Pasted image at 2015_09_03 03_43 PM

BMW Gets More Connected, Samsung Takes On Android Auto, And How To Build A Smartphone-Controlled Garage Door Opener

Welcome to Digest, your regular dose of connected car news, updates, and opinions.

BMW rolled into Berlin’s IFA show with a new suite of ConnectedDrive apps and integrations. At Europe’s largest technology expo, the automaker showed off its new Apps for Automotive interface (A4A) that promises timely OTA software updates and more potential for third party apps. That includes a partnership with Deutsche Telekom’s Smart Home automation system that can control everything from room temperatures to SmartThings IoT devices. BMW also showed off a new i Remote app for the just-released Samsung Galaxy Gear S2 smartwatch, a streaming version of Germany’s n-tv news service, and further integration of GoPro cameras into the ConnectedDrive system to record video or take photos remotely.

At the same show, Samsung debuted its new Car Mode for Galaxy, which connects with MirrorLink-equipped cars to display navigation, music, and messaging services on the car’s built-in display. However, unlike Android Auto, there are no third party apps available, and at launch, it’s only available on Volkswagens equipped with the Car-Net E-Remote app.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed a new breed of laser technology that will reduce the size, weight, and cost of visualization systems used on autonomous cars. The massive spinning LIDAR units mounted atop Google, Delphi, and other self-driving cars costs upwards of $80,000. This new technology would bring that price down considerably, and make it as small as a smartphone.

Twenty-five years ago, you could pick up something new and fun for nothing. Today, that’s next to impossible. Jack Baruth over at Road & Track has a great piece lamenting the lack of entry-level rides for young people, despite a plethora of used options.

If you want to get rid of your clunky garage opener, Make has an awesome how-to on using Blynk – a cloud platform that connects with DIY development boards – that allows you to control your garage door using an iOS or Android device. It doesn’t require much in the way of hardware and coding, and shouldn’t take longer than a few hours to build and install over a weekend.

6 Essential Back-To-School Travel Apps

Between books and classes and roommates and replenishing your ramen stash, you’ve got more than enough on your mind. You shouldn’t have to worry about getting around, getting up to date, and getting that gas cash back from your friend that’s always asking for a ride. We’re here to help with six of the most indispensable apps for your trek back to campus.


DriveMode

drivemode

Your smartphone has everything on it: music, movies, chat, maps, and a host of other must-haves for daily life. Unfortunately, most of those apps are designed to be used in the palm of your hand, with small buttons and tinier text. That’s no good when you’re behind the wheel, and that’s where DriveMode comes in.

DriveMode is all about its “no look” interface, nixing undersized buttons for simple swipes and big touch points for simpler access. It works with some of the most popular texting apps, along with nav apps like Google Maps and Waze, and popular music apps including Spotify and Google Music Player.

Need to switch to a new jam? Instead of finding that little “next” button, just swipe the screen to the right. Need to answer your dad’s fourth text in two minutes? Just hit the big “Talk to you in a second” bubble. Easy. Just make sure you familiarize yourself with the gestures before you start driving.

Bonus: DriveMode works in any car. Let’s do this, ‘92 Camry.

Available for free on Android


Kayak

kayak

Oh, snap. Thanksgiving’s already here? Holiday at your boyfriend’s parent’s place? Austin for Spring Break? You’ve got to arrange three different flights, hotels, and rental cars on top of all of the studying? We thought these were called “breaks.”

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Travel stress is a real thing, and Kayak is one of the best ways to keep it at bay.

Kayak can help you find and book flights, hotels and rental cars, track your trips and help you manage your itinerary. One of our favorite features is Kayak’s price trend forecasts, helping you to book trips at the right time to save you time and money. Take that, fifty-cent beef flavored ramen.

Available for free on iOS and Android


Stitcher

stitcher

In addition to keeping up with Game of Thrones, Scandal, and The Walking Dead, now you’re expected to keep up with Serial, This American Life and RadioLab? Oh yeah, you’re supposed to pass your classes, too.

Podcast listenership in America has been rising steadily over the past couple of years, and if you don’t want to be hopelessly lost while your friends talk about Adnan being guilty or not, you’ll need some help.

Stitcher gives you access to over 25,000 shows. You can listen to customized stations, and share shows with your friends right from the app. You can also move from one device to another, so you don’t have to stop listening once you get out of your car or leave your desk.

The mobile app has been known to be a bit buggy, and crashes on occasion on iOS and Android, so try to download a little patience, too. When it works, it’s great.

