8 apps to keep your car rolling

These mobile apps can help you maintain your car, save money on gas, avoid an accident -- or help if you have one.

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Torque Pro

Ian Hawkins

Price: $4.95 (free Lite version available)

OS reviewed: Android

Other OSes: None

Torque Pro is the app for dedicated car geeks who want to know their car diagnostics in real time.

Torque Pro

Torque Pro

Click to view larger image.

First, you will need to invest in a Bluetooth on-board diagnostics II (OBD II) adapter (I found one on Amazon for $23.99).

Once you get your adaptor, you have to plug it into the port underneath your steering wheel -- most cars made after 2000 (and some built as far back as 1996) have them. (The adaptor is going to stick out a little bit, so be careful when you are getting in and out of your car.) Then you just have to pair your smartphone to the adaptor and you are ready to go.

The adaptor will start sending information to your phone within minutes. The app will calculate your car's fuel economy, its horsepower and torque. You will want to take the time to enter your car's information into the app so that the readings can be as precise as possible; for instance, your car's weight and engine type especially factor into Torque's analysis.

Additionally, the app will read your car's engine control unit (ECU) to scan your diagnostic system for any error codes. Worried the information isn't correct? Run a check to make sure your car's sensors are working properly.

In addition to the basic app, Torque has a multitude of plugins you can download; most are free. There is also a free Lite version of the app available; it has ads, fewer features and works with fewer vehicle types.

All in all, this is a great app for people who know a lot about cars and want to keep on top of the diagnostics of their vehicles.

Alternatives: Dynolicious Classic for iOS ($8.99) Unlike Torque Pro, Dynolicious doesn't require an OBD II adapter; the app uses your iPhone's built-in accelerometer to measure key performance metrics, like 0-60 acceleration and horsepower.

Trapster

Reach Unlimited

Price: Free

OS reviewed: Android

Other OSes: iOS

Trapster can help you avoid speed traps (in the form of live police and mobile speed cameras), and also alerts you to accidents, construction, road hazards, traffic jams and a slew of other road conditions; all information is provided by Trapster community members.

Trapster

Trapster

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Some of these hazards are useful to know about -- like road ice during cold New England winters -- but many of these you may not want or need, depending on where you live. For instance, if you live in Boston, how often will you come across a brush fire? Trapster lets you decide which conditions you want to be alerted to and then lets you set the alert notification to audio and/or vibrate. You can also specify your "confidence level" for each condition from "low" to "validated."

The default distance for alerts is 0.3 miles, and you get alerted for any hazard or trap within that radius, not just along your route. This means that if there is a school zone coming up but not on your route, you still get an alert (if you didn't turn off school zone alerts, that is). You can reduce or expand the alert notification radius based on your preference anywhere between 0 to 2 miles. You can also have Trapster repeat your alerts, but for most road conditions, once is generally enough.

A fun feature of Trapster is the ability to set the voice you want for your alerts, as you can for many GPS units. Ever wished Austin Powers or Bill Clinton would let you know there was a speed trap up ahead? How about having Knight Rider or Homer Simpson tell you that a toll is coming up? Your wish is Trapster's command.

Trapster has a few drawbacks, many of them due to typical GPS quirks. For instance, it sometimes determines you have gone off your road when you haven't, and it keeps running in the background after you exit the app (unless you tell it not to), which can seriously drain your battery.

All in all, Trapster is a good app. A few tweaks could improve it, such as only alerting you to road hazards along your route, but it is useful for avoiding speed traps and other road hazards.

Alternative: Policeradar for Android is a free app that alerts you to speed traps, accidents and other road hazards based on information added by other users. You must have Google Maps installed to use it.

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