The check engine light can be as mysterious as these other lights

Check Engine Light 101

So your Check Engine Light (CEL) came on. For a lot of people this light is a mystery and hints at some unseen danger in the guts of your car. Others ignore it until it goes away, or just let it stay on.

The Check Engine Light (also known as the Malfunction Indicator Light) exists to notify a driver that the engine computer has noticed a problem and requires attention. The on-board diagnostics system and engine control unit are in charge of monitoring a bunch of things like car emissions, and if they get a signal that’s abnormal, it triggers the CEL.

We get a lot of questions about the CEL in the Automatic customer community. There is some uneasiness surrounding this indicator that we believe stem from a few misconceptions.

Our goal is to make sure you’re informed and that you are able to have a good conversation with your mechanic if you need to. Let’s try to clear some of these up!

Misconception: “A code reader tells you the exact problem.”

While a DTC tool can give you an idea, you should still check with a mechanic.

While a DTC tool can give you an idea, you should still check with a mechanic.

A reading of a CEL trouble code can be confusing because the trouble code is only one piece of information, a single symptom of a possibly larger problem. Imagine going to WebMD with a headache, and trying to figure out what it means – a headache can mean anything! If it’s bad enough, you probably need to go see a doctor. This is the same for your car. Engine codes should be diagnosed by a professional, but identifying and understanding the symptoms can help you be comfortable talking with your mechanic.

If you’d like to know more about codes you might see, here’s a FAQ from that discusses codes in depth.

Misconception: “Clearing the light clears the problem.”

Clearing the light over and over might get you into real trouble.

Clearing the light over and over might get you into real trouble.

When the CEL comes on, some technicians will clear the light once before attempting to fix the problem. This is fine for you to do, too. It’s possible that the light was triggered accidentally. If the light comes back on, figure out what the problem is and fix it if you can. Clear the light and check it again. However, if it comes back on, it’s time to call the mechanic.

Some people like to continually clear the light and put off checking in with a mechanic. This isn’t your best bet because ignoring the problem might make it worse – sometimes substantially.

Make sure you can retrace your steps: what code did your scanner report? What did you try to do to fix a problem? Did it work? Keeping track of your steps will be useful when talking to your mechanic.

You can read more about this topic in the Automatic community.

Misconception: “The CEL gives information related to all problems with your car.”

Check engine lights only tell you one thing: something's up and you should check it out.

Check engine lights only tell you one thing: something’s up and you should check it out.

This is not the case, and that’s actually a good thing! The CEL gives you just emissions related issues. Lights related to airbags, maintenance, ABS, tire pressure, and car batteries are different from the CEL. If you had to rely on one light to tell you all your problems, it’d be annoying to figure out where to begin. With the different lights on your dash, you can at least know where to start looking.

These are some of the misconceptions, but not all of them.

Don’t fret if your CEL comes on*, just make sure you know what’s happening inside your vehicle as soon as you can. You’ll need a scan tool/code reader (like Automatic) to give you the rundown.

*Note: If your CEL is blinking while your engine is running, it means you’re doing “mechanical damage” to your vehicle if you continue to drive under these conditions. If this happens, you should seek immediate professional advice.

Looking for more resources? We can help. Ian, our resident automotive engineer, also suggests checking out these resources if you’d like to learn more about CEL/MIL or OBD-II.

Any other questions? Ask us!


Fueling Up

Just a few short weeks after launching the Automatic App Gallery and Developer Platform, we’re back with more big news: Automatic just closed a Series B round of $24M, bringing our total funding to $32M.

Since Automatic launched in 2013, we’ve been fortunate to receive tremendous interest from companies across the automotive industry. As we talked to many of these companies, they offered to invest in us to make sure we had the necessary resources to support them. We all know that the auto industry doesn’t exactly evoke feelings of trust, loyalty, and amazing customer service for many people. We only wanted to accept money from companies that shared these values with us.

Luckily we found them.


We’re proud to announce that our Series B round is being led by USAA, one of the most respected brands in the financial services (and possibly any) industry. USAA has a legendary reputation for customer service. From year to year, 98% of its members stay with USAA, something we look to with great respect and admiration.

