For as long as there have been cars, there have been engineers, entrepreneurs and do-it-yourselfers devising ways to improve them. Whether it's making a vehicle faster, safer, more comfortable, better-looking or just more enjoyable to drive, adding aftermarket and custom parts to a car has always been a big part of the automotive lifestyle.
With the introduction of the iPhone 3G, Apple has brought a car-customization approach to consumer electronics by allowing anyone with programming skills and an innovative idea to develop third-party applications for the device. Via Apple's iTunes you can download everything from video games to guitar tuners for an iPhone or iPod touch, as well as dozens of cool car apps. While some live up to their promises better than others, most cost less than a gallon of gas and provide at least that much entertainment value. Here are just a few cool iPhone apps for your car.
Taking advantage of an accelerometer in the iPhone and iPod touch, the Dynolicious ($12.99) application documents 0-60-mph times within 0.08 of a second and monitors and records directional G-force. Enter your car's weight and estimated power and the app will calculate horsepower and drivetrain efficiency, and it also allows modifications to be noted and taken into account in testing.
gMeter ($8.99) measures forward and lateral Gs and can be used to compute velocity, distance traveled and engine power. It can also be set up to capture timed distance, timed speed and timed braking and has a hands-free auto-start feature.
g-tac ($4.99) is a less expensive alternative to the above apps that only records straight-line performance. It can be used to capture 0-60 and quarter-mile times, 60-0 stopping distance and acceleration G-force, while graphing allows comparing three separate runs.
DevToaster's Rev is a performance app that's currently under development (and the beta version is free). It can graph cornering, braking and acceleration Gs, and it uses the iPhone's built-in GPS to display acceleration and braking data on a map screen. With the addition of an interface, it can tap into a car's OBD-II port and display information such as vehicle speed, RPM, engine load and other parameters and allow you to check and reset engine and error codes.
If you're using the above performance-oriented apps, you'll probably be interested in Njection.com's speed-trap app ($9.99). Like its namesake Web site, Njection Mobile reveals speed traps for areas throughout the U.S. and displays them on the screen of an iPhone and issues voice notifications.
Green and Gas Apps
Everyone's concerned with fuel economy these days, and many people also want to know the impact their driving has on the environment. greenMeter ($5.99) addresses both of those concerns by measuring a car's engine power and fuel economy and can calculate fuel cost, carbon footprint and barrels of oil consumed to help you choose an efficient cruising speed.
AccuFuel ($.99) is another iPhone car app that allows you to see how your driving habits affect fuel-efficiency. While this is something anyone can do with a pen and paper, AccuFuel computes gas mileage according to the kind of car you drive, and it can keep track of multiple vehicles.
Once you've learned how to get the best gas mileage, you can find the cheapest fuel prices using the iGas app ($2.99). It shows the 10 lowest gas or diesel prices in a given area of the U.S. and also provides directions and the distance to each station.
And if you want to know which vehicle is most fuel-efficient before you buy, Auto Fuel Economics ($.99) compares the sticker price and fuel economy of two vehicles, taking into account current gas prices, the average number of miles driven per year and how long you plan to keep the car to calculate what it will cost to drive it, minus maintenance.
If you plan to lease a vehicle, calculating the ins and outs can be complicated for even the most astute car shopper. iLeaseMyCar ($.99) lets you plug in the variables and runs the numbers so you can quickly see what it will cost. And iLeaseMyCar Pro version ($1.99) adds "reverse" calculations to help determine what you are being charged for a car based on payment terms.
Mileage and Maintenance Apps
Every car owner's manual comes with a service-record section, and you can buy more detailed logbooks to record maintenance costs and other expenses. But the Car Care application ($4.99) allows you to keep tabs on your ride with just a few screen taps. It tracks oil changes and tire rotations as well as fuel economy.
Gas Cubby ($4.99) is another maintenance and mileage app that files fuel economy info and provides service reminders and records, while Trip Cubby ($9.99) from the same developer is designed for business road warriors who need to monitor mileage for expense purposes. It even allows you to log deductible expenses for multiple vehicles and drivers.
If you keep a paper accident-information form in your glovebox, you can toss it and rely on the iWrecked app ($.99) instead. It provides fields for recording all of the essential accident info: location, date, names and the insurance information of other drivers. And since you can also capture crash pics with your iPhone, you can also get rid of that bulky disposable camera you keep in case of an accident.
Dude, Where's My Car Apps
If you lose track of your car in complex multilevel parking structures, the Car Finder V1.1 ($.99) app will save you time, and perhaps embarrassment. Using the GPS capability built into an iPhone 3G, it lets you note the level you parked on and the car's location so you can get compass directions and use Google Maps to lead you back to it.
G-Park ($.99) is a more sophisticated app that also works with the original iPhone and iPod touch, although it's more accurate when used with the iPhone 3G. After parking, you press the app's Park Me button, and then when you're ready to return to your ride simply press the "Where Did I Park My Car" button and Google Maps provides turn-by-turn directions.
Car Spotter ($.99) only works with the iPhone 3G, but offers features such as a timer, camera log, audio recorder and a notes section. It also allows you to set the accuracy of the "pin drop" where you parked your car as well as adjusting the type, view and zoom level of the phone's GPS map.
Apropos Car Apps
When Ford's Model T was introduced 100 years ago, it revolutionized the automobile industry and forever changed society. But the bare-bones car didn't come with headlights or windshield wipers, and you could get it in any color you wanted as long as it was black. The drive to make cars like the Model T better led to thousands of innovations by everyone from engineers on automakers' payrolls to backyard tinkerers on a shoestring budget.
We won't go as far as saying iPhone and iPod applications will have the same impact on consumer electronics, but being able to hot-rod the devices has already led to hundreds of cool and useful applications. And iPhone car apps like the ones above allow owners to get even more out of their Apple gadgets — and more out of their cars.
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