What seems to be your dongle? We compare three of the latest car diagnostic adapters

We're very fortunate to live in a time replete with a multitude of gizmos that allow us a deeper connection to our cars. Between factory-installed services that cut out the owner or cost-prohibitive, user-unfriendly diagnostic hardware, we're left knowing the least about what's going on with the car we own. This puts many of us in the uncomfortable position of relying solely on the word of a mechanic who can easily take advantage of our ignorance.

Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, many companies have developed app-based devices that let us know what's going on with our cars directly and in a language we can understand. With the Verizon Hum on the horizon, we wanted to see it how fares against similar OBD II port dongles: one that came before -- Automatic, and an up-and-comer -- Vinli.


The Automatic car adapter is probably one of the more recognized consumer diagnostic devices due to its proliferation in Apple stores, bringing the concept of user-friendly OBD port adapters to the forefront. That means it also sets the benchmark for any competitors.

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Along with the ability to decode engine and warning alerts, Automatic also helps drivers drive in a more fuel efficient manner. Alerts and fuel consumption reports give real-time feedback that operators can use to modify their habits. On top of that, location services make sure the car is easily found either in a parking lot, or in an emergency -- Automatic can call 911 in the event of a crash.

Being early to the scene has allowed Automatic to hone their offerings, developing a web-based dashboard and connection to a bundle of apps for either performance or convenience. At just $99.95, it's the most inexpensive adapter of the three.

Verizon Hum

Verizon's newly available Hum takes the ODB port connection and builds on the concept with the help of its vast cellular network. Hum does all the diagnostic code translations as Automatic does, but instead of only being able to send data to a smartphone app, Hum can communicate with an ASE-Certified mechanic at a Verizon call center. Now, you not only have the code translated, but you have the ability to chat with a professional who can elaborate further.

The hardware is free, but Verizon requires those interested to pony up $15 each month. That'll add up to $180 per year, which can't currently be part of an existing Verzion plan. Sure, you'll have a top-notch call center to reach out to, but how often would they need to be contacted for customers to justify the price?


The new dongle on the block is Vinli, which is so new it's not out yet. Vinli is, in its own way, a hybrid of the first two adapters. Like Automatic, you have easily readable diagnostic data and a host of third party apps for safety, security, and telematic gathering. Vinli connects to a cellular network, but doesn't have any dedicated call centers. Instead, Vinli will turn cars into roving T-Mobile wifi hotspots.

Along with the $149.99 pre-order, Vinli users will have to select a T-Mobile data plan, ranging from $5.99 for 500MB to $40 for 3GB of 4G LTE network usage.

So what'll it be? Select the lower cost item and tackle issues on your own? Subscribe to Verizon's network of helpers? Or provide friends and family with a mobile wifi? Regardless of what customers choose, they all at leas begin to finally unravel the mysteries that lay under the hood.