Available for free on iOS and Android


TuneIn

tunein

You wake up in the morning, get ready for class, grab your coffee, get in your car, and all you want is a little familiarity. You pop on the radio and now you’ve got these strangers talking to you. Oh, right, you moved out of state for college and your favorite DJs didn’t follow you.

Now they can.

TuneIn has over 100,000 stations from around the world available to stream wherever you are. With the free version of the app, you can get sports, news, music, and talk radio including ESPN, NPR, and BBC. With the pay option you can listen to MLB or BPL games, all season long and have access to a library of over 40,000 audiobooks. Even better: No commercials.

This isn’t like the radio of old, though. Listening to something you know your friends will dig? You can share stuff right from the app. Now you can settle the “My hometown DJ can beat up your hometown DJ” arguments the right way.

Available for free in your browser, on iOS and Android. A Premium version also available.


Audible

audible

I studied Russian literature in college. If you’ve never seen a classic Russian novel, well, rest assured that some of the bricks holding up your dormitory are actually Tolstoy and Dostoevskian tomes. The time I spent driving in college, at the gym (suspension of disbelief, please) or walking around campus was time I needed to get my reading done.

With Audible, I could’ve loaded up The Brothers Karamazov or Anna Karenina and knocked out chapters as I was cooking dinner, or carefully making my way through the thick, Midwestern snow while still being productive.

Audible boasts over 180,000 titles that you can listen to for whenever your eyes and hands are busy. Audible works across all devices so you never have to put your book down and it’s a fan favorite on both iOS and Android.

Available for free in your browser, on iOS and Android


UnMooch

unmooch-1

“Hey, man, can you give me a ride?” If you’ve got a car, you’ll hear this far too often. Being everyone’s personal taxi service isn’t cheap. And balancing friendship with the cost of gas and regular maintenance is a tough tightrope to walk, but UnMooch eliminates the issue of asking friends for cash.

UnMooch uses Venmo, a free digital wallet that lets you make and share payments with friends, to help easily split the cost of a shared car experience. What does that mean? Maybe you’ve got a carpool situation with your neighbor or maybe you and some friends are going down to Tijuana for a crazy Spring Break.

Instead of doing napkin math, or arguing over whether or not Doug gave you a $10 and not a $20 (it was a $10, Doug, just admit it!) you can use UnMooch to capture all of that in one place.

What now, Doug?

Available for free in your browser, on iOS and Android. Requires Automatic car adapter and Venmo account.

tax tips for cars 2016

4 Surprising Auto-Related Tax Deductions

Unpopular opinion: your car doesn’t have to be a financial burden. There, we said it.

In fact, your car could save you a ton of money come tax season, especially if you use it as part of your job. Most people know about standard mileage rate and mileage deduction. What about the rest of those money-saving gems hidden in the unfriendly confines of tax law?

Don’t you wish you had advice from a professional? We’ve got you covered. Enter CPAs Lisa Green-Lewis and Stephen Krieger. Lisa is a Tax Expert for TurboTax, one of the most popular income tax preparation software packages. Stephen heads up his own tax practice in St. Louis. They shared the most important things to think about when you look for deductions, and here’s some of their advice.

1.) The miles you drive to qualifying professional development classes and workshops

unknown tax write offs

There’s a lot of red on that table. Professional development classes aren’t to be trifled with.

“You can deduct the standard mileage rate if you drove to classes that help you improve or maintain your job skills.” – Lisa

Taking a class to master the witchcraft of Excel? Not only will you be taming the spreadsheet beast, but you can save money too! Lisa tells us that in order to qualify for this write-off, there are a few qualifiers:

  • The course or courses are required by your employer or law to keep your present salary
  • Meets minimum educational requirements of your present trade or business
  • Does not qualify you for a new trade
  • You Itemize on Schedule A or File Schedule C

Make sure you check your Ps and Qs before you sign up for Advanced Excel Wizardry.

2.) The miles you drive to job interviews

car savings tips

A stylish watch and a bomber jacket make excellent interview attire.

“The 2015 standard mileage deduction may apply to your travel while looking for a new job!” – Lisa

Even if you don’t land the new job, you can still apply for the deduction. We hope you get the job, but the deduction is a nice silver lining, right? The write-off qualifiers:

  • The trip must be directly related to your job search. Sorry, you can’t squeeze in your personal mileage for driving to your summer vacation escape. However, you can deduct part of the mileage related to traveling to an interview if you mixed business with pleasure.
  • You have to itemize your deductions and claim them as an unreimbursed expense.

