Automatic Smart Driving Assistant review

Automatic is a smart driving assistant that pairs with the Automatic app for iPhone in order to give you information about fuel economy, driving safety, and more. Simply plug the Automatic unit into your car, pair it with your iPhone, and start driving. It really is as simple as it sounds. But does it provide the information you want and need? Follow along to find out!

Setting up the Automatic system with your car couldn't be any easier. Just download the free companion app from the App Store and launch it. You'll be walked through plugging it in to connecting it to your iPhone via Bluetooth. Once you're connected, you're good to go.

One of the first things Automatic asks you to do is select contacts to use for their Crash Alert service. This feature uses the built-in accelerometer of the Automatic to detect several types of crashes. A dispatcher for Crash Alert then calls emergency services and reaches out to your contacts in the order you've chosen them. This feature alone will be worth it for a lot of people, especially parents with new teen drivers.

As for other features of Automatic, it can track your fuel economy and estimate not only what you're spending on a weekly basis, but on a trip by trip basis. It then tells you what you're getting miles per gallon wise based on how you're driving.

Automatic also gives you a driving score. Each week your score is based on an average of all your trips. Your score is dinged for things like going too fast (70 miles per hour and above), accelerating too quickly, and breaking too rapidly. One feature I don't care for when it comes to scoring is being dinged for going over 70. I know that within the city you don't need to be but we have a lot of highways around us where the speed limit is 70. If Automatic could detect highways and not ding you for actually going the speed limit, that'd be a welcome update.

Your trip log in the Automatic app tracks every trip, lets you name places you've been, and more. Once you've tagged places Automatic knows them later on and records them as such. I just wish you could expand trip maps to a larger view. As it currently sits, they're very hard to read since they're so small.

One of my favorite features of Automatic aside from the Crash Alert service is the ability to view check engine codes as well as clear the indicator. This can save you a trip to your local Auto Zone as well as give you some information on what you can expect when visiting your mechanic. You can even search for a nearby mechanic right within he check engine screen if you need to.

The good

  • Easy setup and install
  • Crash Alert automatically dispatches emergency services if you get into an accident, and reaches out to your emergency contacts on your behalf
  • Makes you more conscious of fuel economy, and can potentially cause you to save money
  • Lets you check engine codes and clear the indicator on your own

The bad

  • No way to export mileage logs which is incredibly disappointing — I'd really like to ditch using a separate app or paper log for this
  • Can't expand trip log maps and they're incredibly tiny and hard to read
  • The noise the Automatic makes when you do something it considers bad is incredibly startling — I've actually turned it off
  • The 70 mph limit has no way of knowing when you're on a highway where the limit is 70

The bottom line

The Crash Alert feature alone makes Automatic worth the money in my opinion. Having the ability to keep tabs on driving habits is an added bonus. However, if you're looking to ditch mileage logs you'll unfortunately have to wait a bit longer as Automatic doesn't have an export feature just yet.

Even though I'd highly recommend Automatic already, there's still a lot of functionality I'd like to see make its way to the app such as exporting mileage logs and better map views for trips.

Allyson Kazmucha

Editor for iMore, Potter pundit, and the ninja in your iOS

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There are 48 comments. Add yours.

hnorman41 says:

You can export mileage logs using an IFTTT recipe that creates a line in a Google Docs spreadsheet for every trip.

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PilotConway says:

I came here to say just that. The IFTTT integration is pretty awesome.

Allyson Kazmucha says:

Never thought of this. Thanks! I'd still like to see it natively though - and with the ability to break out personal and business trips with labels or tags.

David Hroncheck says:

Automatic's blog talks up iBeacons with auto-pay for tolls, parking, etc, drawn from an Automatic account. Also like how it logs your parking location to the app.

John Doe82 says:

I came here for the same purpose. Just love IFTTT and Automatic paring.

Skywalkerdrive says:

The Automatic is also currently $79 at Best Buy if you're thinking about picking one up.

