If you've ever wanted to peek inside the inner workings of your car or just see if the way you drive affects your fuel economy, here's your chance. Dash is an Android app (iOS coming soon) that connects with your car with a tiny piece of hardware to get data on your car's miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency, and your personal driving habits.
To gather that information, Dash connects with a onboard diagnostic (OBD) transmitter, a small device that plugs into a dedicated OBD port in your car and uses Bluetooth to send data to your phone. Every car model year 1996 and newer has one of these ports, which means even my 11-year old 2003 Suzuki Aerio, which has no more technology than a CD player in it, can use Dash. However, the app is only available in the US, for now.
I took Dash for a spin, driving my car like I usually do around the streets of San Francisco for weekend errands and the occasional out-of-town trip. The app proved to be a valuable tool not only for getting a feel for how much gas I use, but also as a way to gain insight into my driving habits -- and how I can improve them.
Setting up Dash is more involved than just downloading the app and creating an account, though you'll need to do that. You can create an account by signing in with Google+ or Facebook, or creating a unique username and password.
Once you get the app up and running, you'll need to get your hands on an onboard diagnostics dongle -- a device that can wirelessly transmit the data Dash needs to work. The company behind Dash will sell you a basic model for $10, or a higher-end $70 OBDLink LX.
You can also find OBD dongles on Amazon and in some auto supply stores for around $20. You don't need anything fancy, it just needs to have Bluetooth capabilities and to work with your Android phone -- the online product description will list if the OBD is compatible with your phone.
Next you need to find your OBD port in your car. The app will help you with this, but only if you head to the "My Garage" section of the app in the menu and add your vehicle make, model, and year information. On my Suzuki, the port was above my accelerator and Dash showed me a picture for reference (very helpful).
Plug in the dongle and then, following the manufacturer's instructions, pair it with your Android phone using Bluetooth. Once it's paired, open the Dash app and the app will automatically connect to the device. This may vary, but for me the whole setup process took less than 5 minutes.
Just a note that Dash only works with gasoline-powered cars. With hybrid, diesel, or all-electric vehicles, it will attempt to connect with your car, but the readings may be inaccurate and Dash won't work as advertised, according to the company.
Navigating the app
The Dash app has a simplistic, stylish design, which is one of its strengths. It's easy to glance at it and get the information you need, especially when driving -- though I don't recommend touching your phone while behind the wheel.
The main screen gives you a snapshot of your driving behavior and gives you helpful safety and driving tips, such as keeping your trunk empty to improve your miles per gallon. After you've taken your first trip, the main screen also shows your average Dash score and the number of miles you've driven with the app (more on that below).
Take to the road
Once you're all set up, start driving like you normally would and Dash will gather data about your car and how you drive.
As soon as you start moving, you'll get a verbal cue that Dash has started recording your trip. The app will show a miles-per-gallon gauge that adjusts in real time while you're driving. The information is helpful, but I don't recommend looking at it while driving. You'll get another cue when you end your trip. These voice alerts are cute and it's helpful to know that the app is working as it should, without needing to look at your phone.