They’re also a proven innovator in the financial services space. If you’ve taken a photo of a check to deposit it, thank USAA because they invented that. USAA has almost 11 million members and we’re thrilled that they picked Automatic to help them deliver amazing experiences to their members.



Also participating in this funding round is CDK Global, the leader in digital marketing and dealer management system for the automotive industry. With CDK software powering 27,000 car dealerships globally and 6 of the top 10 dealer groups in the U.S., almost every car owner regularly interacts with CDK technology but is not aware of it.

CDK is an important partner we’re working with to build a seamless connected car experience for everyone. We look forward to collaborating with them to improve the car sales, repair and maintenance experience for millions of car owners, something that hasn’t changed much since the birth of the automotive industry.

We’ll take this opportunity to thank our always-supportive early investors: RPM Ventures, Y Combinator, Anthemis Group, Amicus Capital; and our newer investors, Comcast Ventures and Lumia Capital. We’re also fortunate to have the advice and support of prominent angel investors like Gary Clayton, Mark Goines, Jared Kopf, Rob Chandhok, Jeff Bonforte, and Dave Pell.

Funding is fuel to let us think big. We’re very happy to have the most influential and trusted brands in the automotive industry as investors and we look forward to building great things with their support.

Now, back to work!

rideshare drivers losing money

3 Ways Rideshare Drivers Lose Money

Rideshare drivers, what if we told you that the rideshare company apps, GPS technology, and 3rd party apps that allow you to earn money also stop you from getting all the money you deserve? Naturally, as a car company, we want to fix auto technology problems for every driver on the road, but especially for people that drive in order to make a living.

With our sights set on the problems rideshare drivers face, we knew that we could tag team with companies like SherpaShare to help solve some of the problems. SherpaShare is a free online financial and analytics dashboard that rideshare drivers can use to track their earnings and expenses, work efficiently between multiple services and track total working mileage.

The big question remains: “How is this technology hurting rideshare drivers?”

Let’s take a look.

Rideshare apps aren’t counting all of your miles

Rideshare drivers can deduct miles even with no passenger

You’re still driving around while waiting for riders


Fun fact: did you know that the IRS actually lets you deduct for all the miles that you work? The problem is, rideshare company apps have driver summaries that only show the number of miles you earn while you have a passenger! What about all of those miles you drive picking people up, or what about when you’re waiting for a rider? Those miles add up, and it’s costing you.

SherpaShare built data from Automatic into their apps so that you can make sure that you get the all the miles you drove the entire time you were driving on the job.

GPS is dumb, and it’s making you work harder

Not even this stock photo model can handle the fake trips

Not even this stock photo model can handle the false trips

GPS can’t tell the difference if you are riding in your car, a friend’s car or even bicycling quickly, so your trip list is populated with false trips.When GPS collects trips, it relies on speed, and so all of those events trigger a “trip” to be created in SherpaShare. Now you have to go in and manually select the real trips. That tedious task can be a real bummer, and the last thing you want to do after a long day of driving.

Since Automatic is connected to your car, and your car only – it only grabs trips you’re taking in your car. When combined with SherpaShare you can avoid a lot of the manual work. Phew.

Phone connectivity issues are more than a minor annoyance

Karl the Fog causing GPS issues for rideshare drivers

San Francisco’s most notorious phone signal disruptor, Karl the Fog.

Your device’s signal strength is prone to all sorts of signal interference like overcast weather conditions and tall buildings. Take this a familiar situation: you’re working, a passenger is in a rush, and your map app suddenly forgets where you are driving. Your signal strength is poor and your GPS can no longer track your driving route. You’re losing precious money-making miles if the signal is lost for long periods of time.

The SherpaShare + Automatic integration takes a true distance directly from your engine. So go ahead, bravely drive into that fog bank; your miles will be there when you find your way out. And on the SherpaShare app, you’ll see your valuable tax deduction too.

To learn more about SherpaShare, visit their website or download their iOS app directly. Check out the Automatic and SherpaShare integration here, in the App Gallery. What? Don’t have an Automatic adapter? That’s alright, you can get one here.



