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Automatic dongle turns your vehicle in a 'smart car'

James A. Martin | Sept. 10, 2015
Automatic's connected dongle and mobile apps give your 'dumb' car some digital smarts. The device is easy to install and the mobile apps are intuitive, but we found a number of reasons to hit the brakes before you buy.

Automatic also offers other features and potential benefits, such as the ability to flag engine trouble and then notify you. However, the four points mentioned above are my favorite things about the gadget. Unfortunately, I did find a few reasons not to buy an Automatic. 

4 reasons to hit the brakes before you buy Automatic

1. Automatic's rivals

Automatic has competition from Zubie ($100) and Vinli ($149), among others. (Note: I haven't tested Automatic's competitors and can't comment on them.)

2. Automatic takes over your diagnostics port 

I've been considering Metromile, a pay-per-mile car insurance provider, which requires the installation of its connected car device in your vehicle diagnostics port. Unfortunately, you can't simultaneously use both devices. (By the way, Metromile's device (free for customers) offers some interesting features, such as automated alerts that tell you when you're parked in a street sweeping zone in Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles.)

3. Automatic a no-go for electric cars

If you drive an electric vehicle, you're out of luck; Automatic doesn't work with them.

4. Concerns about Automatic tracking features

Some people just aren't comfortable with idea that they're driving locations are recorded and stored in the cloud. However, Automatic promises its user data is protected by 128-bit "bank-level" AES encryption.

Bottom line on Automatic's connected car dongle and mobile apps

Automatic's app is intuitive and nicely designed. And the dongle device works as promised, at least during my week of tests. If you want to turn your older car into a "smart" car, it's a good, and relatively affordable, start.


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