3.) The car you bought for your rideshare or delivery gigs

lyft and uber tax deduction tips

As if the pink mustache wasn’t taxing enough.

“This can be one of the most surprising tax deductions: if you are a freelancer who uses your car for business, you may be able to deduct a big chunk of the price you paid to buy a vehicle that is over 6,000 pounds, but under 14,000 pounds (like an SUV).” – Lisa

Do you have a big scale? (Most recycling centers do!) You can deduct up to a whopping $25,000 for your car based on a percentage of business use. For example, if you use your vehicle 80% of the time for business, you could deduct 80% of $25,000 for a total of $20,000. This is called a Section 179 Deduction and is HUGE for rideshare drivers who buy a car for work. Even if your vehicle is under 6,000 pounds, you may be able to deduct up to the allowable depreciation amount. Is there a catch? Sort of. You can only claim this deduction in the year the vehicle is first used for business. If you used your vehicle for personal use first and you started rideshare driving later, it doesn’t qualify. Bummer.

Just remember, when you’re picking up the gaggle of obnoxious passengers, it may be helpful to repeat to yourself the mantra, “Big tax write-off. Big tax write-off…”

The qualifiers for this deduction are a little tricky to fit into this post, but you can read more about Section 179. Of course, if you have any questions, ask your tax professional.

4.) The miles you put on a U-Haul or a trip to the ER

auto-related tax savings

Curiously, moving sometimes leads to ER trips. Be careful, gang.

“Another rule that is sometimes surprising to people is that in addition to business miles there are situations where a taxpayer can deduct miles for medical, moving, or if they used their vehicle in charitable service. The rates are lower than business miles but every little bit counts.” – Stephen

Suffer a traumatic toe stubbing and have to drive to the hospital? Deduct the trip.

Zipping between your five different volunteer non-profit board meetings? Saints get deductions, too!

Did you move to a new house because of a new job? Is your new job 50 miles away from you old job? Yeah, you can deduct that, too.

You’re swimming in money now. Of course, make sure you ask your tax professional if there are any caveats.

Beware of Tax Code Gotchas

Choose the method of deduction that works for you long-term

Standard Mileage Rate or Actual Expenses: Which method of tax deduction should you use?

actual expenses deduction tax tips

It’s not this hard. Really.

Stephen breaks down the difference between the two methods.

“With actual expenses, you’ll need to divide your business miles by your total miles to get your business percentage. That percentage will need to be applied to indirect expenses like repairs.”

“If you are using the standard mileage rate, you’ll need to know your business miles to multiply them by the standard mileage rate.”

Let’s look at the math: You paid $6,000 for repairs, gas and oil over the year. Fees and taxes came out to $1,000. Loan interest and insurance were $3,000. You might have an old car, so let’s pretend there’s no depreciation write-off. Your total “actual” expenses were $10,000.

Your total mileage was 36,000 and your carefully documented business miles were 32,404. Your business-use percentage is 90% (32,404 divided by 36,000).

If you use the actual expenses method, you could deduct $9,000 (90% of $10,000).

If you use standard mileage rate, your deduction would be $18,697 (32,404 miles x 57.5 cents per mile for 2015. In this case, the standard mileage method gives you the bigger tax benefit.

Choose wisely, because you can’t switch methods once you’ve picked one

standard mileage or actual expenses

“I’ve made a huge mistake.”

“One rule that people sometimes do not realize is that you cannot switch back and forth between methods from year to year based on which will benefit you most.” – Stephen

Just when you thought you found a way to stick it to “the man.” If you choose “actual expenses” you must continue using this method for the life of the car. Stephen says that many of his clients use the standard mileage rate over time because they get more benefit and it cuts down on expense tracking all year.

You don’t necessarily have to make that choice on your own. Programs like TurboTax can help you make that decision without you having to learn any tax laws yourself.

Both experts agree: Your main focus should be on good record keeping

“Solid record keeping can save you a lot of time and headache should you find yourself dealing with an IRS audit or otherwise draw scrutiny from the IRS.” – Stephen

Lisa also stressed the importance of good record keeping. It makes sense. You can’t worry about how you’re going to make money back if you can’t prove it’s owed to you. Lisa suggests using a log book or a program like Intuit QuickBooks Self-Employed to keep track of expenses.

How can you keep good records?

tax savings tips mileage tracking

No, you can’t link your Moleskine to your Automatic account.

Sure, you can try and keep track of things in Excel, or even write them down in a trendy Moleskine, but there are other handy programs available to you. If you have Automatic, you can use Concur, Expensify, SherpaShare, TripDots or one of the many other apps for business we have in the Automatic App Gallery.

