Yes, I said that this car app can save you thousands. Of dollars. I really said that. Even better, I believe it. Many of my long-time readers know that I was raised in the auto industry and that it was my first career. It’s also something I still do to this day, but only for friends and family now.
It’s Like a Fitbit for Your Car
I made passing reference to a piece of wearable tech called the Fitbit earlier this year in my article on the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. A Fitbit is a wristband/watch that communicates with an app on your mobile device and tracks your fitness.
This particular device/car app isn’t designed to help you diagnose problems with your body or track your fitness regime. This car app, called Drivebot, is designed to help you keep your car in tiptop health.
How Does This Car App Work?
It’s time for me to put my mechanic’s hat on for a moment. Every car made after 1996 has a computer that controls pretty much everything. Your car has numerous sensors, triggers, and switches that send information to the computer or react to commands from the computer. If/When one of these sensors, switches, or triggers goes bad it tells the computer or sends faulty data that the computer interprets as a problem with that device.
The computer will then do one of two things: If the problem is with the emissions control system or will seriously affect drivability, the computer will “set the Check Engine Light (CEL) (Also known as “Setting a code.)” If the problem is relatively minor, although it may affect drivability, it won’t set a code or light the CEL light.
On cars with older computers, in order to find out what information had been stored, you had to go through a series of key on/key off/connector shorting steps. This would cause the CEL light on the dash to blink. The number of blinks gave you the code and then you had to go look up what that code meant.
Newer cars (made after 1996) are equipped with a newer computer, the OBDII (OnBoard Diagnostics II) computer. To “pull the codes” with this type of computer, you need an expensive scanner (so expensive that I don’t own one.) Drivebot takes the place of the expensive scanner. Just plug it in and it queries the computer for the stored problem codes (Also known as diagnostic codes).
Drivebot is Better Than the Scanners
It’s true. The Drivebot setup is better than the expensive scanners, for the average driver. First, it’s less than $100, whereas you can sink up to $10,000 into a good scanner. Second, instead of telling you something like P103: Bank 2 Low O2, the Drivebot tells you what’s wrong in language that you don’t need 20 plus years of auto-related experience to understand. I’ll admit, even professional mechanics like me have trouble deciphering the codes and what they mean at times.
These aren’t the only reasons the Drivebot is better than professional scanner: Without it, you have to wait until your car starts performing poorly or won’t run, and then you have to get it to shop with a scanner to diagnose it. Drivebot gives you real-time data and instantly alerts you via the app when something is wrong. This lets you catch problems before they get bug and expensive.
Drivebot also gives you some hints on how to correct the problem it has detected. My bosses’ scanners never did that, no matter how expensive and fancy they were; we had to make that determination ourselves.
One of the examples given on the Indiegogo page for Drivebot shows a woman with a stalled out car. Her Drivebot is telling her the computer is reporting a P0442 code, pertaining to what is known as the EVAP system on her car. It also tells her some simple steps to rectify the problem. I have to go to my huge and expensive technical manual to find out those steps, or I have to know them from memory.
What Else Can Drivebot Do?
Remembering scheduled automotive maintenance can be a pain at times. Did I have my oil changed last month or two months ago? When is that timing belt due to be changed? Drivebot puts all this information at your fingertips.
Drivebot can also help you route your travels more efficiently to save time and money. Have a habit of jackrabbit starts? Drivebot will recommend ways to help you save fuel and money. For those that have to drive for work, the car app also allows you to export travel data to a file that can be emailed to payroll or whatever department handles travel reimbursements.
How Do I Install Drivebot?
Installing and using Drivebot is easy: Simply install the app, plug the device in, pair it with your phone, and drive. The dongle and app immediately start collecting data and monitoring the health of your car. The Drivebot app also supports multiple cars and separates them using profiles.
I have to mention that not every car will support all the features of Drivebot. They don’t mention which ones, but my experience tells me that most Volkswagens won’t be able to support all the features due to differences in how they write their code for the computer. Although the diagnostics port is the same, VW specifies their own proprietary diagnostic scanner to diagnose all possible problems. I may be wrong, but I don’t think I am. Newer Volkswagens are a pain to work on, except for brakes and suspension issues. I send drivability problems to specialty shops.
All in all, even though this is something that looks to help put me out of business (at least new car repairs), I can wholeheartedly endorse this product. Happy driving!