Hello, fellow nerds! Apologies for the long silence, but we’ve been a little preoccupied with the relocation of NT HQ (to Washington DC, if you’re curious). That’s just about finished now, so you can once again look forward to [weekly? regular? yes, at least regular.] posts.
Today we’re going to double up on the nerdery by talking not just about travel, but also about DATA. Mmmmm, data. Specifically, data about cars, as managed by the Android application aCar. Note: We recommend clicking the images to see larger versions of the screengrabs.
“aCar is an all-in-one handy application to effectively track fuel mileage and costs, maintenance, business trips/mileages, and general expenses of your vehicle.”
Most of what we’re going to talk about is available in the free version, but it you’re a data nerd, you’ll want to upgrade to Pro, which allows you to export data to CSV. Really, you might want to go pro even if you’re not a data nerd, because aCar is a well maintained app with lots of functionality and a great UI that deserves your support. Also, widgets and automatic backup are pretty nice, too.
If you’re interested in upgrading—perhaps after reading this post—license keys are available at the developer’s website as pay-what-you-want (ish; the options are $5, $10, & $15) through PayPal. Here’s a feature comparison for when you’re ready.
aCar’s core features are fill-up, service, expense, and trip records as well as scheduled service reminders. We use the fill-up records most consistently, because they’re a good way to track mileage and it lets us rag on each other about which of us is the more efficient driver (Rachel 1).
The first thing to do with aCar is to add your vehicle (or vehicles, as it supports multiple vehicles). This is reallly convenient as it puts info such as your insurance policy number and tire pressure specifications all in one place so you don’t have to rummage through the glovebox, your license plate number for when you need a parking pass (or are staying at a hotel), and your VIN so you don’t have to contort yourself to read the fine print at the bottom of the driver-side door (or anywhere else).
The record entry screens all share an important field: tags. Why is this important? For the aforementioned fuel efficiency battle, but also to keep track of who has paid for what (for instance, in our household it answers the question “whose turn is it to take the car in for an oil change?”), categorize the record (commute? road trip? errands?) and compare fuel efficiency/costs for different types of trips. They also all require an odometer read-out and date.
This is very important to remember.
aCar requires that odometer numbers and dates are sequential or it won’t save the record—understandably, or the statistics would be all kinds of messed up. You can add things after the fact (Rachel is guilty of letting a pile of receipts build up before entering them), but you have to use the actual mileage and date (or look at previous records and fudge it, not that we’ve ever done that. Well, maybe once.).
On to some specific data goodness…
The Fill-Up Record
- Volume: if you’ve entered your tank capacity, aCar will give you a percentage here
- Price: you can select litres or gallons in settings
- Total cost: self-explanatory
aCar will automatically calculate the third value when any two other values are filled in, which is handy if you’re trying to reconstruct a record from your bank statement.
Below these fields are two checkboxes for partial/missed fill-ups. These are there to prevent wonky statistics (like that accidental “55mpg” value we had in June. Oops!). Other useful/unique fields are for indicating fuel grade and station (these will become dropdowns once you’ve entered a few to save you from having to type “Sheetz” every time you fill up).
Why is this data useful? Not all gas is created equal, nor are all engines. George doesn’t seem very particular about his diet, but Rachel’s former chariot (RIP Blue Orm), a ’97 Volvo 850 wagon, had a distinct preference for Shell or Sunoco Super. A 1-2mpg preference.
Service & Expense Records
The Services list comes pre-populated with most of the usual suspects, but if something’s missing, you can add custom types through Home->Management. The “Add Service” screen will give you spaces to specify recommended months/miles between services, values which you can also edit in the default entries if they differ from your manufacturer’s (or trusted autophile’s) recommendations. aCar will notify you of upcoming routine services by default, but reminders can be silenced.
Expense records include things like car payments, insurance, tolls, and taxes. There are also rudimentary trip records designed more to track business records than anything else.
All of these records can be browsed within the application, with search delimiters for record type, date range, services, fuel brands, payment type, fueling station, repair center and tags.
aCar has 5—yes, FIVE—widgets, the most useful of which is the “console.” This is a 4×12 widget that gives you one-touch access to add fill-up, service, expenses, and trip records. The remaining widgets provide information about fuel efficiency or cost for a selected date range (3×1), a list of three current reminders (4×1), and “predictions” forecasting, for example, your next fill-up (4×1).
aCar’s main screen provides quick access to 3 data summaries, all of which can be collapsed if the screen feels too busy.
- Status and Trends lists This/Last/3 Months’ values for MPG, average cost per gallon, total fill-up cost, total service cost, total expense cost, and cost per day/mile. Below this table are two charts for price/gal and mpg over the last three months.
- A second section lists all of your latest activities: fill-ups with indicators for whether gas prices have gone up, down, stayed the same; costs of services/expenses; and miles driven for trips.
- Below your activities is a section for scheduled service reminders.
The following features mostly apply to aCar Pro.
Statistics & Charts
aCar provides a lot of lovely (and useful) statistics and charts.
The statistics screen provides summary statistics for a selected date range.
As you can see, aCar is no stranger to charts and graphs, either.
Records and statistics are exported as separate CSV files (statistics can also be exported as HTML) and can be saved to the SDcard or sent through whatever sharing mechanisms you have (ours go to a shared Dropbox folder).
Here’s a selection of our records so you can see what you get.
Feel free to mess around with the data!
Data can be imported from *deep breath* CSV, aCar, Auto 3in1, Auto Mobile, Car Care, Fuelfrog.com, Fuelly.com, Gas Cubby, Mileage, MPG, MyCars, RoadTrip, SpritMonitor.de, Teal Auto, TYGM, Trip Deluxe, and Vehicle Manage.
We love aCar like almost no other travel-related app on our phones (actually, “like almost no other app, period, on our phones” would be more accurate. We’re both quite shocked it hasn’t gotten more press, because it is really well-done and incredibly useful. We recommend you give it a try, and tell us what you think! Or even better, tell us one new thing that your aCar data illuminated for you.
2 Unless you use a custom launcher, Android homescreens default to 4 rows and 4 columns of icons. The aCar console uses 4 columns and 1 row’s worth of screen estate (again, unless you use a custom launcher, which can be used to resize widgets).