What Connected Car Devices Can Do For You
Most people, when hearing mention of “connected cars,” think of autonomous vehicles, which could be the most connected cars on the planet. However, let’s take a step back from this future technology, and focus on a range of connected car devices that help monitor vehicles and drivers. Concerned parents with teen drivers, concerned people with older parent drivers, and fleet managers all want to know when and where their vehicles are going and how their drivers are driving. Concerned owners and drivers may also want to keep track of vehicle maintenance, emissions, fuel economy, recalls, and on-board diagnostics (OBD).
Connected car devices come in several forms and a range of complexity and capability, depending on what needs to be monitored and how. Some of the earliest systems were built-in, but newer versions can simply be plugged into the OBDII port. Some systems provide diagnostic information and GPS tracking, while others provide driver monitoring and real-time alerts. Most connected car devices plug into the vehicle’s OBDII port and are compatible with most conventional, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid vehicles made since 1996. Below are ten popular connected car devices and what they can do for your household or fleet.
Ten Popular Connected Car Devices
(Note: All Prices Accurate as of August 20, 2017)
Factory Telematics and Infotainment Systems – $0 Intro
OnStar may have been the first connected car “device” on the market, but other automakers soon followed with similar connected car technology, such as BMW Assist, Lexus Enform, Toyota Safety Connect, Ford Sync, and Infiniti Connection, to name a few. Features vary by system, but most include things like emergency services contact, in case of an accident, GPS navigation, weather reports, and stolen vehicle tracking assistance. Others may include streaming services, in-car WiFi hotspot, remote panic alarm or door locks, and vehicle diagnostics assistance. Most do not include driver monitoring or real-time GPS vehicle tracking. Subscription costs are usually covered for a few years after the purchase of the vehicle.
- Built-in, no need to buy or install anything
- Subscription costs are built-in, usually one to three years
- Can’t be removed or disabled by a thief
- No user remote access
- No real-time GPS tracking
- No driver monitoring or alerts
Safe Driver – $70
One of the simpler options we’re looking at, the Lemur SafeDriver device is a uniquely-paired OBDII dongle and key fob. This connected car device is designed to help drivers learn safe driving habits by avoiding excessive speed, hard cornering, and hard braking, all indicative of aggressive driving. All data collected is transmitted to the key fob, reporting maximum speed, distance traveled, and panic braking. It also self-reports on attempted tampering or removal. SafeDriver doesn’t include any kind of GPS vehicle tracking or OBD diagnostic capabilities, but neither does it require any subscription or data plan.
- Simple setup and operation
- Easy-to-understand data
- No subscription required
- No remote access via smartphone or browser
- No GPS tracking
- No diagnostic capabilities
SpyTec STI GL300 – $69 + $25-$45/mo
This GPS tracking device is different from all the others in that it isn’t a vehicle-specific device – it doesn’t plug into the OBDII port or even a power port. The SpyTec STI GL300 is battery powered, lasting up to two weeks, and can be placed anywhere, such as in a suitcase, backpack, or car. An extended battery pack is available for up to 6 months of tracking. You can choose from different tracking plans, setting up alerts based on time, distance, or area, as well as access tracking data from any browser.
- Easy to hide – doesn’t plug into OBDII port
- 365 days of tracking is Google Maps compatible
- No long-term contracts
- No dedicated smartphone app
- More-expensive tracking plan
- Requires recharging, but extended battery available
Verizon Hum – $30 + $10/mo or $21.25/mo
Verizon Hum+ and Hum× use a combination of devices and smartphone app for an all-around connected car solution. The OBDII device plugs into your vehicle, the hands-free speaker clips to your visor, and interaction is through the smartphone app. Hum+ monitors both the vehicle and its drivers and keeps you notified regarding driver habits, check engine light diagnostics, maintenance reminders, and more. Hum+ works with your smartphone as a hands-free device, and can even be used to summon emergency roadside assistance. With a Verizon Data plan, Hum× adds in-car WiFi hotspot capability.
- Handsfree calling, roadside assistance, vehicle location
- Unbiased technical assistance for check engine light
- Driving history vs fuel economy charts
- Customizable alerts
- Two-year contract subscription required
Vyncs – $70/yr or $100/yr + Add-Ons
Vyncs seems to have been built primarily as a fleet management service and has very powerful tools for fleet management, including driver and vehicle statistics, fuel economy and emissions monitoring, and GPS vehicle tracking. Vyncs constantly monitors your vehicle and driver, including information on distance traveled and driving behavior. Speed and zone notifications can be customized in both a smartphone app and a web portal. In addition to basic check engine light diagnostics and monitoring, Vyncs can even notify you of factory recalls. Some insurance carriers give a discount for carrying this system, though this may also apply to other connected car devices.
- No contract or early-termination fees
- Vyncs Fleet unlimited number of vehicles and fleet analytics
- Factory recall notifications and maintenance reminders
- Confusing upgrades add to yearly costs
- Slow 3-minute GPS updates, faster updates cost more
Automatic – $80 or $130
For the price, you’d expect a connected car device like Automatic to deliver more, and it does. Available in two versions, both Automatic Lite and Automatic Pro feature trip logging and tagging, expense app extensions, basic diagnostics capabilities, and fuel economy logging. Both are accessible via a smartphone app or web page. Automatic Lite syncs with your smartphone via Bluetooth. For $50 more, Automatic Pro features unlimited 3G sync for five years, adding crash alert and emergency contact, parking and remote vehicle tracking, and an extensive list of vehicle-based telematics apps, such as maintenance reminders and vehicle information apps.