Father’s Day Gift Guide: for the dad who doesn’t want anything

Helpful newsflash: Father’s Day is just over a week away. Dads can be tough when it comes to gifts. The old “Dad-ism” “I don’t need anything!” can leave you in a bit of a pickle. We’re a gadget company, so we typically think about gifting gadgets. It turns out that a lot of dads like gadgets, too! We’ve taken a few typical “Dad-isms” and turned them into gift ideas for the techy dad.

If any of the following Dad-isms sound like your Pops, you’ll have the upper hand come June 21st.

Dad-ism: “I’m not paying to heat the whole neighborhood!”

Solution: Nest

Nest is a perfect gadget gift for Father's Day

Nest is a perfect gadget gift for Father’s Day

Costs: $249

Nest is the popular smart thermostat that “learns from you.” Your dad will have to give one of his approving grunts when Nest programs itself as it learns the temperatures he likes. Even better, Nest automatically turns itself down to help save you energy when nobody’s home.

Dad-ism: “There’s not enough time in the day…”

Solution: Pebble Watch or Apple Watch

Wearables for Father's Day include Pebble and Apple watches.

Wearables for Father’s Day include Pebble and Apple watches.

Costs: Pebble, multiple models: $99 – $299

Apple Watch, multiple models: $349 – $10,000

Smart watches are some of the only wearable devices that have proven to have staying power. They have a multitude of functions like health tracking, displaying text messages, customizable interfaces and of course telling time. If your dad likes having a veritable command center on his wrist, try a Pebble or an Apple Watch.

Dad-ism: “In my day, I walked 15 miles uphill in the snow.”

Solution: Jawbone  UP

Healthy dads and dads trying to get healthy alike can benefit from using a health tracker

Fitness trackers are good Father’s Day gifts for dads trying to get back into shape

Costs: Multiple models, $49.99-$179.99

Prove it, Dad! With the Jawbone UP, Dad can monitor his health, track his physical activity and even learn about his sleeping habits. In addition to all of that, Dad can also connect the UP models to different kinds of apps and hardware that can help him reach his fitness goals. Challenge Pops to a fitness contest and try not to laugh when he says, “I let you win.”

Dad-ism: “Keep your eyes on the road!”

Solution: Smartphone Car Mount

A smartphone mount for your car can help dad drive more safely.

A smartphone mount for your car can help dad drive more safely.

Costs: various models, $8.99 and up

Once upon a time, having your phone out while you were driving meant you were unnecessarily distracted. Dad was probably the first person to remind you to “get off that darned thing.” Nowadays, navigation apps and music interfaces that have replaced paper maps and car stereo knobs make your smartphone an indispensable part of the driving experience. Make sure dad has it at eye-level instead of down in his lap or precariously balanced on the cupholder.

Dad-ism: “What do you think I am, made of money?”

Solution: Automatic

Gift guide for gadget loving dads includes the Automatic adapter

Automatic for Father’s Day gifts: dads who love cars and saving money

Costs: $99.99, use promo code: DearDad to get 20% off, (expires July 6th)

We may be a little biased (okay, we’re really biased)  – we think an Automatic is a great gift for Father’s Day! The Automatic app diagnoses MIL codes (when your Check Engine Light is on) which might save your dad a trip to the shop, tells him how much money he’s spending on gas and even helps him improve his fuel efficiency. Now you can tell your dad, “Look who’s made of money, now!” There are also loads of apps for car enthusiasts, savings, and safety like DashCommand, License+ and YourMechanic.

If that wasn’t enough, Automatic integrates with all of the products above! You can buy an adapter from us, or from one of your favorite retailers.

App Gallery, Developer platform and 2nd Gen launch

Bringing the Car into the Future, Today

We founded Automatic on the belief that our cars weren’t living up to their potential. The way we see it, cars are very expensive computers on wheels. They’ve been like this for decades, and in that time the world of technology has transformed our lives, but not so much our cars. We hold the entire internet in our pockets now, so why is car ownership still stuck in the past?

Two years ago we introduced the Automatic adapter, a small device that plugs into just about any car built since 1996, and a mobile app that pairs with it to tackle some of the top needs of most drivers: decoding engine problems, helping you save money on gas, remembering where you parked, and even calling for help in a crash. The idea was to augment your car with your smartphone, and the response was amazing.