The powerful combo of Automatic and these apps allows you to track your mileage, tag business trips, see route maps and even get visual receipts.

tax savings 2016

SherpaShare, Expensify and Concur available in the App Gallery

Write off your miles? Share your own tax tricks  on Facebook and Twitter

money

Finally, you’ll have something in common with a cartoon duck!

After reading all of those tips, you might feel like you have a fighting chance to get some of your hard-earned money back come tax season. Still, we recommend that you talk to a professional to get the most benefit.

Which one of these tips was the most surprising to you? Which one do you think will help you the most? Let us know if you have any questions about what you’ve read here on Facebook or Twitter.

Disclaimer

The above post is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

internet of things, connected cars at SXSW

Don’t Miss Out on the Future of Cars at SXSW

Automatic fans, SXSW is just around the corner and you know what that means: time to vote for panels! There are three opportunities to see folks from Automatic talk about the future of cars, data, and stuff straight out of science fiction, but there’s a catch: you have to vote for them!

Getting a panel up and running at SXSW is extremely competitive. Your vote is hugely important. By allowing people to vote on panels, the folks over at SXSW can select the panels that crowds want to see.

Without further ado, here are the panel submissions featuring connected cars and Automatic speakers.

Smarter Cities Need Smarter Data

panel picker for SXSW internet of things panel

The path to smarter cities begins with understanding the way in which people move. Leveraging data from connected technologies can unlock the secrets to creating smart cities. All over the world, innovators are capturing valuable data that can be used to better understand the way we interact with urban landscapes. City planners, urban architects, and transportation industry experts will come together to discuss why building a smart city begins with understanding the data around us.

Featured Topics

  1. What happens when you unlock the data of cities?
  2. What information can transportation data provide?
  3. How will technology change the way humans interact with their surroundings?

Speakers

Vote to see this panel at SXSW

How Silicon Valley is Reinventing the Auto Industry

A man drives a Google Inc. self-driving car in front of the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. Google is celebrating its 15th anniversary as the company reaches $290 billion market value. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Software is the future of the auto industry and Silicon Valley will make that future a reality. Jalopnik’s Damon Lavrinc will join Automatic CEO Thejo Kote for a Q&A session and discussion about the future of the connected car and the integral role Silicon Valley will play in the auto industry’s evolution. Traditional automakers may have the edge in hardware and sheet metal, but when it comes to internet connectivity and software, they can’t hold a candle to the Silicon Valley’s brightest. Just as software and open development platforms transformed the mobile phone into the ubiquitous computing device of our generation, Kote sees a similar future for every car on the road.

Featured Topics

  1. What role will Silicon Valley play in the future of the connected car?
  2. How will the connected car change the driving experience for consumers?
  3. Who will build the future of the connected car?

Speakers

Vote to see this panel at SXSW 

Internet of Cars: The Race for Developer Mindshare

SXSW panelpicker connected cars

Last year’s panel “The Internet of Cars,” unveiled the future of the connected car and the role integrated apps, vehicle data and the data cloud will play in transforming the car ownership experience. This year, we explore the latest and most significant development in the connected car space: the rise of the car as a development platform. When developers are given powerful platforms to build on, they change the world. It’s time Silicon Valley did the same thing with the computers we drive, our cars. The race for developer mindshare is heating up as new platforms arise. A panel of industry experts in both software & auto will discuss the efforts being made to capture developer mindshare.

Featured Topics

  1. Who’s at the front of the pack for the race to be the next platform?
  2. How do you capture developer mindshare?
  3. Why independent developers are the key to the future of the car?

Speakers

Vote to see this panel at SXSW

The Connected Car as a New Marketplace

cocar

The ‘Internet of Things’ is growing rapidly, with both large and small players entering the market with new devices that engineers and entrepreneurs can build upon. At the same time, car manufacturers and hardware startups are beginning to connect their vehicles to the internet, creating a great opportunity to innovate in a space where only technologically slow moving car companies have played before. Combine these with a wealth of automotive APIs in the marketplace and the potential for new products is insanely high. From DIY auto enthusiasts to financing companies, hardware startups, Big Data, and insurance, there is a lot of exciting things happening in this space.

Featured Topics

  1. What, why, and where is the OBD2 port?
  2. What new ideas can be merged from these disparate data sets?
  3. What are some examples of the current businesses operating in this space, and what is left open for innovation?

Speakers

Vote to see this panel at SXSW

Don’t Miss the Voting Window!

