It’s 106 miles to Chicago, it’s dark, and we’ve got an app

On this, iPad 3 Eve (and apparently Apple TV 3 Eve, as well), I thought it might be nice to step back from X-raying all the leaked parts and turn our collective attention to something even more exciting than discussing pin-outs on display connectors: auto performance apps for iOS. And by "apps" I mean the one I ponied up for with my own cash money. But more on that in a moment.

Back when I was a college boy, full of boyish vigor, a hint of boyish vim, and clad in pinch-rolled Bugle Boy jeans, I owned a Mustang. Actually, I owned two Mustangs. Not at the same time. The first was a 1990 LX 5.0 coupe (or notchback to those in the know) with a five-speed transmission. I had managed to add a cat-back exhaust system the summer between my junior and senior year to give it a really nice sound. I then managed to hydroplane along I-70 outside of Grain Valley, Missouri, slide across a ¼-mile wide grass median into oncoming traffic, and get smacked—not head-on, thankfully—by a minister. First, no one was seriously injured. Second, I was actually doing 10 miles per hour under the 65mph limit at the time. Regardless, the car was toast. It was replaced a couple of weeks later with an ’87 GT. Neither my dad (who had an ’86 LX 5.0 coupe) nor I were big fans of the GT with its extra, obnoxious body cladding and higher insurance premiums. But I needed a ride and the car was being sold by one of my dad’s friends, so we knew it hadn’t been driven for six years by someone like me.

At the time, my friend and now fellow-TR scribe Andy "Dr. Evil" Brown also had a 5.0. We both installed new rear gears, assorted traction-aiding devices, and headers. Then, one day at an unclaimed salvage place where we occasionally unearthed electronic treasures, we found them: car timers. For, I think, fifty bucks or so. Remember, this is early 1994, long before the days of G-Tech meters, when the only thing I owned that had a built-in accelerometer was my own brain. Which was not attached to a timer.

This particular timer came with a display you mounted somewhere on your dash and a sensor that you mounted in a front wheel well. The sensor had to be aimed just so at the inner rim of your wheel. Oh, and you had to mount magnets on the wheel. Those button magnets you find at craft stores whose main purpose is to be ingested by the less-astute of the kindergarten population. Andy and I spent a lot of time epoxying magnets to our wheels. The more magnets you used, the more accurate the timer would be. We thought. But wheels get quite warm when driven, and our choice of epoxy wasn’t quite correct—and so numerous magnets were left scattered along the byways of eastern Jackson County, Missouri.

To calibrate the timer, you had to drive one mile exactly. This required finding a highway, with mile markers, where it was safe enough to pull off onto the shoulder. Which we did with ease because we were 21-years-old and bulletproof, hydroplaning experiences be damned. The timer would then know how many magnetic pulses it read in a mile and could then calculate your speed and assorted times. It was cool. Really. Even with the old-school digital clock-style numbers. And if I recall correctly, my best 0-60 was 5.3 seconds.

Fast forward 18 years, and I’m walking around with a computer in my pocket equipped with three accelerometers, a GPS chip and other location-based hardware and code that The Administration uses to track all Texas residents. And, as of yesterday, my iPhone 3GS sports an app called Bosch Light ‘Em Up. At $4.99 for the paid version, it was $8 cheaper than the identical Dynolicious app. And I mean identical (I think). The apps are produced by the same developer, BunsenTech, and produce the same results. Even the dev’s website lists their features as being the same. But apparently Bosch paid for this version, so it’s cheaper. I don’t know, and I don’t care. If the Germans want to subsidize my app budget in hopes of me buying their Titanium Hasselhoff Edition spark plugs, I won’t argue.

The unfortunately named Light ‘Em Up measures acceleration times in 10mph increments, ¼ mile times and trap speeds, lateral G forces, braking G forces, horsepower and skidpad. You can set it up for multiple cars and email or post your results to Twitter and Facebook if you want to stick it to that guy in the IROC ("He had t-tops, man! He was screwin’ with me!"). Like to tinker? You can catalog your mods and see if adding that Folgers can-sized fart pipe actually gained you anything besides an annoyed girlfriend.

