How to control your smart home using your car

With the right devices and a little help from IFTTT, you can turn your smart home on and off using your car's ignition switch. Here's how.

Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
Expertise Smart home technology and wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
4 min read

Watch this: How to turn your smart home on and off using your car

Successful home automation is all about finding the right triggers. By trigger, I simply mean whatever it is that needs to happen in order for something else to happen automatically. The free Web service IFTTT sums it up nicely: If This, Then That.

With IFTTT, you can trigger automated recipes using things like motion detectors and temperature sensors, but one of my favorite triggers isn't a sensor at all -- it's my car's ignition switch. With the right device and a little help from IFTTT, I can use it to automatically turn my smart home off whenever I leave home, then back on just before I return.

Connect with these 35 IFTTT-friendly smart devices (pictures)

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Sound gimmicky? Think again. Unlike other triggers, such as motion detectors and open/closed sensors, my car's ignition actually distinguishes between coming (off) and going (on). It also isn't as prone to false activations, like those times when you step outside -- but only to check the mail.

Best of all, connecting your car with your home-automation scheme is a lot easier than you might think. Here's how to do it:

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Step 1: Get Automatic and sync up with your car

Automatic is a nifty little smart accessory for your car that costs about $100. After plugging it into your vehicle's data port, you'll be able to keep track of where you parked, monitor your fuel efficiency, and diagnose the reason for that pesky Check Engine light right from your smartphone. You can also enable free monitoring that's capable of alerting loved ones if you're ever in a crash.

To set this all up, you'll need to download the free Automatic app to your iOS or Android device, then follow the onscreen steps to create an account and sync your phone up with your car. The entire process takes just a minute or two.

You'll need to share your Automatic log-in info with IFTTT. IFTTT

Step 2: Activate the Automatic channel on IFTTT

Next, you'll need to head over to IFTTT on your computer or smartphone. After registering a free account, you'll want to go to Automatic's IFTTT channel and click the big blue Activate button. IFTTT will ask for the Automatic log-in info that you just established -- go ahead, type it in, then click Authorize App.

Voila! Just like that, you're ready to start using your car to trigger anything in IFTTT's increasingly vast channel lineup -- which takes us right to the big finish:

You'll need to tell IFTTT where "home" is, and also which WeMo Switch to turn on when you get there. IFTTT

Step 3: Craft your recipe

Head back to the IFTTT home page and log in: it's time to get crafty. To follow along, let's make a recipe that'll turn a Belkin WeMo Switch on whenever you get home.

To start, you'll click the "Create a recipe" button. Your first task is to select the "this" of your if-this-then-that recipe. Keep our goal in mind -- if you turn off your car near home, then the WeMo Switch should turn on. The "if this" is the car turning off, and the "then that" is the switch turning on.

That's exactly what we'll tell IFTTT. Click on the big blue "this," then choose the Automatic channel (channels are listed alphabetically, so it'll be right up near the top). Next, IFTTT will ask you for the specific trigger you want to use. We want "ignition turned off in area." The "in area" is important, because we only want this recipe to run when we turn the car off near home. To that end, IFTTT will ask you to find the area you want on a map -- center your home in the middle of the circle, then click "Create Trigger."

The finished recipe. IFTTT

That does it for the "this" -- now it's time for the "that." Click the big blue "that" in our half-baked recipe, then scroll down and select the WeMo Switch channel. For the action (the counterpart to the trigger), select "Turn On," then tell it which switch you want (mine is named "Living Room Switch"). IFTTT will give you a final summary of your recipe. If everything looks right, then click "Create Recipe" to finish.

You're done! Now, whenever you turn your car off within close proximity of your home, that WeMo Switch will turn on. To get it to turn back off when you leave, simply craft the same recipe again, but change all the "ons" to "offs" and vice versa.

First Look - Belkin WeMo Switch + Motion
The IFTTT-friendly Belkin WeMo Switch is a great fit for Automatic-based car control, but you've got lots of other options, too. Ry Crist/CNET

I use this trick to turn an entertainment center that's loaded with gizmos on and off as I come and go. To control all of it from one switch, I just plug all of my devices into a power strip, then plug the power strip into a WeMo Switch. That way, they aren't leeching power in their passive states when I'm not home. You don't have to go the same route though -- you could automate a lamp with this trick, or a fan or an air conditioner -- anything with a plug on it, really.

Don't have a WeMo Switch? Other IFTTT-friendly smart devices include Philips Hue LEDs , Quirky's connected power strip , and all SmartThings -compatible lights, switches, and locks. Programming IFTTT to lock the door whenever you leave seems like an especially smart safety net for those days when you leave in a hurry and forget to lock up. Plus, you'll never have to worry about the recipe leaving you locked out, since you need to have your keys in order for it to work.

Whatever your home-automation setup, now you know how to get your car involved. Give it a shot, and let us know what recipes you come up with.