Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Even cars that have reached their teenage years can now enjoy the benefits of social networking. Their ability to stay connected comes with the introduction of Zubie, a plug-in device and service that not only monitors a vehicle’s condition and location but also lets owners share that information with family and friends.

The hardware side of Zubie is a Fig Newton-size “key” that plugs into a car’s OBD-II diagnostics port, a receptacle found in all vehicles built since 1996, usually under the dashboard. The Zubie unit has a GPS receiver and its own cellular data connection, keeping the car in touch anywhere a cell signal is available. The $99.95 price includes a year of unlimited tracking and monitoring at less than half the cost of competitors like Audiovox’s Car Connection.

Drivers can get access to information from their cars using a Zubie app for iPhone or Android devices. Zubie tracks trips, logs driver actions and relays diagnostic data (including plain-language descriptions of what a Check Engine warning means). The car’s location can be shared automatically by setting up groups that will be notified of your whereabouts, a useful feature for families.

There is also a nanny aspect to Zubie. It records the types of driving events that pique insurance companies and mileage-watchers. “Hard brake detected on JQ” was listed several times during my test drives. Simply tapping on the notification revealed a map of my trip and the precise location and time when I decelerated with extreme prejudice. (Honest, I was cut off by someone.)

Color-coded icons also note rapid acceleration, top speed — no comment — and idle times. On a trip I took to get a Christmas tree, I earned a red warning icon for a rapid acceleration, a maneuver that had been necessary to make it up a steep and snowy 900-foot driveway.

Should you feel the urge, you can share all this information on Facebook.

Zubie does not require drivers to share their locations; going incognito is permitted. And requests to join your group can be turned down. It can also be used to monitor a new driver, issuing email alerts about excessive speed (from 70 to 85 mph) or venturing beyond a predetermined distance (up to 25 miles).

Zubie cannot shut off the engine if a thief steals your car, but that’s information you probably don’t want to share anyway.