Everywhere you look there’s proof that the smartphone revolution is transforming the way we do things, and nowhere is immune from the effect. Just ask the digital camera manufacturers or companies making MP3 players. The latest of the bastions to be conquered is the car, and we’re now starting to see some very interesting vehicle apps arrive, which deliver very sophisticated functionality for free or at very low cost.
Torque Lite is a very good example of what we mean. This free Android app connects up to any standard OBD2 (On-Board Diagnostics) adapter which are now mandatory in modern vehicles. Once connected, the program then taps into the car electronics and combines the data with your phone features like GPS, accelerometer and compass to offer a fully customizable info dashboard.
We picked up a Soliport ODB2 Bluetooth adapter from Amazon for $10.71 (£8.76), plugged it in (you can normally find the ODB2 socket under or near the steering wheel on most cars), fired up the software and within seconds we were connected and up and running. No install or set up, just a standard pairing of the adapter to the phone via Bluetooth, and then tell the software to connect to the adapter. To get the most out of the software you should spend a bit of time setting up your specific car parameters first, but you don’t have to, and anyway it’s all very easy to do and carefully explained via help text.
Not only do you then get the chance to access really useful information as you’re driving, such as mpg, cost per trip, miles till empty and engine stats, but you can also use the system to decipher what those mysterious errors mean when they pop up on your in-car dash. Ever been frustrated by a check engine warning light? Well now you can find out exactly what triggered it, just like a workshop or garage. Which means you can negotiate on more equal terms with the local auto mechanic if your car needs a fix.
To put all this into perspective, until recently this kind of diagnostic kit would cost upwards of $200-300 for the consumer models, and much more for the professional products which the mechanics use. Of course the industrial versions are much more powerful, but even so, the fact that anyone can own one of these for day to day use for little more than the price of a few gallons of gas is amazing.
The Torque Pro version of the software, which costs $5 or so, offers more features (including some specifically for diesel engines) and more customizable functionality, including the ability to accept 3rd party plugins for more specialized tasks. The Pro version also logs and stores routes, including map information and other details.