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For those of you, ahem, old enough to have seen Terminator 2 in the theater, do you remember how cool it was when the camera first showed us what it was like to see in Terminator vision? There was a roving crosshair, facial recognition programs and even a readout at the bottom of the screen that warned of potential threats.
Crazy, futuristic sci-fi stuff, right? Nope. You can download free apps for your phone right now that do those very same things.
We really are living in the future, and it’s awesome.
One area that has really benefited from smartphone technology has been cars and trucks. Anyone with a smartphone can get real-time data on their car’s performance, diagnose things such as failed O2 sensors through the on-board diagnostics system, get to-the-second traffic reports and scan their location for the cheapest gas prices. Over the years, technology has changed nearly everything about auto repair.
With a late-model car and a standard smartphone, you can do things James Cameron thought was pure science fiction back in 1992.
Here are 50 amazing auto apps that can help maximize your car’s performance, cut down your drive time, save you money or maybe even save your life.
Upkeep and Performance Optimization
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1. aCar (Android): Free
The aCar app lets you keep track of all services, fill-ups and routine maintenance, plus there is a user-friendly calculator so you can track your actual fuel economy. The best part? The app backs up all your statistics every month. Data like this is also a great way to boost your vehicle’s resell value.
2. Torque Pro (Android): $4.99
This app is an OBD2 diagnostic tool, just like what mechanics use when they tap into your car’s computer. Use Torque Pro to read fault codes to see what parts are failing or underperforming, check your horsepower and torque, gauge CO2 emissions, and even check your transmission’s temperature. That’s easily worth five bucks.
3. OBDLink (Android): Free
OBDLink is a diagnostics app much like Torque Pro, only it’s free (and even without ads). Some reviewers have reported compatibility problems with their phones and tablets, but if it’s free to try, consider checking out OBDLink before buying something like Torque Pro.
DashCommand tracks so much data for your car. Like OBDLink and Torque Pro, this app functions as an OBD2 diagnostic tool, but it also tracks tons of measurements for individual trips. If you really want to geek out, try tracking your average speed, your percentage of time spent in a non-optimal gear, or your CO2 emissions for an entire road trip.
5. DriveBot (iOS): $1.99
DriveBot isn’t as robust as the OBD2 plug-in apps, but it does offer a much more hands-free way to get driving data. Just open the app as you drive, and it will track things like your speed, location and distance traveled, then analyze how you drive. You can also swap this data with friends if you want to have some really geeky competitions.
6. Car Minder Plus (iOS): $2.99
Car Minder Plus also lets you keep track of maintenance, fuel-ups and services performed on your vehicles. The interface is easy to use, and keeping logs is simple. You can back up your data simply by synching your device with iTunes.
If you only want to log your gas mileage, Fuelly’s Gas Cubby app is probably the best bet for iOS users. This app lets you actually record and chart your historical fuel economy so you can track that over your car’s lifetime. The app can also remind you when your car needs servicing.
8. Vehicle Logbook (iOS): $3.99
This is another really great-looking app that lets you track your mileage, your services and repairs, and your vehicle’s overall history. Vehicle Logbook also lets you sync your data with Dropbox.
9. Vehicle Logger (Android): Free
Similar to the app above, but the interface isn’t as clean, it’s for Android, and it’s free.
Automatic is one of the most robust tools on the market for getting data straight from your vehicle so you can maximize its performance. The hardware and software together cost nearly $100, but for that money you can essentially turn your phone into an analytics machine as you drive. You’ll get feedback on your speeding, whether you take off too fast or brake too hard, get fault codes and even have something to send out a distress signal in the event of an accident.
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Waze collects real-time traffic information from users who simply drive around with the app open. This stream of data allows you to discover traffic jams, get road alerts and even find the cheapest nearby gas stations.
The INRIX app is awesomely multifunctional, with real-time data on which route will get you where you’re going the fastest. The app includes some nice detailed maps and even live feeds from traffic cams.
Trapster also crowdsources information about accidents and traffic jams, but its warnings also include real-time info on where speed traps are. Download and save yourself a speeding ticket or two.