PanelPicker voting will close on Friday, September 4 (11:59 PM CT). If you happen to be vacationing in a desert this year, don’t forget to vote before you leave! (And don’t forget your ticket.)

You can vote for as many panels as you like, but you can only vote for each panel once! The final panels will be announced on October 19.

Hope to see you out at SXSW. Thanks for voting!

adapter-blue-bg

Security at Automatic: How We Keep You Safe

When I started Automatic over four years ago, my cofounders and I were excited to make driving better and safer for every car on the road. As we started developing the software, we looked at every available OBD adapter on the market.

Our hardware engineers took them apart to learn their secrets, and we quickly discovered that they revealed their secrets far too easily. We saw glaring security holes that we couldn’t fix ourselves, so we made the hard choice to build our own hardware.

Everyone told us we were crazy – a small company with barely any money at the time wanted to develop both software and hardware? Indeed, most other companies chose to specialize in software and rely on off-the-shelf hardware. But we refused to compromise our customers’ security, and we knew that we couldn’t guarantee their safety using any of the third party devices we saw.

I’m sharing this with you now because there’s been lots of news lately about cars getting hacked. We sweat these stories, because we know that anyone making cutting edge products is a target. But at the same time, we believe we’re in a good place.

Our engineers think about security every day. Our devices use multiple, redundant security protocols that are similar to what banks use. We invite outside security experts to audit our security procedures. We pay hackers who are able to demonstrate flaws in our systems.

For Automatic, security is a journey, not a destination. We follow strict internal rules to make sure we always design with our customers’ security in mind, but recognizing that we’re not perfect, we ask experts to check our work. And then we ask others to check the experts’ work. The job is never done, we only get better at it.

We thank you for your trust in Automatic. Drive safely.

Below are a few details of our security procedures for the technically minded. This is not a complete list, since many of our procedures are understandably secret.

  • We generate per-device 128-bit AES symmetric encryption keys during manufacturing. These are stored on Automatic’s servers, and enable secure setup and firmware updates.
  • The servers on our manufacturing line and the servers at Automatic that store our security keys are not connected to the open internet, but rather communicate with each other over a direct and secure HTTPS connection.
  • The adapter’s firmware has a whitelist of messages that can be sent to the car, so arbitrary (or malicious) messages can’t be sent to the car’s communications bus.
  • The adapter limits the rate at which messages can be sent to the communications bus.
  • Since a unique PIN etched into the device is required to operate the device, you must have access to both the Automatic adapter and the interior of the car in order to connect to the adapter. To this day, most off the shelf OBD-II adapters allow anyone with a smartphone in the vicinity of a car to pair to the device and send commands.
  • We enable Bluetooth’s security mechanisms, but we don’t rely on them. In addition, we use a device-specific encryption key to create a unique 128-bit AES session. This prevents both sniffing and communication between the device and unknown smartphones (or other clients.)
  • All of our server communications take place over HTTPS.
  • Authenticity of our firmware updates is protected with a RSA 1024 signature and 128 bit encryption.
Driving safety videos retro

Safety Tips from Hilarious Vintage Automotive Videos

A crisp “Hollywood” voice that’s almost too earnest to take seriously. Cars that look like bulging biceps, The Chordettes or The Ink Spots blaring from that newfangled Blaupunkt FM radio. What do these have in common? American automotive nostalgia!

We get caught up in the future of automobiles so much that we thought it might be fun to explore the past with some quality vintage car films that capture the era. Thanks to YouTube, we have these videos from yesteryear available to us. Convenient!

Part of our job at Automatic is keeping you safe. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite vintage car safety videos. You can watch them here, or Subscribe to the YouTube playlist below.

Anatomy of an Accident (1961)

One part Sixth Sense and one part It’s A Wonderful Life this 25 minute movie follows John as he prepares to teach his company drivers about driver safety. Chief concerns for John’s drivers, you ask? Daydreaming, hunger, and blondes.

Best piece of advice from the video: “It never pays to get mad while you’re driving. You’re inviting an accident when you take time to yell at other drivers. Even if they’re driving like idiots, it’s not up to you to tell ’em off or try to get even.”

The Distracted Brain (1953)

The National Safety Council released this video in 1953. The narrator warns against the phantom danger of the distracted brain. “Remember,” he warns, “to all appearances, you’re driving with your hands and your feet, but do you know where you do most of your driving? In your head.”

In a curious tactical turn, the narrator suggests you hire a mental secretary to guard your brain against distractions. What follows is a hilarious sequence of scenarios where the imaginary secretary tells visitors off.