Setup is both easy and frustrating, depending on what you wish to measure. For all measurements except horsepower, all you have to do is a simple calibration upon launching the app for the first time. You literally turn the phone on all its axes so the app can measure the accelerometers. If you want horsepower numbers, you have to input the weight of your car. Which is easy to find online. What is not easy is continually adjusting for the amount of gas in the tank, the girth of your passengers, and the amount of gray market Quad Lokoo you have in the trunk. And if you want to know how much horsepower you’re turning at the crank instead of at the wheels, you’ll need to input a driveline loss number, which a simple Google search will probably reveal.

Frankly, I gave up on the horsepower number fairly quickly. After making my best guestimate at total weight, the app told me my almost-vintage 2004 WRX wagon made 295 horsepower during a less than wide open throttle run. And I doubt that Fram AirHog filter added 68 horsepower to my car. Other users have fared better with the horsepower numbers. But these folks appear to regularly strap their cars on actual, rolling dynos and can, therefore, play with the app’s setting accordingly. Once dialed in, folks report accuracy within just a few HP, which is pretty good for a cell phone.

For timed runs and skidpad numbers, though, Light ‘Em Up is pretty sweet. Stop your car, hit start, take off, and do your business. The app stops timing automatically after 30 seconds (because if your car is that slow in the quarter, get out and limp) or if you slow more than 10mph. You can even set rollout parameters and how many G’s it takes to trigger timing. I approve.

Is Light ‘Em Up the best auto performance app out there? Of the one I’ve tested, yes. But you’re welcome to put your own money where my mouth wasn’t (hmmm, ewww) and try others. Like gMeter, g-tac or Rev. But please, use them responsibly on closed roads with a HANS device and full-face helmet. Also, I do not accept collect calls from the hoosegow, so don’t bother calling for bail.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled rumor-mongering and gear-lust-anticipation-lust. If you need me, I’ll be in the garage Gorilla Gluing some magnets to my kids’ trikes.

Later,

Fox

Comments closed
    • pwdrhnd23
    • 8 years ago

    Nobody mentions that all the Mustangs mentioned in the article are “Fox” body Mustangs?

    • adam1378
    • 8 years ago

    For the Android users I use the Torque Pro app and a cheap Bluetooth adapter from ebay. I used it to read engine codes and a full diagnostics.

    [url<]http://bit.ly/w5uG[/url<]

    • vargis14
    • 8 years ago

    Too bad OBDII has crappy data bandwidth.You do not get realtime data ,you get bits and pieces of data from tons of sensor/components and ecu/tcus etc.Most sensors are too fast to get a real time stream in newer cars.Even if you monitor just one sensor say a A/F sensor which is now used in front of you cat converters instead of a O2 sensor which is still used behind the converter.
    But you can get a very rough picture.To see your true reading you really need to hook up strait to the sensor with a oscilloscope for a realtime picture/log of what its doing, then slow it down and watch it.
    Just saying OBDII is not like the connector they hook to fomula 1 cars where they download the image of your laps etc etc.

    • ludi
    • 8 years ago

    The array of sensors in an average smartphone is downright boggling. Did not know my Nexus One housed a magnetomometer until a friend suggested I search the Market for the word “compass”.

    Haven’t tried any car apps yet but now that you’ve woken my up to the possibility, I’ll have to give it a shot.

      • Thrashdog
      • 8 years ago

      With cameras, accelerometers, GPS, compasses, and gyros, and the ability to tap into the car’s own sensor data and via the OBD port, the typical smartphone is a formidable one-stop telemetry system. There’s an app I’ve got on my Android phone called Trackmaster that I can use at autocrosses. It’ll record a GPS ground track and acceleration data of a run while taking HD video, and when the run is done I can compare the data with previous runs, while the video is automatically uploaded to Youtube for sharing with friends. This is the sort of data that not too long ago only professional race teams, with thousands of dollars in gear, could track… and it’s really only scratching the surface of what’s possible. With an OBD interface, the phone could (provided the car has sensors for each) track throttle position (requested and actual, if it’s a drive-by-wire system), RPMs, steering angle, reported speed and individual wheel speeds, and anything else the ECU cares to share via CAN-BUS. It’s absolutely mindboggling.