- No fees and no subscriptions for five years
- Extensive app gallery
- Pro includes tracking, emergency assistance, and alerts
- Lite doesn’t provide any tracking or remote access
- Higher upfront price
CarLock – $60 + $10/mo
One of the more affordable GPS tracking devices on the market, CarLock plugs into your OBDII port and inconspicuously monitors vehicle operation, driver habit, and tracks your vehicle’s location. It will even detect unusual vibration and device disconnection. All this data is sent to the CarLock app, giving you up-to-the-minute vehicle statistics and a monthly driver score, helping you be a better driver or monitor your young drivers. The trip tracking function monitors your vehicle’s whereabouts and even alerts you when it’s heading out of a certain area.
- Unobtrusive security for parked vehicles – no loud alarms
- Highly affordable tracking plan
- Slow tracking and notification updates
Zubie – $100/yr or $100 + $10/mo
Depending on the tracking plan you sign up for, Zubie is a versatile connected car device, useful for training new drivers, vehicle monitoring, or fleet tracking. It all starts with the Zubie Key and a smartphone or tablet app. Zubie monitors driving habits, vehicle diagnostics, and real-time tracking. Trips can be tracked and tagged, such as for tax deductions, and alerts can be set up for bad driving habits, vehicle maintenance and check engine light events, and unexpected vehicle movement, such as when you’re away from your car. For an extra cost, Zubie In-Car WiFi, with a Verizon Data plan, turns your vehicle into a WiFi hotspot.
- Fuel Finder finds cheap fuel near you
- Monthly tracking reports are easy to understand
- Versatile alerts system for maintenance, driving, and more
- Tracking data not easily viewable outside app
- Data updates may take up to 30 minutes
ODBII Dongle – $20 – $100 + App
Most of these devices offer some basic OBDII diagnostic capabilities, able to identify check engine light codes and track things like vehicle speed, fuel economy, and system voltage. Going any deeper, such as seeing real-time engine and transmission information or diagnosing the check engine light, usually means consulting a professional auto repair technician with a $1,500+ factory scan tool. Universal OBDII dongles, thanks to the same technology that makes connected car devices possible, gives even regular folk access to important vehicle data, either for diagnosis and repair or driver monitoring. OBDII dongles range from $20 to $100, such as Lemur BlueDriver, BAFX Products 34t5, and ScanTool OBDLink, pair with a smartphone via Bluetooth or WiFi. The apps can range from $0 to $50, giving the driver intimate access to vehicle information.
- Simple setup and viewing of driver habit and fuel economy
- No subscription costs, but apps may be paid
- Deep vehicle diagnostic and monitoring data
- No remote access
- No GPS tracking
- More technical, may not be user-friendly
Smartphone Apps – $0
We’ve covered the gamut from built-in vehicle telematics and a simple key fob to full-blown real-time GPS car tracking and driver monitoring devices, accessible by a smartphone app or web portal, but there are even connected car devices that aren’t devices at all, unless you count the smartphones that run them. Most modern smartphones have enough sensors and connectivity, such as accelerometers, GPS receiving, e-compass, and a data connection to serve as tracking devices in themselves. Android apps, such as Dash or EverDrive, and iTunes apps, such as DriveWell or DrivePlus, can track driving without any added devices, giving you real-time updates on your own driving habits, as well as traffic and weather updates and fuel station locations.
- No devices necessary
- No subscriptions needed
- May save money on insurance
- No remote-tracking capability
- No OBDII functionality or diagnostics
FleetCarma C2 – Price dependent on scale
FleetCarma’s C2 device is a lightweight cellular data logger that supports both OBD-II and electric vehicles. This device integrates with the FleetCarma web portal for real-time status & location, along with historical energy, location, and vehicle diagnostics. Unlike the other devices in the list, the C2 device provides electric vehicle support including trip & charging data, as well as real-time state-of-charge. Additionally, the C2 device supports proprietary and enhanced signals including the vehicle’s odometer for more accurate distance tracking. The FleetCarma C2 telematics device includes a high speed 3G cellular modem that is supported in over 150 countries.
- Electric vehicle support
- Proprietary and enhanced signal support
- Includes web portal with real-time information
- Not yet available for purchase by individual consumers
In summary, thanks to technological advances in vehicle data systems, global positioning systems, and smartphones, as well as communications systems, connected car devices have made it more convenient to track and monitor vehicles and drivers. However great these devices are, most are targeted to individual consumers, meaning the device are simplistic and inflexible, especially when compared to feature-rich devices that are targeted to businesses like FleetCarma’s C2 device. By selecting a device that is tailored to businesses, you have flexibility which allows you to do more and to do it better than mass market devices. Take a few minutes to determine your needs and budget, which can help you decide which connected car device and service is sufficient.