Best piece of advice from the video: “When you’re driving, drive. Be deaf and blind to everything except the road, your vehicle, and the traffic around you.”

Formations (1936)

We love this video. There are some genuinely interesting scenes like watching pre-WWII planes flying in formation, and watching the driver use hand signals to inform those around him what he’s doing. This video predates the US factory-installed turn signal (Buick’s doing) by three years.

The narrator puts you in the first-person perspective of a (horrible) driver and takes you through several dangerous driving situations. As the driver, you suffer through appalling lapses of judgment, like thinking about the Big Game and suddenly stopping in the middle of the road to talk to your friend Joe who’s reading a newspaper outside the corner store. You know, typical rookie mistakes.

The best piece of advice from the video: “If all roads were a mile wide, it would be fine. Then cars could drive a mile apart! But our highways aren’t that wide. For the safety of all in automobiles, all the care the formation fliers practice in the air must be practiced on the ground.”

Would you like to see more?

We know, we can’t get enough of these either. Check out this 127 video YouTube playlist featuring videos made in the late 20s all the way to the 60s. Let us know which ones are your favorites!
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Twitter 

Speaking of car safety, here are other posts that can help you drive more safely out on the open road:

How to: Take Your Car to the Shop

Check Engine Light 101

list of driving music

Pit Stop: Some of Our Favorite Driving Songs

Music and cars go together like peanut butter and jelly. Whether you roll the window down and sing to the highway, or you channel Neil Peart and drum on the steering wheel, having your jam on while driving is hard to beat.

We asked our fellow Automatic employees to give us their top 5 favorite songs to listen to on the road. We’ve collected these songs in a Spotify playlist which you can find at the bottom of the post. We’ve also linked each song to a YouTube video in case you want to sample our selection on a single serve basis.

Enjoy!

Derrick Seleska – Customer Care Specialist

Customer Care at Automatic

“This list of songs can take care of me anywhere I am driving, whether I’m caught in traffic, hanging out with the boys, or on a back country road! I guess you have to listen to my songs to know which one is for road rage.”

Ruthie BenDor – Lead Web Engineer

Automatic jobs and company culture

“What these songs say about my driving music preferences… I have awful taste.”

Inga Chen – Head of Automatic Fleet

Jobs at Automatic Labs

“I listen to trap / hiphop / EDM while driving (and working) to 1) stay awake 2) bop/sing/dance in my seat to. It’s my natural caffeine.”

Nasir Hakim – Android/iOS QA and Support Analyst

Automatic Labs company culture

“I started listening to Bollywood music during my time at UC Berkeley because some of my Indian friends would play Indian songs during our study sessions and slowly I became really interested.”

Jennifer Tam – Operations Intern

Work at Automatic in San Francisco

“The songs on this list fit my mood for when I’m driving during a sunny afternoon or late at night. They are fast-paced and upbeat to keep me and my driving focused and assertive.”

Arjun Mehta – Product Designer

What is it like to work at Automatic?

“I generally only drive alone and when I need to get to far away places. This often makes driving an epic and introspective experience filled with seamlessly connected landscapes. To match, I’ve chosen some fairly epic, introspective songs (with their own seamless landscapes)!”

But wait, there’s more!

I painstakingly put all of these songs into a palatable playlist that we’re calling “Automatic Drives, Vol. 1.” The playlist is notable for its genre diversity: you go from rap to electro to ’80s rock to Bollywood to progressive rock in just 28 tracks. Neat!

Jam With Us!

What are some of your favorite driving songs? Sound off on Twitter and Facebook.

Tips for talking to a mechanic

How to: Take Your Car to the Shop

Taking your car to the shop can be a nerve-racking experience. The costs associated with repairs, lack of automotive expertise, and relying on a mechanic to take care of everything are pain points for car owners.

There is also the stereotype that mechanics are going to take advantage of you.

Mechanics are aware of this stereotype, and many have taken the time to answer questions online to give tips to wary shop-goers.

We’ve collected tips from mechanics that will help you have a plan the next time you have to take a trip to the shop.

Tip: Ask, ask, ask for recommendations

Tips for going to the auto shop

Interior of Messy Car Repair Shop — Image by © Helen King/Corbis

“Ask for recommendations, years in business, warranties offered, licenses, and the type of equipment used. Look for a clean garage. A floor cluttered with empty oil cans, worn tires, and dirty rags is a red flag.”

via rd.com

What is more powerful than word of mouth recommendations? You go to someone you trust, and they can give you the skinny on their mechanic. Today, the smorgasbord of online review sites available is another resource you should use. In addition to asking your friends and family, take to the internet and read the reviews. You can bet that people will raise red flags if they’ve had a bad experience at a shop.

