Connected cars are poised to become the norm. But these days, the smarter car, the more expensive it is. And not everyone is willing to break the bank just yet. 

Fortunately, modernizing your ride doesn’t have to be cause for fiscal toil. From pulling data about your car to anti-sleep apps, there are various ways you can make your old car smarter while being kind to your wallet.

(Related: Check out our interactive quiz on car data to see if your smart car smarts are up to par.)

Get on board with OBD

For decades, cars have had powerful computers that manage a kajillion digital processes. The system that helps report all this information to smog technicians and mechanics is the on-board diagnostics port (OBD).

Already pretty smart, right? But OBD ports have also made way for other devices that can make your car, well, smarter.

Cue the dongle

Dongles are adapters that plug into the OBD port, and many are designed to distill the car’s high-octane volume of data down to a simplified report for the driver.

Utilizing this data, some devices help estimate how much you spend on gas each month, or the fuel costs for a specific trip so passengers can easily (and, more important, equally) split fuel costs. Others let you know when it’s time to get an oil change or replace your brake pads.

Given that many of these devices have GPS, certain brands also provide roadside assistance. So information regarding the specific car troubles can be automatically broadcasted from the device to the tower.

Some top-brand dongles cost as low as $10 a month, plus a one-time equipment fee (not including taxes and such). Advanced diagnostics products can run upwards of $500 and into the thousands, but may still be more affordable than opting for even among the least expensive semi-autonomous car.

Now, you might be wondering about cars without OBD ports. Well, a device that can be found on restaurant tables across the U.S. also enables plenty of connected-car features: your smartphone.

Apply the apps

Got a souped-up ’73 Dodge Dart with candy paint but no OBD? Well, if you’ve got a smartphone, you may have access to a suite of connected-car apps that cost next to nothing (and sometimes nothing).

Combating drowsy driving

If you’re planning a long trip with your roadster and are worried about drowsy driving, several anti-sleep apps may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Some let you set up alarms beforehand, at random intervals, to help keep you awake throughout the trip. But many monitor drowsiness cues using complex algorithms, which detect head positioning and eye-blinking rate. When it spots drowsiness, an alarm goes off.

Considering that stats show nearly 17 percent of fatal crashes involved a drowsy driver, apps like these — which don’t cost much — can be absolutely vital.

Improved navigation

Sure, most smartphones are already equipped with interactive map systems. But if you want to take your navigation to the next level, check out the latest apps that turn your smartphone into a projector. In effect, they transform the lower portion of your windshield into a display screen so you never have to take your eyes off the road.

And they can even alert you to upcoming sharp turns through a combination of visual aids and voice assistant. Plus, some brands don’t require any extra projectors or special film for the windshield.

Lane-changing and collision-warning

Driving apps for smartphones often employ GPS, cameras, and sensors to alert the driver if, say, the car ahead has slammed on the brakes, using a variety of visual cues. While they’re not an absolute substitute for collision-warning systems, they may be able to identify hazards before the driver has time to react.

But even more advanced systems are available to vehicles, with or without OBD, that can either be hardwired into the vehicle or — if your car has one — co-opt the OBD. Products like these are designed to detect road markings, gauge vehicles ahead, and use unique alerts as part of their lane-departure and collision-warning systems.  Products like this typically cost around $500.

Earn smart savings from Esurance

Of course, this presents the perfect opportunity to showcase one of our own connected-car products. And not only is it free, but it can also help you save on auto insurance. 

Cue the DriveSense® mobile app  only from Esurance — which automatically saves you 10 percent on your policy just for signing up. DriveSense logs driving behaviors and provides you with useful safety tips so you can adjust specific behind-the-wheel habits. As your driving continues to improve, your 10-percent discount just might continue to increase too. 

Smart technology | Car tech


about Evan

From writing content for life coaches to working on indie film press releases, Evan’s motley repertoire has been considerable in the last couple of years. Now he employs his varied aptitude as a content writer for Esurance. He’s also a self-proclaimed polyglot in training with a proclivity for dog-eared books.