      • FireGryphon
      • 8 years ago

      I have a metal detector app for my iPhone 4. You have to get the phone pretty close to metal for it to work, but it sure as heck does work!

    • dashbarron
    • 8 years ago

    Love your posts and their wit (and I tolerate the obscure references), thanks Fox.

    I’ve seen other Apps that interact with your car and I’ve seen/heard(?) ones that you can get to get live feedback from you ECU apparently. Ever tried one of those?

    Also: nothing says badass dad like a Mustang…and I heard the 6 cylinders get great mileage too! Ditch the ‘wagon….

      • cheddarlump
      • 8 years ago

      I have that app, called Torque Pro, which can read realtime OBD2 info from the diag port, in addition to all the above features. App costs $5, and the Bluetooth interface from PLX Kiwi cost me about $99 from thinkgeek. You can also read fault codes, set up multiple profiles, and reset error codes via the phone. Best $105 I’ve ever spent. You can watch misfires, fuel trims, O2 voltages and crosscounts, MAF readings, Spark advance, and temp / pressure readings realtime.

        • dashbarron
        • 8 years ago

        Thank you. I don’t have any sort of reader and was thinking about the best way to approach this situation.

        • Scrotos
        • 8 years ago

        Yeah, but can you reset the damned, “time for an oil change!” warning that pops up?

          • cheddarlump
          • 8 years ago

          You do that by holding down the button with the key on and the car off for 5-10 seconds. 🙂
          No app needed. If it’s a honda, it’s weird, you have to have the car off, key on, and fully depress the gas pedal and release 3 times or some such nonsense.

            • vargis14
            • 8 years ago

            Toyotas are easy to reset the oil change/Maint light.Make sure your odometer is on your mileage not any trip miles.Key off all the way and hold the trip button down and turn the key to the on position…do not start keep holding the trip button after you turn the key to the on position and watch the 5 dashes on your odometer count down and go away.
            Some have to be on trip A and do the same steps as above but just on trip a.
            4 runners have a reset button you hold down when you turn key to on position and the mait light will flash 5 times and go out and its reset.
            There are a few other ways with newer models, but i am stopping now its dinner time.
            GMs are weird turn key on and stomp gas pedal 5-10 times real fast.

            • Scrotos
            • 8 years ago

            Well I’ll be danged. I have a “reset warnings” selection that does nothing but apparently there’s the whole “turn on to accessory position, stomp gas 3 times, turn off, you’re set” process for 2011 Chargers.

            I’ll give it a shot next time the change light comes on! Thanks!

    • LaChupacabra
    • 8 years ago

    This app would get me in trouble. A month ago I was pulled over and the cop said he could give me 4 tickets. 1 for rolling a red (which ultimately was the only one I got), aggressive acceleration, a noise ordinance (I didn’t squeal the tires THAT much) and speeding. The speeding was only 5 over in a 55, so not a big deal.

    *Edit: Good taste in cars, btw

      • Chandalen
      • 8 years ago

      It’s a shame you didn’t get all 4.

      Also: I’m glad you don’t live in my neigbourhood.

        • LaChupacabra
        • 8 years ago

        I guess that did come across wrong. It was on a country road that I know, in a situation where you can see anyone coming. I was putting new tires on my car and had never done that before (this is the first rear-wheel drive car I’ve ever owned). I’ve never done something like that in a place where someone could actually be put in danger if I lost control of the car, and even the officer involved didn’t think it was a big deal.

        I hope a little context makes that story make a little more sense. It was harmless fun, which is what this app is for. I’ll try to keep my car guy nature in check on a tech website from here on out.

          • Chandalen
          • 8 years ago

          Now you are just backpedaling looking like a kid that got his hand stuck in a cookie jar.

          I’d make a point by point basis of why you are still an a-hole while in a car, but honestly I don’t care enough to bother.

