Smartphones are dangerous when you're at the wheel, but they can come in handy if you're taking your car in for repairs, shopping for new wheels, or even if you're locked out.
Increasingly, auto shoppers want to research cars during the week on their home or work computers and then access that information on their smart phones in the showroom on the weekend. A spike in traffic from mobile devices on weekends confirms this pattern, says CEO Chip Perry of AutoTrader.com, the largest online site for car ads. In response, AutoTrader set up a special site to handle mobile apps for iPhones, Android-based devices, and other smartphones.
Here are a few of the most useful auto apps. The first three are from GM, and designed to help owners with their cars. The rest are from independent providers and are aimed at people shopping for a car or a repair shop. Did we miss one that you like? Please share it with other MoneyWatch readers in the comments field below.
Find Your Car With the myChevrolet app (or versions for Buick, Cadillac and GMC), you can save your parking location to a GPS-connected map. If you are parked at a meter, you can set a timer to remind you when you need to put in more quarters. You can download the app free from apple.com or android.com. So far no one has offered an app that will let you drive the car remotely, as James Bond does in the video.
Check the Manual To get a searchable manual for your car, scan the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) with your smart phone camera. With the GM apps, you can then find any information you want, from how to program radio buttons to the meaning of that warning light that's flashing at you.
Lock or unlock If you subscribe to GM's OnStar service, you can download the OnStar MyLink app and control some functions of your car remotely from your phone. OnStar ($199 a year) is principally a safety and security service with live operators who call 911 if they detect your car has crashed. But with the new app, you can unlock your car from your phone if you have locked yourself out, or you can lock it remotely. This app as well is free from www.apple.com, or from www.android.com.
Check on Auto Repair Estimates With an app from the AutoMD.com, you can access AutoMD's estimates of what is a reasonable cost for specific repair jobs. (See Auto Repair: Save by Avoiding Dealers. ) If you are stuck needing sudden repair help, you can also find the location of nearby shops. The AutoMD app is available at the iTunes store.
Check Prices Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) also offer iPhone apps for car shopping, with information such as target prices based on average sales in your area. (Kelley Blue Book also has a Windows Phone 7 app, and both will have Android versions shortly). The apps from Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds are available at the iTunes store. On AutoTrader's streamlined mobile site, you can comparison shop: While kicking the tires in one showroom, why not check to see if the same car is advertised at a lower price in another nearby dealership.
Find Dealers If an AutoTrader ad or the Edmunds inventory function shows a similar car nearby, you can get a map to get to that dealership. They also will show you dealership phone and e-mail contact information. Hey, why not put your salesman on the phone with his counterpart at the other dealership. Let 'em bid for your business.
"People now are used to shopping on the Internet and just clicking to buy. Shopping for cars can seem like being on another planet," says Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl. "Having access to the information they need on their smart phones will make a lot of shoppers feel more at home."
Photo courtesy of General Motors
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