2nd Generation Automatic Adapter

Drivers took to Automatic right away: people wanted their car to be a part of making life easier. What excited us even more was the sheer number of other ways they wanted Automatic to help them in their driving lives. We heard from many people who hated the tedious process of manually logging business trips and then submitting them into expensing software to get reimbursements. We heard from parents who were anxious about their teens just starting to drive. And we also heard from gear-heads who wanted access to real-time streams of raw data about their cars’ performance.

The opportunities to improve the car ownership experience were so broad and deep that we knew not to try to tackle them all on our own. There’s one way to do it right, a way everyone’s already familiar with: an app store, but for your car. And that’s exactly what we’re introducing today.

The Automatic App Gallery

The Automatic App Gallery features over twenty 3rd party apps for every kind of driver. Whether you expense your mileage for work, geek out over your car’s performance and driving stats, or just want your car to connect to the rest of your digital life, there’s an app for you – all powered by Automatic.

Automatic App Gallery

The first time you use any of these apps, they’ll ask your permission to access data from your Automatic account. If you want to allow that, just log in with your username and password. You are in complete control of which apps get access to your driving data.

Great apps are the key to unlocking your car’s potential. With so many apps in the Automatic App Gallery, we believe every driver will find something interesting, useful, or just plain fun.

2nd Generation Car Adapter & Real-time Streaming Apps

Our most requested feature has been a way to see a car’s raw performance data in real-time. We heard this loud and clear and have been working on it for over a year. The solution was to allow drivers to grant 3rd party apps access to the stream of data coming from the Automatic car adapter.

Today, alongside all the other 3rd party apps, Automatic now supports three of the top real-time data apps for iPhone and iPad: DashCommand, Harry’s LapTimer, and OBD Fusion. (Android support coming soon.)

To do this we had to build a 2nd generation Automatic car adapter that supports dual Bluetooth data streams: one to the Automatic mobile app and one to a third-party app. This allows both apps to receive data from the adapter simultaneously over an encrypted Bluetooth connection.

The 2nd generation adapter also features built-in GPS, Made for iPhone (MFi) certification, and an improved connector to fit better in more cars.

Without question, what we’re most excited about from this new adapter is the streaming apps available today and all the new ones coming soon. You can find the new adapter online or in these retailers.

The Automatic Developer Platform

Of course, an app store also needs great developer tools. And we’ve got those too. Starting today, anyone can build apps on the Automatic Developer Platform. It features rich APIs that give you access to all kinds of driving data:

  • REST API for trip logs: mileage, routes, start/end location and times, and more
  • Webhooks and Websockets for driving events: ignition on/off, check engine light status, and real-time location updates
  • Data streaming SDK for iOS: get a real-time stream of speed, RPM, air intake, and data from many more sensors


We’ve even got libraries and SDKs for iOS, Android, Ruby, node.js, PHP and others; rich documentation and sample apps; and a Developer Apps Manager, which lets you register new applications, get API keys, manage your developer account, and submit apps to production. We asked ourselves what a great API for a car would look like and built one that works for every car on the road today. Developers, start your engines!

The Future of the Connected Car is Apps

The Automatic mobile app is the foundation of a great connected car experience, with features that are useful to almost everyone. But the key to personalizing that experience is for developers to build a range of apps for every need and lifestyle. Today, we’re making that possible. Join us for the ride.


Back to the Features: Fuel Grade Picker, Apple Watch Extension

We had a chance to show you the new trip details view and business trip tagging in our last post. Without further ado, let’s dig into fuel grade picker and the Apple Watch extension.

Fuel Grade Picker


This has been a long time coming, requested since the very beginning of Automatic. One of our most automagic features—pulling your fuel cost basis from the time and location of fillup—is growing up. You’re now able to set the fuel grade your car uses to get more accurate cost calculations. We’re sorry it has taken so long and are thrilled to deliver this at long last.

When you change your Fuel Grade Automatic will start to calculate future trips with the appropriate rate. For cars that report fuel level, this will take effect after the next fillup. All of this sounding new? Check out how Automatic calculates the cost of your trips:

Apple Watch Extension


Alright, Apple enthusiasts – we’ve got good news for you. Two of Automatic’s most popular features are now conveniently found on your wrist.

The business tagging feature on Apple Watch takes even more friction out of the expensing process. The IRS lets you deduct $0.57 per mile of business driving—if that wasn’t worth the effort before you should have no excuses now.

