The saying that the best things in life are free is true, at least for high-tech applications — apps– that make driving smarter, safer and less expensive. Here are some of the best freebies to download to your smartphone.
Trapster (trapster.com) is an app version of a radar detector, telling you where the police speed traps are. This may sound counter-intuitive, but this app actually is supported by many police departments who want you to know where the speed traps are, so you’ll slow down and drive more safely. It’s one of the most popular downloads, with more than six million users.
Skobbler (skobbler.com) offers the same kind of voice-assisted turn-by-turn navigation found in new vehicles, so it’s a great tool for older cars with no navigation system, or older systems that aren’t able to talk to you. Usually, aftermarket devices with such detailed mapping are $149 or more, but Skobbler uses free open-source mapping, and the download is free.
Poynt (poynt.com) is a new app that helps drivers find people, movies, businesses, restaurant and gas stations. It searches for service stations by price or location. Click on the one you want and Poynt gives you directions.
Cheap Gas (cheapgas.com) lists stations in order of price, not by distance, so it takes a bit of scrolling to find the one closest to you, although everything it brings up is within 10 miles. Tap on an entry to bring up the prices for regular, unleaded, premium unleaded and diesel.
If you want to refuel with bio-diesel, E85, hydrogen, natural gas, propane, or electricity for your plug-in electric, the U.S. Department of Energy has a free app listing the nearest refueling stations and their business hours. Find it at http://apps.usa.gov/alternative-fuel-locator
Weatherbug (weatehrbug.com) isn’t exactly a driving app, but it’s an ideal tool for long-range trips, such as to Grandma’s house for the holidays. Weatherbug gives you the local weather and road conditions for where you are headed, which can help you prepare for icy road conditions.
If you are in the market for a new car, the apps from both NADA Guides (nadaguides.com) and Edmunds (edmunds.com) let you build options and compare the prices of various models you are considering before you step into a showroom.
Beginning with the 2011 models, Chrysler is offering free owner’s manuals in app version to replace the thick book that used to be stuffed into the glove box. Chrysler plans to have app manuals available for all its new Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep and Ram Truck models by the end of 2010.
Gas Cubby (gascubby.com) tracks gas mileage, gas costs and vehicle maintenance, including sending you a reminder when it’s time for an oil change or tire rotation. The app can support multiple vehicles if you are a two-car family, and also converts to international miles per gallon units for Canada and Europe. It costs $4.99, but there’s a free version if you’re willing to put up with advertisements on your smartphone.
We’ve all forgotten at one time or another where we parked the car. Take Me to My Car (takemetomycar.com) syncs with Google maps to help you locate yours. Carr Matey (carrmatey.com) also leads you back to your misplaced ride, but makes a game out of it. The double-R in Carr is a play on the app’s pirate theme, which marks your car’s location with an icon of an anchor and searches with an icon of binoculars. Vehicle finder apps like this work best if your lost car is parked outdoors, not deep inside a concrete lot at an airport or shopping mall where GPS doesn’t reach.
Some newer on-board information systems, such as Ford’s SYNC, let you sync the contacts and music on your smartphone, but not necessarily the apps. Please note: for safety’s sake while driving, keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, not on your smartphone’s keypad or screen. — Evelyn Kanter, Motor Matters
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010