Navfree offers voice-guided navigation based on Open Street Map, which is essentially the Wikipedia of maps. You don’t need a data connection for the app to work, and you can even switch to walking mode when you get out of the car.
15. MapFactor (Android): Free
MapFactor is a great alternative to Navfree USA. It offers the same turn-by-turn directions based on an Open Street Map, it doesn’t require a data connection, and it will automatically update maps once a month.
16. 5-0 Radio Police Scanner Lite (iOS): Free
Tap into police scanners around the country to be among the first to know when there is a pile-up, a roadblock or any other kind of situation you’ll need to navigate around.
17. Police Scanner 5-0 (Android): Free
This is simply the Android alternative to the previous app but from a different developer. This one also looks good on Android-based tablets.
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18. Trip Splitter (iOS): $1.99
This app lets you neatly split costs like gas or even restaurant bills among everyone on the journey. No having to wring gas money out of your one really cheap friend — Trip Splitter shows exactly how much each person owes and can even send email reminders to pay up.
19. Trip Splitter (Android): Free
This Trip Splitter app is actually made by a different company, though the intention and design are similar to the iOS app above. Also different is the fact that this one is free. Sorry, iOS users.
Looking for a purely inspiring drive? Use this app to tap into BMW’s database of America’s best roads. You can log each route you cover and even share your voyage with others.
21. Greatest Drive (iOS): Free
Greatest Drive is SocialNav, Inc.’s answer to the above BMW app. This app relies on user data to help you select the most scenic routes, and it lets you save your favorite drives for later.
A good radio station can really set the soundtrack for a memorable road trip. But if you are limited to local broadcast bands between 87.5 and 107.9, selection is limited. TuneIn, however, lets you access live radio from more than 100,000 stations, plus it gives you more than 2 million podcasts. Even satellite radio can’t compete.
RoadNinja is awesome for long stretches of interstate driving. It will give you a heads-up about what is ahead at each exit, where the cheapest gas is and what nearby businesses are running noteworthy deals.
24. RoadAhead (iOS): Free
RoadAhead is similar to RoadNinja: It will tell you what is at upcoming exits, which station has the cheapest gas and what restaurants are near the exit.
25. DailyRoads Voyager (Android): Free
This app turns your phone into an intelligent dash cam that will even record your location and timestamp photos. It’s an invaluable resource if you have to make insurance claims or file a police report.
26. iOnRoad Augmented Driving Lite (Android): Free
This app turns your phone into a dash cam, as well, but it uses the camera feed and GPS data to warn you about any potential danger from nearby vehicles. This app can even audibly warn you if you are veering out of your lane, and it includes a parked-car finder. The free version is ad-supported, but you can also upgrade to the paid version to lose the ads.
Witness Driving is another dash cam app, but this one has a few more features than the two above. Especially noteworthy is the rolling loop recording so it doesn’t eat up your phone’s memory, and the fact that it tracks G-force. Android users report frequent crashes, but the iOS app looks fine.
28. Speedometer Speed Box (iOS): $3.99
If something ever goes wrong with your speedometer, this app offers a quick fix until you can get to the shop. Speedometer Speed Box uses GPS tracking to gauge your actual speed.
29. SpeedView (Android): Free
A common theme throughout this list is a paid iOS app coupled with a free Android alternative. That just seems to be the nature of those two devices. Android users, here is your free alternative to the app above.
30. SpeedHUD (Android): Free
One more GPS speedometer app with one killer feature: You can invert the text to make a windshield display for night driving.
Safety and Breakdowns
RepairPal is awesome if something ever goes wrong with your car while you’re on the road. The app will call roadside assistance, help you find a local mechanic and tell you the honest price you should have to pay for the repair work. It can then keep track of all repairs and maintenance to your vehicle.
32. Breakdown Lane (iOS): $1.99
The Breakdown Lane app was developed for the Car Talk show on public radio, and it accesses Car Talk’s nationwide database of reliable mechanics should you ever break down on the road. It’s not free like RepairPal, but it is backed by sound advice.
