I drive a 2003 Ford Ranger. It's reliable, sturdy, and I'll keep it till the wheels fall off, but it is not what you'd call "advanced." The digital displays and integrated electronics of today's cars and trucks put mine to shame, even with a decent aftermarket stereo. Dash, the first app from the eponymous developer and startup, aims to change that. This free app connects to an onboard diagnostics tool (OBD, compatible with most cars from the 90s onward) via Bluetooth to report statistics and other information in real time.

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Dash is a fancy dashboard that happens to sit on your phone instead of behind your steering wheel. Once it's connected to the OBD and set up, Dash can display basic route and mileage information while you're driving and where the cheapest gas in the area can be bought. Big deal - Google Maps will do most of that. But Dash gets really useful when things start going wrong, because it uses the same diagnostic sensors as most mechanics to get a basic look at what's happening inside your car. Translation: vehicular dunces like me can get a better idea of why the "check engine" light has gone off, and how much the repair will probably cost.

Dash isn't the first Android app to connect with the OBD system, but it is the most user-friendly, incorporating mileage and safety information into a simple score. The higher your score, the better and more efficient your driving. Naturally Dash connects to Facebook so you can "compete" with friends and family, but a more useful tool is the crash detector. If Dash determines that your car has been in an accident, it can automatically text someone an alert. A more everyday tool lets you see where you parked your car without having to remember to set an app.

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Dash should work with any OBD tool that uses Bluetooth. If you don't have one, the company lists two recommended models on its website, one bare-bones version for $10 and a more deluxe option for $70. At the moment Dash is getting a bit of a bad rap on the Play Store, almost exclusively from Europeans who are upset that their cars aren't listed and the display is only in imperial units. (For the record, the app description says that it's in beta and only intended for US users and vehicles for the time being.) The app and service are free, and it works with Android 4.0 or later.

via TechCrunch