We’re very fortunate to live in a time replete with gizmos that allow us a deeper connection to our cars. But between factory-installed services that cut out the owner or cost-prohibitive, user-unfriendly diagnostic hardware, we’re left knowing the least about what’s going on with the car we own. This puts many of us in the uncomfortable position of relying solely on the word of a mechanic who can easily take advantage of our ignorance.
Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, many companies have developed app-based devices that let us know what’s going on with our cars directly, and, perhaps more importantly, in a language we can understand. These pocket-sized pieces of tech help keep your car in tip-top shape by reading OBD2 codes, and they make driving safer – especially when used with other in-car devices like a head-up display or a dash cam. These are the best car adapters you can buy today.
Automatic Adapter (2nd Generation)
Why should you buy this: It’s the best all-around car adapter on the market.
Who’s it for: DIYers who want to save money on car maintenance.
How much will it cost: $100
Why we picked the Automatic Adapter (2nd Generation):
The Automatic car adapter is one of the most recognized consumer diagnostic devices due to its proliferation in Apple stores, bringing the concept of user-friendly OBD port adapters to the forefront. That means it also sets the benchmark for any competitors.
Along with the ability to decode engine and warning alerts, Automatic also helps motorists drive in a more fuel-efficient manner. Alerts and fuel consumption reports give real-time feedback that operators can use to modify their habits. On top of that, location services make sure the car is easily found either in a parking lot or in an emergency; Automatic can call 911 in the event of a crash. Being able to quickly locate your car is a boon if it’s stolen, too.
Being early to the scene has allowed Automatic to hone their offerings, developing a web-based dashboard and a bundle of apps for either performance or convenience. At just $99.95, it’s one of the most inexpensive adapters out there.
Our Automatic Adapter (2nd Generation) full review
The best connected adapter
Why should you buy this: You’re worried about car breakdowns leaving you stranded.
Who’s it for: Those who want regular real-time help from a professional.
How much will it cost: $40
Why we picked the Verizon Hum:
Verizon’s Hum takes the OBD port connection and builds on that concept with the help of its vast cellular network. Hum does all the diagnostic code translations that Automatic does, but instead of only being able to send data to a smartphone app, Hum can communicate with an ASE-certified mechanic at a Verizon call center. Now, you not only have the code translated, but you have the ability to chat with a professional who can elaborate further.
Hum automatically sends help if it detects an accident, and it lets users find their car in a parking lot. Users can also get a data report that highlights their day, week, month, or year in driving, which comes in handy when keeping track of expenses like fuel.
Verizon requires those interested to pony up $10 each month, which adds up to $120 a year. Sure, you’ll have a top-notch call center to reach out to for help, but how often would they need to be contacted for customers to justify the price?
The best basic adapter
Why should you buy this: You want diagnostic data that’s easy to digest.
Who’s it for: Users who want to keep their car in tip-top shape.
How much will it cost: $99
Why we picked the Revvy:
Meineke isn’t a tech company, so it teamed up with Vinli to develop a car adapter aimed at users worried about their vehicle’s health. The Revvy isn’t the best option if you want to keep track of where your kids go or how they drive, but it’s a stellar device if your only concern is your car. You’ll know exactly what’s going on under the hood at any given moment.
In case of a major problem, the Revvy can direct you to the nearest Meineke service center so you can have your car checked out by a human and repaired if you so choose. You can also make an appointment for routine maintenance using the device.
Revvy also provides diagnostic information in easy-to-digest terms, so you won’t have to spend hours online trying to figure out what codes like “P0102” mean. With the Revvy, you’ll know right off the bat P0102 signifies an issue with your airflow sensor, so you can either tell the mechanic that when you take your car in for service or save money and fix it yourself.
The best adapter for teen drivers
Why should you buy this: You want to keep track of your car and your teen.
Who’s it for: Households with new drivers.
How much will it cost: $76
Why we picked the Zubie:
The Zubie performs many of the same functions as the adapters we previously mentioned, but it puts a bigger emphasis on monitoring teenagers and helping them develop good driving habits. Concerned parents can keep track of where the vehicle is and how it’s being driven, so they’ll know if their kid tries to hit triple-digit speeds on a remote stretch of I-80 instead of going to soccer practice.
Zubie also gives teens tips to help them become better drivers. Users can compare their driving score to see who is the best driver in the household and earn bragging rights. It’s not all about driving better while using less gas, though.
Like many of its competitors, the Zubie provides maintenance reminders, engine diagnostic information, low battery alerts, and roadside assistance. It also provides a Wi-Fi connection.
Our Zubie full review
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.