John Doe82 says:

Use this link and get one for 80$: I think it is good for 4/5 clicks
https://www.automatic.com/order/?ref=ATUL113

ccppl208 says:

Want to Len hck

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IIJBII says:

I actually picked one of these up yesterday. I have to say for the price I think it's well worth it. After using it for a day I'm impressed. Sure it could do more, and it may in the future, but at $79-$99 it's well worth it to me.

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SirIra says:

Driving a car with OnStar makes Crash Alert redundant. The trip computers in most cars give you some sense of gas milage. The remaining functions make it pretty expensive for the unique functions it provides.
Just my opinion.

IIJBII says:

I prefer the data on my phone. Also, if I'm not mistaken you pay a premium for a vehicle with onstar and I think there's a monthly fee?

Allyson Kazmucha says:

Correct. And I agree.

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SirIra says:

All GM vehicles have OnStar. They come with a trial subscription. After that, there is a subscription fee. There is an OnStar app that is not as comprehensive as this device app but provides much of the basic information. Comes down to personal preference I guess. There are pluses and minuses to both solutions.

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adammiarka says:

Would love to use this, but doesn't work on diesels (Golf TDI). :-(

mulasien says:

Heck, some places in the western US actually have 75mph speed limits on the highways. The app would be then going nuts for actually going the speed limit. Big oversight.

davecotter says:

I have one of these things and despite them telling me it won't drain my battery, it does seem to have done exactly that. I don't drive my car much, maybe once a month, and then only down to the store or something. So it was important to me that it have a "zero power draw" mode. They assured me it would never drain my battery, so i bought it, connected it, and then my battery drained. Now my battery is so flat it won't take a charge. I can't empirically prove that this device is the culprit, maybe i have a slow current leak somewhere, but the circumstantial evidence is strong, and i'm sad.

IIJBII says:

Not driving your car much could be the problem, not the device. Your battery will lose a charge just sitting (like all batteries). Thing like weather can impact the charge and the alternator is what charges them. This requires driving.

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Allyson Kazmucha says:

Agreed. Driving once a month is the culprit. And sorry but why would you need this if you only drive once a month?

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IIJBII says:

Exactly. I'm surprised how many people seem to dislike this product for whatever reason. It's not like this is $500. They are just staring out w a solid product at a very reasonable price.

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davecotter says:

I only dislike it when a seller tells you it won't drain a battery, when in fact it will. I did tell him i don't drive it much, and he said it should *still* be okay. But now i have to buy a new battery.

IIJBII says:

You already said you can't prove it was caused by the Automatic device.... Now you go on a rant blaming it? Return the device, get your money back and buy a new battery. No need to bash it when you don't TRULY know if it had anything to do w it.

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davecotter says:

wow dude, someone piss in your cheerios? I'm not bashing. I'm saying "it was fine before this device, it failed after this device". you draw your own conclusion, i drew mine, and I was careful to be clear about what was and was not provable. seems like you missed your meditation today.

davecotter says:

IIJBII, i'd like to apologize for my snarky remark. You DO have a valid point in that yes, i can NOT prove unequivocally that the device WAS the cause of the drain, so i have to give that to you. Also, frankly, i rather love this little thing, i love the data it gives me, i love how it beeps at me if i accidentally go too fast, etc. I just thought my experience should be shared, so others might pay a bit better attention than I did. I'll just keep it unplugged 'till i use it.

dbareis says:

"should" is not "will". You probably needed a new battery in the first place.

davecotter says:

It's not a need at all, i'm a geek. I have tons of electronics i don't "need" but are cool to have. When i take a road trip (and I do) i like to see the stats.

davecotter says:

I had been fine for years, leaving my car to sit for a month at a time (it's usually less than that in reality). It only failed *after* i plugged in this device.

IIJBII says:

That's what happens w batteries.

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TacomaJustin says:

Why spend the money on a device like this if you only make a short drive to the store once a month??

davecotter says:

That is my *typical* usage. I also take road trips several times a year, that's when it comes in handy / fun. Did i mention I have dozens of techy gadgets that I use only occasionally, but when I do use them, i'm pretty stoked about it?

