Since 1996, all cars sold in the US have had to include an OBD port – an On Board Diagnostics port that technicians can plug into to check your vehicle’s systems. They were actually first used some 20 years earlier in a Volkswagen model. The OBD port is usually under your dash near the steering wheel. Accessory makers have figured out how to make use of the OBD port & its info when your vehicle is not in the shop, and two of the latest are the Autobrain and Verizon’s Hum X.
They each have a small device that plugs into the OBD port and is really not visible to the driver – and each device then can transmit information about the vehicle, including its GPS location & any “problems” the various systems might show, to apps on your smartphone or computer. Both can detect accidents and summon help, or connect you with a mechanic or customer service advisor, and both include roadside assistance with your subscription.
But there are differences you need to consider if choosing one of these (or their other competitors).
The Hum X is from Verizon and is an upgraded version of its earlier Hum model, still available. In addition to the OBD port connector, both Hums come with another piece of hardware that clips onto your visor. With the “regular” Hum it’s just a Bluetooth speaker that connects with your phone; if you go for the Hum X it’s a speaker plus it creates a Wi-Fi hotspot inside your vehicle using Verizon’s cell network, so those other than the driver who might be using a Wi-Fi only device, say a tablet or a laptop, get connectivity. There are buttons on the visor devices to summon emergency help or to get roadside assistance.
You install an app for iOS or Android – and it doesn’t have to be on the phone that will be in the car – that can be set to alert you if the vehicle exceeds a certain speed or travels outside a preset boundary, something called geo-fencing, so when the Hum is installed in a teenager’s or elderly parent’s vehicle, you’ll be alerted if they go too fast or roam too far. You can also locate the car on a map, tell police should the vehicle be stolen, and if you are using your phone in the car, it provides navigation assistance.
Now the Autobrain doesn’t have a visor unit, so some features require a smartphone inside the car, as well as their app, and there’s no option to make it a Wi-Fi hotspot (which you can do with many smartphones anyway). But just about everything else the Hum does, so does Autobrain, and some of them better.
For instance, Autobrain comes with three “Safety Modes” for different types of drivers: Teen, Senior, and Family. With “Teen” you can set speed and boundary alerts, but also if a car is driven outside of hours you set, and be told when the car is in motion or parked, add home, school and other addresses (such as a job or a friend’s house) and be alerted for that too. (Removal of the ODB device also alerts you, so your teen driver can’t “hide” from you.)
Those same safety alerts can be set for a “Senior” driver’s car so you know if an elderly relative is driving at night when he or she shouldn’t be, and there are similar “Family” safety settings. There’s a “Safe Baby” mode, to remind the driver to not leave a baby or child behind in a car when the ignition is turned off, and an automatic crash response that calls for help.
With the Autobrain you get “Trip Reports” that show you on a map where the vehicle has been & when, the miles driven, the time driven, and a score on how safely the car was driven, counting hard braking, accelerating and of course speeding. The Hum only shows a chart of the vehicle’s driving, with maximum and average speeds, etc. for a week, month or a year. It is supposed to give a “Safety Score,” but in several weeks of my use (with the feature turned on) it had no data.
Many of the features included with these devices are already built-into new cars or will soon be available, for instance, GM’s On-Star system can provide roadside assistance, crash response, navigation, diagnostics, hands-free calling and even a Wi-Fi hotspot. Even basic vehicles these days come with Bluetooth connections for your phone, so the Verizon Hum Bluetooth visor speaker is only something you’d need in an older vehicle for hands-free calling.
I put one device in my car, the other in my wife’s (I did tell her!) so I was able to track us both as I tested the devices. Personally, I liked the Autobrain better for the versatility & clarity of its app, and our cars are recent, so both have no need for the Verizon Bluetooth visor speaker.
So, what’s the cost? The Autobrain is pretty straightforward, each OBD device is under $30, then $10 monthly for the service after a free first month. There’s no contract commitment.
It’s more complicated with the Hum, available only from Verizon. The original Hum is also under $30 for the hardware, plus $10 monthly, but there’s a $20 “activation fee” and a 2-year commitment. The Hum X, which includes the Wi-Fi hotspot, currently charges $6.25 monthly for the hardware plus $15 monthly for the service which includes 1 GB of data monthly and $10 per GB if you go over. And the $20 activation fee. And the 2-year commitment. You can also buy the hardware for $99 (with the 2-years) and if you’re already a Verizon mobile customer you can add it to your existing data plan. As I said, it’s complicated.
Here’s a promo video for the Autobrain: