Whether or not the Taxi and Limousine Commission, local police departments, and overpriced mechanics love them, mobile car apps are already a fixture of our lives. The usefulness of a mapping app is where the conversation begins, but there is no telling what the future will bring when it comes to new apps for drivers or passengers.
What’s certain is that consumers are winning with the car apps that have hit the market. From the ability to receive bids on repair services to the cross-referencing and price checks you can manage when standing on a car dealer’s lot, many of the the murky aspects of car transactions have been brought out into the light. A consumer’s chances of being hoodwinked plummet accordingly. It’s also a lot easier to get around, avoid traffic, and find gas at the cheapest rates in town.
Here are 10 mobile car apps that qualify as must-haves for drivers and in most cases passengers along for the ride.
Not everyone sports gas-saving habits behind the wheel. Some of us sprint and stop, idle for extended periods to keep the AC going, or sprint toward (or past) the high end of the speed limit. These habits cut down on fuel economy and cost drivers considerable amounts of cash over the course of a year. The Dash app (or “Fitbit for Cars”) aims to reel in those gas-guzzling habits while offering tips on the “check engine” light and other issues that arise on the road.
Of course, you could just kick back with the owner’s manual to figure out why a check engine light has appeared. Everyone loves that process. The same goes for reading up on instructions for saving fuel. Dash closed both circles with a simple mobile solution.
There are so many vehicles available for purchase, and almost as many places to buy them. Apps like the one made by Cars.com allow you to harness the endless amounts of buying and selling information by searching within a price range, seller zip code, condition, make, and model year. Many websites offer this service, but the Cars.com mobile app allows you to get it done while you are standing in the vicinity of a car dealer, or on the lot itself. It works on iOS or Android phones, though the Android version has garnered better reviews over the years.
Maybe you didn’t like the last mechanic who fixed your car, or maybe the price sounded a little high. The Openbay app (iOS only) allows you to type in the problem and get quotes from garages in the area. An obvious advantage comes from the ability to compare prices without shops telling you the repair is impossible on your budget or time frame; another quality feature is the fact that you can authorize only a certain amount on your card so that a garage cannot jack up the price unexpectedly. Android users can access this service through the mobile site; an option that runs on both operating systems is Repairpal, though that only provides estimates for repairs and is exclusively a directory service and therefore does not accept payments.
Nothing could be more straightforward or useful. You are in a strange part of town and have no idea where to get gas. The pump you just passed seems high by any estimate; just off the main drag is the cheapest gas in town. Clicking on your GasBuddy app (Android, iOS, Windows) delivers a rundown of the local prices and gets you the best deal. It’s the type of service mobile Internet was meant to deliver. Frequent contributors who report and post gas prices earn rewards using the app, but everyone saves money with GasBuddy.
Waze is one of the best multitasking car apps available. Windows, Android, and iOS systems can work with Waze, which has the ability to report on cheap gas prices, help you navigate to your destination, and even work in social functions via connections to your Facebook friends. A unique feature of Waze are the real-time reports users post on traffic, accidents, and other disturbances along the route to your destination. If you had to have one app to get you to an unknown destination, Waze might be the call to make.
Though there is a mobile app available, Fuelly is a web app that allows drivers to track their fuel consumption using algorithms that can calculate a rough average fuel economy based on inputs like price per gallon, number of gallons, and number of miles since the driver’s last fill-up. Taking into account the size of the gasoline tank (the user plugs in the make and model of vehicle before getting started, the app will allow drivers to track how much money they’ve put in their tank, how many total miles they’ve driven, and how many fill-ups the driver has logged. The app is handy and all, but the real magic happens on the website to which the app directly interacts with.
Somewhere between five and 10 million downloads for the Android app alone tell the story of Trapster’s must-have status. Using this app, you can receive alerts that help you avoid traffic and tickets created by speed traps. Of course, speed traps may double as DUI checkpoints on any given night. This feature has drawn criticism as being an enabler for drinkers who want a warning as they approach a costly ticket and jail time. Advocates of the app say it helps remind people of law enforcement’s presence, reminding drivers of the need to proceed with caution.
How does an electric vehicle driver find a place for a charge during a long day of running the Tesla or Leaf? PlugShare has the nearest charging station listed, whether a Supercharger or CHAdeMO station is on your radar. This app comes in handy if you are going out to eat with a low battery or are parking on an appointment. The extra charge could eliminate the inconvenience and any range anxiety you happened to have on the day in question. PlugShare works for iPhones or Android devices and gets some of the highest user ratings you can find for an app in either operating system.
You need a four-wheel-drive SUV for the weekend but you drive a Ford Focus. You live downtown, where daily parking is expensive at best and impossible at worst. Enter Zipcar, the car-sharing service that allows you to rent vehicles by the hour or by the day. There are a la carte options or fixed-price memberships available if your driving habits are fairly regular, but drivers and people who don’t own a car should keep this app in the dock.
This company (and the app that mobile users access) will see more competition in the future. Rental agencies like Hertz and Enterprise already have versions of car sharing, but Zipcar is the easiest to use on the scene to date from a user standpoint. The one drawback to Zipcar is that you have to return the vehicle to the same location. Rental car companies still have the edge on that front with their much larger infrastructure.
The all-encompassing Google Maps mobile app is about as good as it gets in multitasking car service. Door-to-door navigation is always simple, even with estimates for walking from the parking lot around the corner included. While on the road, you get clear directions with two-mile warnings, followed by half-mile warnings and immediate alerts.
What is exceptional about Google Maps is its ability to harness the information from various apps in one. You will find reports from Waze users warning of issues along your route, tips on how to find cheaper gas in the vicinity, recommendations on restaurants, and any other use the search engine can deliver. The map can get busy to look at on the road, but eye contact with a phone on the road is a bad idea, anyway.