Gsarfin says:

Lots of highways with a speed limit of 75 here in Texas, with many toll roads having even higher limits. That would annoy the crap out of me. As for the price, with crash notifications and code reading/clearing, that alone is worth the price! A cheap dedicated code scanner will run you around $50 and not let you clear the code. A scanner that will clear the codes often run closer to $100 or more!
If this thing could do the few things mentioned in the article in the future I will buy one for each car for sure! (I don't have onstar and don't plan on buying an onstar equipped vehicle anytime soon, or subscribing to the service if I did buy a vehicle so equipped)

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richard451 says:

your prices are way off. a cheap scanner that will let you clear the codes will run about $20 total (hardware and app).

Gsarfin says:

I was talking about in brick and mortar stores. In my area, the prices I mention are correct. (http://m.autozone.com/autozone-mobile/en/accessories/Tools-Garage-and-Eq... one example, please note the lowest priced scanner for $29.99 is ODB1 only).
True, you can find some cheaper on amazon or on eBay, but the average Joe blow isn't going to think about wanting a code scanner until their check engine light comes on and they panic... Only to find they left their fuel filler cap off when fueling up last time. As the guy at the autozone reads the code and asks them to check their fuel cap, the guy will feel embarrassed, and while buying a replacement fuel cap may buy a code scanner to avoid the embarrassment next time. I've seen it happen.

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richard451 says:

hmm. A $15 odb2 bluetooth adapter with a $60-$80 piece of software. This seems like an extreme rip off since iOS odb2 software is free (roqyOBD7). iMore readers should be aware of this.

IIJBII says:

Do you have one? You can develop one of these for less then the $79.99 I paid? Great, I'll buy one from you but will be just as critical. I think as consumers we tend to spew our digital opinions way too freely without backing them up. How can you say this is a ripoff? Have you created a similar company/products and brought it to market? I have one an so far really like it. I feel the price is very reasonable and have no issue supporting new companies/technology. Sure, it doesn't rub my feet when driving, but it's new and they've said more features will be added... I'm curious how many people bashing this actually have it.

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richard451 says:

The adapters are sold on amazon and the apps are on the apple and cydia app stores. I'm not sure why you think people would need to develop one of their own and I'm also at a loss as to why you are so angry over this.

euisung says:

While I enjoyed your review of automatic very much, may I suggest a follow up in a few more months? I've been using it for 6 months now and I feel a bit differently from my earlier impression which is pretty much same as yours. Beeping sound was annoying, and so was 70mph limit. Logging, engine diagnosis and crash alert were the major attraction.

But now I have to say that the annoyance was the real deal for me. I still hear beeps for hard accel/breaking/70mph but much less, and not coincidentally so is my fuel expenditure. Avoiding to hear the beep has a bit of gamification side that made me drive smoother and drive under 70mph, which is not about speed limit but fuel efficiency, and overall I'm saving about $50/months on my fuel cost and has more than paid for the $100 dongle.

And my favorite aspect of Automatic is that it works for you almost subconsciously. First few months I was constantly checking my logs on the app, but now I rarely even open the app. (app runs in the background) I don't think about it anymore because it kind of blended into my car, which after 10 years of usage got smarter all of sudden.

Dragonfyre19 says:

I like that you are addressing the 70mph limit and it's effect on fuel consumption. The 70mph limit has nothing to do with the speed limit on the highways, but with fuel efficiency. It's no secret that the faster you go, the more fuel you burn and the lower you MPG will be. That is the goal of the software, to get drivers higher fuel efficiency. Dropping 5 mph can save you a fair chunk of change over a few months (as you have found out).

Besides, the speed limit is just that, an upper limit. Just because the limit is 70mph doesn't mean you HAVE to drive 70mph. You can drive 60 or 65 and get better fuel mileage, you'll just aggravate the people behind you.

