In your car there’s a magical port. It sits under your dashboard usually and you’ll find that the AA man will plug his laptop into it. I remember once I broke down and had to call them out. It was in a car I was renting and his just whacked the laptop in. Boom! It told him exactly what was wrong. No more opening the bonnet and ferreting around. Oh no, the on-board computer tells you everything you need to know.
That port can also do some other cool things. Plug a laptop in and you can get the throttle position, air / fuel ratio, coolant temperature, oil temperature, RPM, speed and some other bits. When you combine it with a phone or a dongle, you can add in other sensors, like a G-sensor and GPS information. That way, you can see where you’ve been and how safely you drove during the journey.
Then… then, if you add in a SIM card and connect it to a mobile phone network, you can access that information from anywhere.
And that, my friends, is what we have here. It’s called the V-Auto by Vodafone and it’s a small dongle that you whack into your OBDII port. Inside is a Vodafone SIM which sends data to your smartphone or someone elses. Take, as an example, a new driver or a loved one driving around, you can see if they’ve arrived safely – you can see where they are and you can see if they’re driving sensibly too.
There’s four main features to this gadget.
- First, it’ll keep track of your journeys and the time each trip takes. That alone is ideal for anyone who drives for a living as you can see every trip you ever took.
- Then there’s the “Road Safety Score” which lets you and your family know how well you’re driving.
- There’s also a “Find My Car” option which lets you find your car when it’s parked.
- The V-Auto system also has an “Auto SOS service” which, if you’re in a crash, helps you out. Specially trained Vodafone agents will contact you to check if you’re OK, and whether you need roadside assistance or the emergency services. They can take the worry and the stress out of the situation as they know exactly where you are and they can do it all for you.
The dongle works with the V-Auto app, which is available for Android or iPhone. You use it to go through the setup process, which I’ve filmed below. It’s all very simple indeed and basically involves you setting up an account, entering some personal details and information about your car, then agreeing to a £4 monthly service.
Yes, whilst the unit itself is £85, you’ll need to pay the £4 for the data access charges. This is taken directly from your mobile bill and it’s all easily completed after you’ve unboxed it. Then it’s just a matter of plugging in the V-Auto device itself and going for a drive to create a report.
The trip reports can help you determine what the best route to work might be, where you were on a certain day etc. It’s nice information for those driving as part of a job, but I can’t see myself using it too much. For a parent it might be worth checking to see if your son or daughter has arrived at work etc.
The Safety Score system worked quite well. I drove very sedately for a few days and tended to get around 70-80% so if you’re getting less than 30% then you’ll probably be driving like a complete lunatic. It’s this kind of info that some insurance companies use with the in-car black boxes collect. Again, the family can check this and it’s integrated within the trip reports so that you can see how well the car has been driven.
When I used to drink heavily, the “walk of shame” the next morning would usually involve me trying to fathom out where I’d abandoned my car. Likewise, in a big multi-storey car park or at a shopping centre, airport or long-stay railway carpark you may not remember where you parked your car. Here, with “Find my car” it’s easy to locate your car and then, combined with a small indicator showing your location, you can easily get yourself to it.
The Auto SOS feature is perhaps the most unique though. It’s a system that can be found in some quite expensive cars. It detects if you’ve been in a serious collision. A trained agent will then call you and your family to see if you’re OK. They’ll calmly relay all the important details about you, your car make, model, colour and where you are.
Here’s my video overview..
The interface on the app is easy to understand, the setup process is painless and the device works just as it should. All in all, for a loved one, a parent or a guardian, it’s a great way to know whether your car has been driven safely or if your significant other has arrived safely. Think of it as a “smart” car implant. It effectively lets you check on that car, whether the occupant is safe, how much it’s being driven, how it’s being driven, where it goes the most and also where it is at any point.
The £4 monthly fee feels about the right price although I would like to see it available for a bit less than the initial £85.
It’s a clever, innovative system and will hopefully benefit from further additional features soon enough.
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