If you’re ever in a fender bender, this app can guide you through the information-gathering process so that you can provide useful data for the police report and make a solid case to your insurance company.
Breathometer is a free Breathalyzer app, but you have to buy the $49 add-on that you actually breathe into (it plugs into your headphone jack). The app will then display your blood alcohol level, and it will even prompt you as to whether you’d like to call a taxi.
35. Anti Sleep Driver (Android): Free
Some researchers in France found that if your phone is glaring an awful blue screen while you drive at night, you’re more alert and less likely to fall asleep behind the wheel. Download the app for free if you have an Android phone, and try it out for yourself.
If you live somewhere with a lot of snowfall, download this app in case you ever get stranded in a blizzard. The app itself is a huge safety information resource, but it also will call help for you, notify pre-input emergency contacts and estimate how much engine run-time is left relative to your gas gauge.
This app is a huge first-aid information resource, and it is a lot more convenient in an emergency than actually having a first-aid book somewhere in your glove box or trunk.
38. Survival Pocket Ref (iOS): $0.99
This app is a survival reference based on field manuals from the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. If you ever get yourself into a real jam while out on the road, there are 500 pages here on everything from first aid to building a fire to identifying edible plants.
39. How to Change Your Tire (Android): $0.99
Not everyone on the road knows how to change a tire, and that’s OK. This app will walk you through that process in an easy-to-understand manner.
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Despite the goofy pirate theme, this app is a serious tool. Carrr Matey uses GPS to record where you have parked so you never end walking around city blocks or through multi-level garages just to find your car. There is also a timer in case you’re parked at a meter and need a reminder to put in more coins.
41. Parker (iOS): Free
Parker’s database keeps up-to-the-minute tabs on available parking spaces in a growing number of cities across the country. If you are in the coverage zone, simply input the street where you want to park, and you will get turn-by-turn directions to an available space.
42. Car Parker (Android): $0.99
This app uses GPS alone to help you remember where you parked your car. That’s particularly handy because even if you have no data connection, the app will still work.
43. Honk (iOS): $0.99
Honk has a very simple interface so you can remember where you’ve parked and make notes. It will also remind you about the time left on your parking meter and advise you of nearby ATMs and convenience stores in case you need to get some cash quicklly.
GasBuddy is a hugely popular app for one simple reason: It saves people money. GasBuddy relies on user-submitted gas prices nationwide so that you can search for the cheapest gas station in your area. All told, there have been more than 35 million downloads so far, so someone is sure to have tracked the prices in your area for you. Oh, and the people at GasBuddy.com give away $100 in free gas to a user every day.
PlugShare is a lot like GasBuddy above but for electric cars. The app keeps real-time data on the locations of more than 40,000 charging stations nationwide, and it will even send you an alert when a new charging station opens in your area. You can even pay to charge up through the app.
Wish your Accord sounded like a V8 Camaro? This is how you fake the funk. Install this app, plug your phone into your car stereo, and head out. The app will note changes in acceleration and even corners so the noises will synch up with your driving. You can buy more cars for your virtual garage, too, in case you’re in an Aventador or GT40 mood.
47. CarZen (iPad): Free
Note that this app is for iPads only. CarZen lets you browse used-car listings in a big, visual layout. Liberty Mutual actually built this app, and they didn’t skimp on the design. This app is fun even if you aren’t in the market for a car.
If you are in the market for a car, however, you should download the free Kelley Blue Book app to get a good idea of any vehicle’s market value. Users have reviewed the newest version of the app poorly, but previous versions got four- and five-star reviews. Expect some tweaks as the app is updated.
Of all the apps developed by established used-car search companies (Cars.com, Auto Trader, etc.), Cars.com’s app is the highest rated, with fewer bugs and no strange permission requests to capture your personal data. This is the best bet for anyone shopping for cars on their phones.
If you try giving your 16-year-old an actual book to study for his/her permit exam, the thing might never get opened. That’s why study guides for the rules of the road need to be where teenagers live: On their phones.