I recently heard about a former mechanic in Maine who passed the one million mile mark in his 1990 Toyota Accord. A car reaching half that distance would ordinarily be fit for the scrap yard. He put the longevity of the vehicle (which is still in working order) down to regular maintenance, using quality parts and safe driving.
He bought the car in 96 when it had 70,000 miles on it. Back then the world didn’t have smartphones. Hell, having a relative that knew a guy with a PC was a talking point for many of us.
These days cars can look after themselves to some degree with onboard computers letting us know when a tyre is losing pressure, when the engine needs a service or that you forgot to buckle up. For those of us who love to track data — like me — there’s another tool in the arsenal: aCar for Android.
aCar is an app for tracking maintenance, journeys, expenses, fill-ups and a bunch of other cool things. But is it worth it for the average motorist?
Right off the bat you can tell this app is gonna sail over the fence and into the parking lot. There are dozens of icons and buttons laid out in a grid format. It took me a minute or two to give each on a little try to see how the app was set up. It works as follows.
Awesome results when you input data regularly
The first few icons are what I began calling ‘input features’. They allows the user to input data (and extensive amounts of it, at that) so that app can track your usage and make some awesome calculations which we’ll discuss a little later. Above you can see the main screen icons with a quick preview of the data available to you when you scroll downwards.
For example, fuel usage asks the basic which you’re supposed to fill in upon each fill-up. Quantity, and price. It also requests your vehicle’s current mileage and the price of the fuel. Interestingly enough it also requests your expected driving technique for the fill-up such as urban or highway. This questionnaire sure would pass the time as you fill up.
Other ‘input’ elements run along much of the same lines. The service recorder is highly detailed with options for each little part of your car. Checking these items when entering a service will delay future reminders to have your vehicle serviced. Some other cool data input tools are the expense recorder with pre-loaded expenses such as ‘car wash’, ‘parking’ and ‘fines’.
Service reminders and a run-down of the costs associated with the vehicle
The reminders section is like a long-term alarm clock based on the odometer of your car. For example, say you’re supposed to have your brakes serviced every 50,000 miles. Once you reach that limit (based on your regular inputs) the app will remind you that it’s time to go to the mechanic.
A chart generated in the ‘Charts’ section
Asides from all these input tools there are some cool outputs from this application. The most basic being the ability to download your car’s history to your PC as a CSV file. Unfortunately, this is only available in the Pro Version. In the app itself your car’s entire history is available under the ‘Statistics’ icon; from here you get plenty of information about you, your car and the costs associated with it.
Statistics to help you drive down the cost of your driving
Some examples from the dozens include running cost per day, running cost per km, distance travelled each day, total cost of ownership so far and total distance traveled. Others associated with fuel consumption include the amount you spend on petrol, MPG, and fill-up frequency.
The key thing to remember about this app is that the more you use it the more data it can use in its calculations giving your more accurate and extensive results.
The last main feature I want to mention about aCar is the predictions. These were a bit of a surprise for a tracking-geek like me — I was expecting a car diary of sorts yet this takes it to a whole new level. The app predicts future expenses, MPG and a host of other statistics as you can see above based on previous usage. It even forecasts when you’ll next find yourself filling up!
Dated. There, I said it. As much as I love this app, it could do with a facelift. The design overall is functional and certainly isn’t garish, but it is utterly unmemorable and unimpressive. It’s not 2009 anymore. The icons are dull and boring, refusing to stand out in any way. The colour scheme is much the same story. Apps that cost $5+ are expected to have a little bit of shine.
On a positive note this design, however reminiscent of something that’d trundle out of a Soviet factory, works quite well. The app doesn’t lag at all and each button responds the moment your finger touches the screen.
For those of us who budget in spreadsheets and can’t start a fitness routine without a Google Doc tracking our every rep, this is the app to track your time on the road. However, get the free version. It’s all you’ll need.
So what about the Pro version? Worth it? You bet — if you own a business with multiple vehicles in your fleet or are simply a private taxi or coach owner. In that case, aCar will work wonders. The predictions, plus the expense tracking, allow for awesome decision making. Surely more profit can be squeezed from a taxicab when you’re driving down the MPGs?