At the end of each trip, a prompt on the Watch will allow you to tag the trip as business. That’s it. As noted above, the tags on trips will be visible in the phone app, the APIs, and soon on the web dashboard. In time, we know that 3rd party apps that connect into Automatic will make use of these tags directly. We’ve come a long way since manual logbooks!

Secondly, Automatic marks your exact location every time you park. That’s nothing new (but it is one of our favorite features). Now that same parking map is even easier to get to: just lift your wrist. When looking for your car, just swipe up from the Watch face to see the map in the Automatic “glance”. Or enter the Automatic app on Apple Watch to get the same.

Now that you know what you’re working with…

We hope these tools help you drive off into the sunset. But make sure to drive back, because we aren’t done yet.

Automatic app features business trip tagging and interactive map

Back to the Features: Business Trip Tagging, New Trip Details View

With the latest release, we’ve put 4 new tools into the app. We briefly described those tools in our last blog post and today we’re highlighting the new trip details view, and business trip tagging. Hop in the passenger’s seat and let’s take a look.

New Trip Details View

new trip details map for automatic app, a new feature in iOS 2.7 and Android 1.7

With the new Trip Details View, you now have a full-screen view of your trip and a fully interactive trip map. Manipulate the maps rotation, zoom, and pinch to examine trips with as much visual granularity as you like. Individual waypoints are clickable in the map and you can get directions back to any of them! Check out our nifty gif above to see the interactive map in action.

The motivation to move to a full screen is to give those pixels more breathing room and make space for future refinements to trip details. As a tiny peek ahead, we used some of the extra space to fit in one new simple but useful data point: trip duration! See it in the leftmost position of the trip stats bar.

Business Trip Tagging


You asked for it, you got it. Tag trips for business in trip details. You’ll have the option to be asked whether or not to tag after each trip (turn on in settings). To make full use of tagging, you need to be able to export those trips. That part of the experience in not ready just yet, but we wanted to get this part in your hands so that you could start tagging. Soon, tagged trips will be exportable from the web dashboard, and tags are already available in the API for developers looking to utilize this data. Combine Business Trip Tagging with Trip Details View and you’ve got a powerful transparency tool, and an easy way to expense those trip reports.

What’s next?

In our next post, we’ll check out the much anticipated fuel-grade picker, and the Apple Watch extension. Until then, let us know what you think of the new features!


new automatic app features fuel grade picker - business trip tagging - apple watch - interactive map

Back to the Features: What’s new in iOS 2.7, Android 1.7

For the past several app releases, we’ve been focused on making the core of Automatic more robust. This is critical for the app to work better for you and your car, but doesn’t make for flashy headlines. Thanks for bearing with us. In the meantime, we’ve been hearing many, excellent feature requests in our customer community. Recently, with the latest releases, we’ve been able to finally turn some attention back to delivering a few of those features. In short, we want you to know we’re listening and are at the beginning of an exciting roadmap for you. Let’s pop the hood and see what we’ve got.

A quick look at what we’ve added for iOS 2.7, Android 1.7:

New Trip Details View: Access interactive trip map in the new fullscreen trip details view.

Business Trip Tagging: Tag trips for business in trip details. Note: we’ve released this new in-app feature so that you can start tagging now – it will be available for export soon. See this discussion from our community for more details.

Fuel Grade Picker: Set the fuel type that you use for each car to get more accurate cost calculations.

Apple Watch Extension: Two of Automatic’s most popular features are now conveniently found on your wrist: business trip tagging and our car locator.

We’ll be highlighting these new tools over the next few days in a short series of blog posts.


A look at the new fuel grade picker screen


What about down the road?

While we are excited to bring you these tools, there’s so much more we’re planning to do.

A quick tease: we’re working on a complete overhaul for the apps that will span new features, refreshed visual design, improved connectivity—and yes, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus resolutions.

We can’t wait to get this out for you to use, and it’s going to take most of our bandwidth until it’s done. Many of the improvements we’re most excited about are being made there instead of in the current app, which we think will be more useful for you in the long run. Meanwhile, we have a few more releases coming for the current app, so heads up you may not be seeing the feature you want for a little while.