Gsarfin says:

I get that it's about fuel economy, not speed limit, but then why 70? Why not 65, or even the old federal limit of 55? When I'm on the highway on a road trip, 90% of the time in doing between 70-80mph, and that's usually at or below the speed limit. If you're not going to do the speed limit for the sake of fuel savings, for fuck sakes keep your ass in the right lane so I can pass you. My biggest pet peeve when driving is 2 drivers side by side doing the same speed at 5-15mph BELOW THE LIMIT for 10 miles or more. Shit or got off the pot! Here in Texas, the left lane is for passing only.
Now if this thing had gps and was accurate enough to handle it, an even more annoying buzz for being in the left lane going SLOWER than the speed limit would be priceless!!!

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euisung says:

I believe 70 comes from average statistics of peak of fuel efficiency, that if you go over 70mph fuel economy drastically drops for most of the cars. Although I hope that they would start putting together a database of optimal fuel efficiency speed for individual cars.

crankerchick says:

Thank you for pointing out that the 70 mph beep is NOT about speed limits, but about fuel economy. It IS bad for your fuel economy to drive 70 mph, even if it is the speed limit, and that's what this app is attempting to help with--improving fuel economy. The reviewer should not ding the app and device for doing what it is supposed to do.

That said, I wish the speed at which it beeps could be adjusted. I do want to drive 70 mph, and I know that my fuel economy will suffer. I don't want the beep. However, I do want to know when I'm driving 80 mph, because then my fuel economy is even worse, and I want to slow down. I'm comfortable knowing my fuel economy is suffering at 70mph and driving that speed anyway. I don't really need to drive 80, though, and would like to be reminded that I'm hurting my wallet even worse at that speed.
The app should still determine score as it does, and ding me for driving over 70 (and ding me even more for over 80, etc), but I'd like to be able to adjust the speed of the audible tone rather than turn it off completely.

Robert Hancock says:

I've been using one of these units for 8 months. If you are expecting to get real-time data output such as engine temperature/output, true mpg, etc., from Automatic, it would be a mistake to buy this now. Real-time data is promised as on the short list by the developers but has been a long time not coming. Other downsides are that there is no way to manually input the actual price paid for gas depending on fuel grade, so journey cost estimates are only very rough ballpark. If you want something that gives an approximate end of journey overview (as an arbitrary driving index) of how you have driven in terms of hard brakes, hard accelerations and speeds over 70 mph, which can help save gas, Automatic is the device for you. However, if you are an engine data head, it probably isn't right now.
The mapping functions seem solid. The iBeacon and IFTTT functions have potential for the long term.
In short, Automatic is a nice idea waiting for a V. 2 software upgrade to really make it useful and cost-effective.

hannibal1209b says:

I just took my Automatic back yesterday. I used it for about 2 weeks. When it worked, it worked as advertised. But that is really the issue I had. For the last 3 days I had it, the bluetooth connection would drop somewhere during my trip. So the result was I would lose all of that data. It seems to have an issue when you are also streaming bluetooth audio. Even though the company says this works, I had mixed results with it. I also don't like that there is no memory onboard to at least save the last trip just in case something does go wrong with the phone app. It has great potential, but it needs more refinement before I can use it.

euisung says:

Dongle has a memory onboard that records hard breaks and accells even when phone is not connected and downloads to phone next time phone is connected. Data will be used for calculating scores although it won't be logged as a trip because no corresponding gps data was provided via phone.

I had initial problem with missing trips and was going back and forth with their support a lot to get particular bug that was affecting my use case. After a few app update and firmware update it has been quite solid and I only occasionally open up apps to check my trips.

Tucker Patterson says:

I have been using it for a few weeks now. Great device. It lets you pull codes from multiple cars and help show you (and others) how well or poor of a driver you are. Use this link to save $20. https://www.automatic.com/order/?ref=TUCK499

Tucker Patterson says:

I have been using it for a few weeks now. Great device. It lets you pull codes from multiple cars and help show you (and others) how well or poor of a driver you are. Use this link to save $20

Tucker Patterson says:

I have been using it for a few weeks now. Great device. It lets you pull codes from multiple cars and help show you (and others) how well or poor of a driver you are. Use this link to save $20 https://www.automatic.com/order/?ref=NADI859

John Doe82 says:

The link above has expired, use this one instead: https://www.automatic.com/order/?ref=ATUL113
Does the same thing, save $20.