Tip: The Job Will Almost Always Cost More Than I Said

How to talk to your auto mechanic

An auto problem is rarely an isolated one.

“Since it’s impossible to know everything that’s wrong with a car prior to working on it, the quote that you receive doesn’t include everything that needs fixing. If a part looks like it’s going to break next month, it’s going to get fixed. Also, there are certain parts that have to be repaired by law. If the part in question is going to cause you to fail an inspection, then it has to be fixed, too. Of course, good mechanics will let you know about the additional charges and work in advance. They will also let you know the consequence if the work is not done.”

via 290autobody

Don’t be surprised if there are other fixes to make. A vehicle is a mechanical system that relies on other parts of the system to work properly. If one part is acting funny, there’s probably another part acting funny too. This is where people feel like they are losing control. Be clear with your mechanic that you want to know about all additional work and cost in advance of the work happening.

Tip: The manufacturer knows best

How to talk to a mechanic

Manufacturer’s tend to know more about their own cars than independent mechanics

“Instead of asking for a shop’s 10,000-mile service package, pull out your owner’s manual and point out exactly what you’d like done. Forget about the alternate schedule for heavy-use vehicles, he adds. Though your mechanic may try to convince you otherwise, most drivers just don’t fall into that category, which is for drivers who drive off-road most of the time, or in temperatures below 10 degrees or in excess of 90 degrees.”

via Daily Finance

Familiarize yourself with your owner’s manual and read the manufacturer’s recommendations on scheduled maintenance so you don’t pay for service your car doesn’t actually need. When you start talking about miles driven in the tens of thousands, the large numbers can seem like something to worry about, but remember, vehicles are meant to withstand that wear. Don’t pony up dough for a service package without referring to your owner’s manual first.

Tip: Learn how to do basic things yourself!

Fix your own car and save money on trips to the mechanic

Learning how to do basic car maintenance can save you trips to the mechanic

“I definitely encourage people to learn on their own how things work, and how to perform basic maintenance. It’s a great way to get to know your vehicle, and it’s just good life knowledge. I hesitate just a bit though. I would also encourage you to have your car inspected once (at least) a year by professionals. It’s easy to miss something small when you’re changing your oil that could leave you stranded at a really bad time. Most repair shops do really cheap, or even free multi-point inspections. (I’m not talking about a Jiffy Lube or tire store, a real shop)”

via /r/MechanicAdvice

You can save a lot of time and money by learning how to do just a few things yourself like replacing your air filters, checking your spark plugs or changing your oil. Here is a great Lifehacker article to get you started.

Tip: Don’t forget about your tires

Tire maintenance important for avoiding big problems with car health

Don’t neglect common tire maintenance.

“Tires are one of the sneakiest ways to end up spending a lot of money on car maintenance. Not only can worn out tires create a dangerous driving situation, they can also lead to the car getting out of alignment and having more expensive repairs needed. Make sure to rotate your tires along with the recommended schedule and replace them when the tread is gone. Healthy tires make a good foundation for your vehicle to stay safe out on the road and will keep you out of the repair shop.”

via Motor-Pros

Going to the shop for little things will save you from going for the big things. Paying attention to the health of your tires is a little effort that goes a long way. While you may not want to spend more time at the mechanic, being stranded on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere makes that little shop sound like a Hilton, right?

Our thoughts:

We think it comes down to being educated about your car. A flat rate manual is a good place to start. Flat rate manuals are published every year by organizations like Chilton and Motor. These manuals give the estimates for: an average technician, with average tools, and the average amount of time needed to complete a specific job on a specific vehicle.

Dealers tend to know the most about vehicles they sell, but they can be more expensive. You can find some good independent shops, but they can be just as expensive as the dealer. As our head in-house automotive engineer says, “If you’re shopping for a bargain, you deserve to get ripped off.”

Here’s the bottom line about car maintenance: short-term service visits like oil changes and getting your tires rotated will save you in the long run. Go ahead and invest the money for maintenance and regular check-ups and you’ll have a better chance of avoiding those repairs that end up costing more than the car itself. Also, try to find a mechanic by personal recommendation.

cars

Pit Stop: We Nerd Out Over Our Favorite Drivers

When you work with car technology all day, your conversations tend to turn to cars even if you weren’t explicitly talking about them. For example, when Mad Max: Fury Road came out recently, a few of us started talking about how much we liked the movie, and then our favorite drivers. This inevitably led to: “Alright, who’s the better driver: Batman or Mad Max?”