            • Waco
            • 8 years ago

            And you look like someone who’s never enjoyed a car. 🙂

            • LaChupacabra
            • 8 years ago

            Personal attacks are not necessary on a post about cars and fun. Try to conduct yourself with a little class.

            • Scrotos
            • 8 years ago

            I dunno, I think that might be a stretch for ‘im. Bummer you got tagged, seems like you got a “scare them straight” kinda cop or something. Were you making a right on red?

            • LaChupacabra
            • 8 years ago

            Yea, what happened was I turned left at a stop sign and was trying to throw the back end of the car out. It was right before we were supposed to get heavy snow, and I was trying to learn just how far I could push it before the car would lose control (y’know, seemed like the right thing to do to prevent hitting people during a blizzard). While that was happening the cop turned onto the road I was turning off of. Anyway, this turned out to be a lot of fun (a lot of fun) and I was slamming it through the gears (my car is a supercharged V6 with a 6 speed) going right up to the speed limit trying to figure out what kind of grip I could get out of it. It was on a quiet back road and, aside from the cop stalking me, no one was around. I got to a stoplight to turn right and rolled through it (first gear is a pain). That’s when the cop came up behind me and turned the lights on.

            So, my guess is what happened is he threatened all the other things and gave me a ticket rolling the red because that was the only thing I really did. I don’t think he ever clocked me going more than 1 or 2 over the speed limit. I couldn’t have squealed the tires much because the traction control was on, and even at the stoplight I came to an almost stop even though no one was coming. Even with the ticket though, it was a blast. I would highly recommend everyone goes out (on quiet country roads, empty parking lot, on a track, whatever) and learns how to drive in less than stellar conditions.

            About a month after that I did end up losing control of the car and going off the road. I was traveling to a different state to meet some friends. A gust of wind caught me as I was going over a bridge and I almost ended up going into a frozen river. After doing a complete 360 I was able to keep the car under enough control to skid to a stop on the shoulder of the road. It was pretty scary, but at least I knew what I was doing.

      • blorbic5
      • 8 years ago

      I don’t think I ever come to a complete stop at stop signs unless there are other cars around. First gear is just to big of a pain.

        • nico1982
        • 8 years ago

        The biggest problem is that there are never other cars – or motorcycles – around when you do a rolling stop until you cut them off and they crash in your side 😛

    • Decelerate
    • 8 years ago

    Awesome post, and I don’t even have a car!

      • thesmileman
      • 8 years ago

      really? Not trying to start an argument I just thought the opposite so I was trying to understand

        • Decelerate
        • 8 years ago

        What was wrong with it (serious question)? It’s a blog post, and I like his writing style. Heck, I learned about Mustangs!

          • thesmileman
          • 8 years ago

          I was just curious as I feel in complete contrast to what you mentioned as your reasoning. To me it reads like ramblings and seems to take away from the way TR has always been (which may be what TR means by changing things they mentioned recently). Fox seems to be totally different and this isn’t a mac/pc thing as I have macs and pc. It just seems to strongly contrast the rest of the TR work (somewhat similar to one of the reviews a few months back where it was totally different).

            • tahir2
            • 8 years ago

            Love it. In case you didn’t get it – it was full of technical reporting. 😉

            • Scrotos
            • 8 years ago

            Just view the blogs as the friday night non-tech topics that gets posted. Even still, this was about an iPhone app and a tongue-in-cheek review of it with some backstory to show how things have come a long way since, well, a long time ago. It’s not like he’s talking about woodworking or philosophy; it’s about mechanical and software stuff.

            • Dr_b_
            • 8 years ago

            While this post wasn’t as painful to read as some of his others, I would have to agree the Fox blog is something to avoid. Instead of a decent technical review of the app, for example, we get a lot of whimsical prose that is supposed to be funny but doesn’t quite work out. The editors could have literally cut that post down into a single paragraph of substance, the rest is just stupid crap like his driving history (who cares?) and illustrative, wordy prose. Jason, go write for the new yorker or something but stay away from technical material.

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