Mobile data connections are making a big change in how we handle car maintenance and management, as just about every car company will offer some sort of telematics service even in economy cars. These services will let you check your car's status using a smartphone app from almost anywhere in the world.
If you want to retrofit an older car with telematics capability, Audiovox can make it happen with its Car Connection, a device that plugs into a car's OBD-II port and sends data to a central server.
The Audiovox Car Connection is similar to theI reviewed recently, but comes in at a lower price, has a better physical design, and includes different capabilities. As it requires an OBD-II port, the Car Connection only works in cars from 1996 and later.
Through the Car Connection Web site, you can see your car's current location, fuel economy information, engine health, and a driving coach. There is also an associated smartphone app with limited functionality.
The Audiovox Car Connection device includes a GPS chip and wireless data transmitter wrapped in glossy black plastic. One end terminates in a standard OBD-II plug, which fit easily into my car's port. The other end is rounded and has an LED status light on its face.
Unlike Delphi, Audiovox does not include an OBD-II extension cable, but the Car Connection hinges in the middle, letting you adjust it so as not to intrude in a car's footwell. I liked that design, as my car has the OBD-II port on the transmission tunnel in the passenger footwell. The placement of OBD-II ports varies widely between carmakers and models.
Plug it in
Setup was very simple. After creating an account on the Car Connection Web site, I merely had to plug the device into the car and leave it for at least an hour. The LED status light on the module blinks green when it connects to the car and its external server, or red if the connection fails. Of course, the car has to be in an open area with a mobile data connection.
When the connection was active, I was able to log in to the Web site and the smartphone app to see information about my car.
Fortunately, at least for the purposes of testing, my car's Check Engine light was on. Although I suspected the reason, the Car Connection confirmed there was a problem with the engine's oxygen sensor. Still, 99 percent of car owners, myself included, won't be able to fix this problem, so the alert is of questionable use. An honest mechanic will diagnose the problem and fix it for you. My car also had its ABS warning light on, due to a bad wheel-speed sensor, but the Car Connection offered no information about that issue.
The Car Connection Web site let me set maintenance reminders for everything from windshield washer refilling to timing belt replacement. However, these notifications are merely based on mileage, not on any specific alert from the car.
I liked that I could choose which notifications to activate, and whether each would come as an e-mail, text message, or both.
One of the primary features of the Car Connection is car location tracking. When the car is running, it updates its location every 5 minutes, and hourly when the car is parked. On the Web site, I could choose any particular day and see where my car went, something of particular use for parents who let their kids take the car out.
Along similar lines is the geofencing feature, called Safety Zones on the Web site. With this feature, I set a region and gave it a label. Whenever the car left that area, the Web site recorded an alert and I could have a notification automatically sent to my phone.