Naturally, we proceeded to nerd out: “Mad Max is a way better driver than Batman! He’s driving with super low tech in the middle of a desert!”

“No way! Batman can drive any type of vehicle, and he has to do it in claustrophobia-inducing Gotham whilst avoiding civilians!”

“I think you’re missing the point, which is OMG FURIOSA.”

You get the picture. We’re huge nerds around here.

While we’ve decided to settle this debate by sharing these matchups on social media, it made us wonder how some of our favorite characters from TV and film would use Automatic. We presented this question to some Automatic teammates: “Who is your favorite fictional driver, and which Automatic feature would be most useful to them?” Here’s what we got.

Frank Bullitt – Ladan Mahini, Partner Marketing Manager

ladan2

Frank Bullitt from Bullitt. Um, have you seen that car chase scene? Need I say more?! Plus, it features my favorite car, the 1968 Mustang GT Fastback.

Frank could potentially use all of Automatic’s features, but most importantly he could use the audio feedback on his driving habits. If Frank were to be notified every time he hit the brake too hard while swerving around a corner, or how much gas he’s been wasting chasing the bad guys, then maybe his drive score wouldn’t look too shabby. If Frank were to take the feedback from his Automatic and be a safer driver, he could save on gas and maintenance costs (braking too much wears on your tires!). Who am I kidding, Frank probably wouldn’t listen to the audio cues and would still drive like a maniac through the city.

(Editor’s Note: If you want to be more like Frank, you can turn driving feedback off in Settings. We cannot, however, recommend the use of Automatic in high-speed car chases, no matter how cool they look on camera.)

Ricky Bobby – Buckley Slender-White, Head of Marketing

Ricky Bobby and Wonder Bread

Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights. I imagine that he’d like to use the Nest integration. While he might have trouble with most technology—“Where do I put my hands?”—he knows how his car works (arguably) so he might be able to figure out how to set the temperature in his house with Automatic. “If you’re not first, you’re last!”

Batman – Lisa Yu, Director of Program Management

lisabats

Who’s my fave? Batman! When the Batmobile’s out, it owns the road. It’s got so many gadgets, very fitting for its tech-savvy owner.

Batman could benefit from using DashCommand, because when the Batmobile’s out racing and he’s saving lives, he needs to be in control. DashCommand assists him in checking his engine health, tracking his horsepower, torque, and acceleration to make sure he’s catching up with the bad guys, and monitoring gas mileage and fuel consumption to keep the car running!

Richard “Dick” Milhous Dastardly – Nick Lambourne, VP of Hardware and Firmware Engineering

nickdastardly

Dick Dastardly is by far the best of the drivers in the Wacky Races and all around misunderstood villain. His car, the Mean Machine, outstripped all the other competitors with raw speed, yet Dick cared more about his villain credibility than winning the race. These are morals I can get behind!

Every well-funded villain needs to track expenses. Enter our heroes, Automatic and Xero! Now at the end of every unsuccessful race, Dick retires to his castle licking his wounds, pours an inch of Rogue’s Rum, and files his day’s trips for next year’s tax season.

Marty McFly – Ljuba Miljkovic, Designer

ljubamcfly

Easy: Marty McFly from Back to the Future. It’s easy to lose track of your car through space and time and the DeLorean is no exception. Marty needs the parking location feature to work for him in overtime. If he could integrate Automatic’s parking locator with Doc Brown’s flux capacitor…great Scott, he’d never lose the DeLorean again!

Speed Racer – Cori Johnson, UX Designer

corispeed3

The whole Racer family would use Automatic! Speed obviously would practice his races with Harry’s LapTimer, and Pops would use that data to fine-tune the engine on the Mach 5. And while Trixie keeps an eye on his races from the sky, I bet she and the Speed’s parents would appreciate his being protected by Crash Alert.

When Speed’s little brother Spritle is old enough to drive, they’ll definitely want him using License+ so he can grow up to be a great driver and one day beat Racer X. And when Spritle gets an allowance, Speed can use UnMooch to get him to cough up cash for all the times he got a free ride by stowing away with Chim-Chim in the trunk.

Nerd Out With Us!

Those are some of our favorites. (Me? KITT, from Knight Rider, hands-down. The Hoff, on the other hand….) Who or what are some of your favorite fictional drivers? Which feature do you think would be more useful to them? Sound off on Twitter or Facebook.

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 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.

http://www.obd-codes.com/trouble_codes/

http://www.obdii.com/

http://www.epa.gov/obd/questions.htm

Any other questions? Ask us!