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West Coast Challengers
Members Only > [ Club Member Forum ]
West Coast Challengers, Southern California Chapter
 
Multi Data Gauges for less than $30
an exclusive article from
West Coast Challengers

September 5, 2010:

     I was doing some programming recently and happened upon this totally by accident. In my looking into it further, I found that it has been used on many other cars but I have never seen it mentioned that anyone has used it on a Challenger, which I find almost hard to believe. Anyway, for the last month I have been toying with a new gauge setup and I'm excited to share the results.

     Using an OBD bluetooth device I am able to pair the device to my cell phone and display a variety of the Challenger's data. With the current selection of data logging gauges, you would need to purchase the gauges (like the Aeroforce gauges, $400+) and figure out where to mount them (like using the Razor's Edge pillar post gauge pod, $200+). So, for $600+ you're styling. Or are you?

     With this OBD bluetooth device paired to my cell phone, I am able to display every bit of information that the Aeroforce or like data gauges are able to display but for less than $30. How does it look and how does it work, well you be the judge.

     Hardware.  For my setup, I am using a Motorola Droid with its 500 MHz processor and 3.7" screen. For testing purposes, I choose a cheap OBD bluetooth device available from a number of eBay vendors, mostly knock-offs from China. I paid $26, including shipping, and it took less than a week to arrive from Hong Kong. These cheap devices from overseas are really a crap shoot, they either work or they don't. Higher quality devices are discussed later in this article. The device I chose plugs directly into the car's OBD port and is the size of a credit card and about 1/2" thick, although they vary in size.

     Mounting.  For mounting my phone so that it would allow me to view the gauges, I chose to use my existing Motorola Car Mount which attaches to the front windshield via a locking suction cup and is able to move in a variety of positions and angles. $30 from any phone store. The aftermarket also provides for a bean bag type mount which can be placed directly on the dash or a seat bolt snake type mount which rises up from being bolted to one of the seat bolts to keep it secure. With the phone mounted directly under the rear view mirror (pictured above) I am able to plug the phone into a moble charger and have the cord simply drop straight down to the accessory socket. For those curious, I have never had the windshield mount fall off -- even under hard launches or large bumps in the road.

     Software.  In the Android Marketplace, there are serveral OBD apps available. I chose one named "Torque." Torque is available as a free download with ad support or as a paid app to remove the ads (about $3). Simply download, enter your vehicle's data, setup what you would like to display, pair with OBD bluetooth device, and you're displaying data right to your cell phone. One click and you're logging data, which can be then uploaded the the Torque website for your later use or logged locally to your phone with the option of emailing the data logs back to you, as seen is the picture below:

     Performance.  Any application continually running on an Android device with the screen on tends to heat up the device. Most people don't run the kind of apps that would ever allow them to experience the heat that an Android phone can produce under constant use. It's actually the battery that heats up which is mounted right behind the back plate of the phone. In running the app on a trip of more than an hour, my battery never exceeded 115° F which is well within operating temps. Normal operating temps might be somewhere between 85°-95° F. As with any app that uses the screen continually, temps will increase and the battery charge will decrease. In my tests, I can easily make an hour long trip without charging the phone. Using the mobile charger, its use would be unlimited. However, I run the app on the way to work without the moble charger and then set the phone into a charging base once I get to my office.

     Now, keeping in mind that the Aeroforce data gauge has a problem with the device draining the battery if left plugged into the OBD port, and while suspecions abound, no one really knows why as of yet. For the high end use of this particular setup, there is a company named PLX Devices that just released a bluetooth OBD device named Kiwi Bluetooth that contains an on/off switch. It is my hope that this on/off switch will aleviate the battery drain and allow for the device to remain plugged in. The PLX device is considered top of the line. The introductory cost is $99 and regulary sells for $149. I contacted the company to see about getting one of their devices for testing but no one ever returned my emails. The PLX Device can add a number of additional sensors like Wide Band O², etc., but those come at an additional charge.

