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Handy Smartphone Apps for Cars

Looking for a parking spot? Ask your phone. That’s reality for San Francisco drivers who can use their smartphones to find available parking spots and prices. There are a lot of handy smartphone apps for cars on the market, and you don’t have to live in San Francisco to get them.

Parking

San Francisco residents can download the Parker app from Streetline, a company that develops innovative parking solutions, to their Android phone, iPhone or compatible tablet for free to snag a parking space. Unfortunately, it’s only available in select parts of California, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New York, Texas and Utah. Kelly Schwager, vice president of global marketing and communications for Steetline, doesn’t indentify the cities that will get Parker next, but says, “The reason Streetline started with the initial set of locations is that someone has championed bringing Parker to the area.” For example, the mayor of Los Angeles helped bring Parker to his city.

Other apps let you pay for parking through your phone so you don’t have to worry about parking tickets. Apple advertises $1.99 apps called San Francisco Parking, San Diego Parking, Seattle Parking, Chicago Parking and NYC Parking that let you pay your meter electronically.

Other apps remember where you parked your car when you can’t. Parkdroid and MyCar Locator are free Android apps that let you save your car’s location and use GPS to remember that spot. Apple offers Take Me to My Car, which is also free.

Finding the Lowest Gas Prices

Marianne Ho, an Arlington, Va. resident, uses Cheap Gas on her iPod Touch to find the best deals. “It’s an app that I use every day,” she says. “I paid $4.05 for midgrade, while other places in my area were charging $4.30. It’s an awesome way to save money.”

Before Memorial Day, a gallon of mid-grade gas in Virginia hovered around $3.09, but in Washington, D.C., which borders Arlington, mid-grade cost about $4.28, which means the Cheap Gas app helped Marianne get a good deal. GasBuddy, which provides pricing information for Cheap Gas, offers a similar app. Download it to your iPhone or Android phone for free, enter your location and you’ll get a list of prices for regular, mid-grade, premium and diesel fuel.

Car Maintenance

The aCar app for Android is a free program that gives you service reminders for getting your oil and air filters changed. If you upgrade to aCar Pro, you can create charts that organize services, trips, expenses and fill-ups and export vehicle statistics to an Excel spreadsheet.

Car Care is an iPhone app that costs $4.99. You can use it to record mileage for your vehicles, receive scheduled maintenance reminders, gauge fuel economy and graph your fuel data. There are also free applications like Vehicle Logbook Lite and Car Maintenance Tracker HD. If you don’t want to pay for an app, the free ones may meet your needs.

Accidents

If you get in an accident, it’s easy to forget to collect important information from the other driver. That’s what makes Nationwide Mobile, free on both the iPhone and Android, a helpful tool. It offers an Accident Toolkit that helps you get in touch with the police and other emergency services, helps you collect information from the other driver, allows you to store your insurance information and lets you take photos and record details. If you’re a Nationwide customer, you’ll also get towing assistance.

Geico and Allstate have similar applications, both of which are available on the iPhone and Android phones, but they’re geared toward customers and allow you to access your insurance information.

Navigation

Factory-installed navigation systems can cost as much as $2,000, and downloading a smartphone app that gives audio directions is a great way to save money. Several Android phones offer Google Maps with Navigation for free. Google Maps uses GPS to give voice-guided directions and find and recommend places like restaurants. It even has a 3D map option.

The iPhone comes with Google Maps, which also uses GPS to give step-by-step directions, but they aren’t voice-guided, and Google Maps with Navigation isn’t an available application. But, you can get a 30-day trial of MotionX GPS Drive for $0.99. After your 30-day trial ends, you can subscribe to the service for a year for about $20, which is a good deal considering factory-installed navigation systems can reach $2,000 and a portable system can cost about $300.

Applications from Automakers

One way to start sifting through apps is to check automakers. Generally, these applications are restricted to cars from the 2010 model year or later. Here are some well-established automaker apps you can download. 

Ford SYNC AppLink

Ford SYNC is an optional infotainment system available on models like the 2011 Ford Fiesta and Ford Edge. It offers hands-free calling, turn-by-turn directions, 911 Assist, music search and vehicle health reports. With SYNC AppLink, which is Blackberry, iPhone and Android-friendly, you have voice control of applications on your smartphone. To get SYNC AppLink, go to www.syncmyride.com and create an account. 

GM Models: myBuick, my Cadillac, myChevrolet, myGMC and OnStar MyLink

GM offers myBuick, myCadillac, myChevrolet and myGMC apps, but they’re restricted to the iPhone and Android phones and apply to 2010 models and later. These applications have similar functions and allow you to locate dealers, schedule vehicle maintenance, search the owner manual and receive roadside assistance. Keep in mind that you need an OnStar subscription to access these services.

OnStar MyLink is handy, but you must have a subscription. It allows you to lock and unlock doors or start your car remotely, regulates when you charge your Volt, allows you to view fuel information and check vehicle maintenance information like oil life, mileage and tire pressure.