade to the new Automatic.

Still, for everything the new Automatic can do, $99 is a steal.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+.