     I understand this kind of setup is not for everyone, but for most of us it's more than adequate and certainly won't break the bank in the process. Someone can literally, right now, go download the Torque app for free, explore what it has to offer, all without the need for buying the OBD bluetooth device or anything else first. In fact, even without the OBD bluetooth device, the phone can use its GPS to deliver data like speed and lateral acceleration, which I used while waiting for my bluetooth dongle to arrive.

     iPhone users also have a variety of OBD apps to choose from as well, with Rev being one of the most popular. The iPhone, however, will link up with the OBD device via wifi rather than bluetooth, so take care in choosing an OBD device that is compatible with your phone. The wifi option is also available on rooted Android devices, which mine is, however, I know that is beyond most common user's limitations and wanted to keep this simple so I chose to go with bluetooth. I was also curious to see if the phone and app would allow for multiple bluetooth connections at the same time, i.e., the OBD device and Uconnect simultaneously. I'm pleased to report that it does. When a call comes in, Torque is placed into the background while the incoming call is given screen priority. However, when the call is ended, you will need to recall the Torque app back to the foreground.

     Usage.  The Torque app can display and log all of the stuff we love to see like: temps, pressures, speed, acceleration, throttle, timing, voltage, error codes, etc., and that's on the free app. With the paid version (about $3) you get additional features like horsepower, torque, boost, and a bunch of other goodies, plus it's ad free. Here are a few examples of what can be monitored:

    

         

     My favorite part of the Torque app is that it is completely configurable yet it has a number of default gauge face options, most notably colored gauge faces, i.e., blue, red, green, etc., and a number of themes. You can create your own theme or gauge face and upload them to your phone for importing into the app or go to the Torque online forum and download some that others have created. Here are a few of the default gauge face colors with a carbon fiber background theme:





     In addition to the gauge faces and background themes, you get your choice of how you want the data shown, i.e., a round gauge face, a graph or as a digital display. Three gauge sizes are also available, i.e., large, medium and small. You can fit two large gauges on one screen or three medium gauges or six small gauges. You can mix and match all types and sizes. There are also seven screens available in which to store your gauges. A simple swipe of the finger and you're looking at a whole set of other gauges -- seven times over. Also, because of the phone's screen orientation option, you can mount the phone, and hence your gauges, horizontally or vertically.







     To set up the Torque app, you simply fill in your vehicle data, i.e., engine size, vehicle weight, RPM redline, etc., and then proceed to select the proper OBD device being used, i.e., bluetooth or wifi.

         

     For those interested in data logging, the data logs from the Torque app can be imported into a variety of computer software applications that range from free downloads to paid software that provide an extremely detailed analysis of the data logs. OBDWiz seems to be a popular software application and is available in a trial version. A Google search will reveal many others.

     Because the OBD bluetooth device that I selected has a number of LED lights on it, including a power indicator, that light up when plugged in or when data is being transmitted, I haven't had the cajones to leave it plugged in over a weekend to check for battery drain. Although, because of the LED lights, I imagine that it would have an impact on the Challenger's battery (although not on other non-LX/LC Chrysler platforms). Just how much of an impact is unknown and other devices come without the LED lights. It's just too easy to reach down and unplug the device and throw in the center console until I am ready to use it again. In fact, I can install and remove the device with my eyes closed -- it's that simple.

     Well, that's it. That's my find. A small hidden treasure so to speak. I've been running the setup for about a month and except for an occassional hiccup with the app or the bluetooth device, everything runs smoothly and I am able to monitor a whole slew of vehicle data on the fly which is easily readable and looks sharp IMHO.

     One caveat however, I have noticed that with the gauges readily visible, i.e., mounted directly below the rear view mirror, more and more people are challenging me to race. I guess it's true what they say, "Gauges make you faster."

     Enjoy!

     - raVenX


 

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