If you'd love to have some of those fancy new connected car services, such as knowing where your vehicle is at all times, but don't have $40K for a new set of wheels, then you're in luck. Now there are two gadgets that you can plug into the OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostic System) port of any car built since 1996 and get tracking and vehicle status details on your smart phone (via apps for iOS and Android, of course).
The $170 Car Connection from Audiovox (pictured) and the $250 Vehicle Diagnostics by Delphi perform similar functions. If you want to follow the whereabouts of a loved one driving your car (not that we'd ever do that), these devices will send you alerts when the vehicle strays out of a particular area – so-called geofencing – or allow you to follow it live online via each company's respective website. Better still, these devices will text you should some unauthorized individual decide to liberate – or tow – your vehicle. Nanny features also sends you "excessive speed" e-mail warnings whenever your car exceeds 75 mph (again, not that we'd ever do such a thing). The devices also mark where you parked the car, so you and your wheels can be reunited.
Available from Verizon Wireless, the Delphi unit costs $249.99, but includes two years of service in the price ($5 a month thereafter); Audiovox is less expensive up front, but then requires a monthly $9.95 subscription, plus a one-time $19.95 activation fee, so over the course of two years, it's actually the more expensive (by $178.75) option. A less expensive option called Automatic Link is slated to appear later this summer. It's just $70 and doesn't require a subscription. However, the only way for it to track your car is via a Bluetooth-connected iPhone 4S or 5, which of course won't do you any good if someone else has absconded with your vehicle, rendering it almost pointless. For this reason, we think the $250 you would spend on Vehicle Diagnostics by Delphi is the best way to go for the DIY connected car upgrade. [$250, verizonwireless.com]