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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Waze Social GPS, Maps & Traffic

Waze

Price: Free

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes: Android

The first thing to know about Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app, is that you can be a passive or an active Wazer. As a passive Wazer, just by driving with the app on, you are letting Waze gather information about road conditions and traffic. For example, if both you and another Wazer slow down at the same place, Waze can determine that you are in heavy traffic.

Waze Social GPS, Maps & Traffic

Waze Social GPS, Maps & Traffic

Click to view larger image.

As an additional incentive, you earn points: Little point bubbles pop up along your route and your Waze icon turns into a Pac-Man-like figure that gobbles them up. You also increase your status: When you start using Waze, you are a baby Wazer, which means you can't do things like report gas prices or change your Waze icon. After 100 miles, you become a Waze grownup.

To be an active Wazer, you need to report road conditions, gas prices and police traps; you can also update maps. Each action gains you a predetermined number of points. However, aside from determining your Waze rank, points don't really count for much besides status.

I have to admit, though, I really liked this app. It loaded immediately when opened, quickly pinpointed my location and was easy to use. Waze includes many of the features that some of the other apps reviewed here offer, such as the ability to report gas prices and speed traps. However, its main value lies in its ability to help you plan a driving route.

Put in favorite locations or enter an address manually, and Waze will give you several options of how to get there, along with a predicted time of arrival. Waze then presents you with a visual representation of each route, complete with any potential conditions that could slow your commute. For instance, you can see where traffic is moving slowly, where a speed trap is located or where a road hazard is. With this information, you can make an educated decision about which route to take.

Additionally, if you have a favorite route that is not one that Waze suggests for you, just by driving it a couple of times with Waze on, the app will learn that route and start suggesting it for you.

Waze certainly isn't perfect. At one point during a drive, Waze showed an accident on the side of the road, but I didn't actually pass the accident for several more miles.

Nevertheless, this is a great app that I highly recommend to both road commuters and casual drivers alike.

Alternatives: Beat the Traffic for iOS and Android is a free app that gives you real-time traffic maps, access to live traffic cams, incident alerts and traffic forecasts up to a couple of days in the future. Inrix Traffic for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry (also free) gives you real-time traffic maps based on crowdsourced information from the GPSes of other Inrix app users. It alerts you to road conditions and will search for faster alternatives for you.

This article, 8 apps to keep your car rolling, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Rebecca Linke is associate online editor at Computerworld. You can follow her on Twitter as @RebeccaLinke, on Facebook, on Google+ or by reading her blog.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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