We hope you enjoy this current release and thank you so much for being an Automatic user. We’re working hard to make it even better for you every day.

Introducing  Mileage Expensing with Concur and Automatic

Introducing Painless Mileage Expensing with Concur

For all you business travelers out there, our latest integration lets you easily expense your business mileage with Concur, right from your phone or desktop computer. No more logging miles by hand or estimating mileage. Automatic and Concur have joined forces to take care of that for you.

This new integration, built on our connected car platform, lets you send any trip captured with Automatic to your Concur account with one click.


Setup is crazy simple

Just sign in to both your Automatic and Concur accounts to see all your trips. Each trip includes your mileage, a route map, start/end address, and even a visual receipt. Attach any trip you like to any expense report, and even create new ones on the fly.


Efficient, accurate and accountable expensing

Business mileage expensing has always been a natural fit for Automatic. For people who drive for work, the worse part of expensing those trips is the manual estimation and entry. This integration gets rid of that step. And for employers equipping fleets Automatic and Concur, this integration ensures complete accuracy and accountability for every mile on each expense report submitted by their drivers.

One more app for your car

One app at a time, we’re moving forward in our mission to connect every car on the road to a wider world of apps and services. Concur joins Nest, Jawbone, and IFTTT, among others, as another app for your car available through Automatic.

Learn more about the Automatic integration with Concur


5 Ways to Update Car Insurance for the Connected World

When I first moved to the U.S. six years ago as a grad student, I bought a 1998 Honda Accord. It had seen better days, but it was a great car. Unfortunately, I had a rude awakening when I tried to buy a car insurance policy: it would cost me an entire month’s salary to insure it for the year.

This made no sense. I had a decade of driving experience and a clean record. Shouldn’t my premium reflect that? I knew I was a good driver, but as a new driver to the U.S. I had no data to prove it.

Right around this time my co-founder Jerry and I were in grad school studying transportation and driving behavior. It was where we had the fundamental insight that inspired Automatic: cars are just big computers on wheels. If I could somehow access the data about my safe driving habits and show it to my insurance company, I bet I could get a premium that fit my actual risk profile.


It was where we had the fundamental insight that inspired Automatic: cars are just big computers on wheels.


At Automatic, we aren’t just unlocking the power of the data hidden in cars. We’re rethinking how cars can fit into our lives, including how we insure them. Today’s insurance policies need to change to take advantage of the connected car technology that’s coming. Here’s what we believe insurance for the connected world should look like:

1. Connected car insurance should be fair

Insurance companies evaluate a lot of risk factors in calculating your premium: how long you’ve had your license, your accident history, the kind of car you drive, and whether you live in a high or low crime neighborhood. But they don’t know how much you drive or how safe your driving habits are. They don’t know this because they’ve never had the technology to get that data—at least, until now.

Drivers also should get the discounts they deserve. There’s no reason a responsible driver should be forced to subsidize someone else’s bad behavior. As a lower risk to the insurance company, a safe driver should pay less for insurance than a risky one. It’s only fair.

2. Connected car insurance should be transparent

Transparency is the key to making sure drivers never feel spied on. This principle is why our teen driver program License+ isn’t a typical parent-spies-on-kid product, but one where both parent and teen are active participants. The same goes for insurance. Drivers should know exactly what information they’re sharing with their insurance company and what it’s being used for so they can make the conscious decision to opt in or out.

 3. Connected car insurance should be private and secure

Driving data is sensitive information and should never fall into unauthorized hands. The transfer of this data should be secure and encrypted end-to-end. This is one of the many reasons we build our own hardware. We also don’t share or sell our users’ private information, which you can learn more about in our Privacy Principles.

 4. Connected car insurance should be affordable and accessible

Drivers shouldn’t have to purchase a brand new phone or car. It shouldn’t cost drivers extra to demonstrate their safe driving habits—insurance companies should provide an easily affordable way for drivers to do this.

 5. Connected car insurance should be like the apps we use today: modern and beautiful

We all use technology products from Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter that delight us and make our lives better every day. The auto insurance experience should meet those same standards.

Insurance is at a turning point, with so much room for innovation and improvement. These five principles should guide anyone working in this industry. We have our own plans, of course, and can’t wait to show you what’s around the corner.