Rating: ★★★★½

Pros:

  • Precisely relays information regarding driving relative to fuel economy
  • Easy to use and setup

Cons:

  • Bulky, too big for some keychains

Gas is expensive. I remember a time when I couldn’t spend more than $20 filling up the gas tank. Heck, it was almost a game, trying to empty the tank as much as possible just so I could reach that $20 mark. I never could.

Then, 9/11 happened, the war in Iraq, and a number of other things. Suddenly, gasoline was more expensive than Gatorade. Then milk. Now I can’t get a full tank of gas without spending at least $40, and that’s with going out of my way to cheaper gas stations. Because here in California, the difference in price for a 20 minute drive can be as much as 50 cents. Heck, just 20 minutes ago I spent over $50 on 13 gallons. Fuel economy has never been so important.

Thus, the EconoDriver.

The EconoDriver is a handheld doohickey that has one purpose: to determine, if you are driving economically or like a gas-guzzling chump. If that doesn’t matter to you as you read this review driving in your Hummer, it’s time to click on another link. But if you sigh every time you go to the gas station to fill up, then pay attention.

The purpose of this device is twofold: to give drivers information about their car (such as distance driven, miles driven per gallon of gas, the amount of money spent per mile, and even how much money you save (or lose)) by how you drive. How does EconoDriver figure all this out? Using your car’s data port.

All cars made after 1996, and some models in 95 and 94, have an OBD-II port, a computerized port not too dissimilar from a USB port, that relays information about the car to special devices. Mechanics have such devices, though in this case maker Lemur Motors is using that information to determine the distance driven and gallons of gasoline spent. Those two critical pieces are determine everything else the EconoDriver shows…along with one user-input bit: price of gas.

The EconoDriver, in front of a 4th gen iPod Touch for size comparison

Same as above, for thickness comparison

Locally (in Los Angeles County), gas prices can be anywhere from $3.27-$3.69 for 87-rated gasoline in recent weeks. I am currently estimating my cost per gallon at $3.29, because I’ve managed to buy gas for that price, on average, for the past two months. Based on that number, and using the distance and gallons spent, I can know how much money I spend per gallon or mile (9.2mi/$, $0.10/mi), the average miles per gallon (30.3mpg), an estimate of money wasted ($4.77) and money spent ($239), and of course the distance driven (2200mi). Money wasted is essentially the amount of gas you spent that didn’t need to be spent, which is mostly caused from irregular braking and accelerating, and driving too fast. Finally, there’s a five-leaf rating on how “green” you drive, for which I aced.

How you drive will of course impact these numbers. When I drove to Las Vegas for CES, my average of 30.3mpg went down to 29.2mpg in a matter of 3 days. It should be noted that I drive a Nissan Altima Hybrid 2008, which means my car drives more efficiently on streets, not highways and freeways, that latter of which is the drive to Vegas, mostly. My leaf-rating fell from 5 to 4.5 in just the drive from LA to Vegas one way.

The OBD-II plug-in, which relays data to the EconoDriver wirelessly every 30 seconds when in range

Using the EconoDriver is easy, as should be expected from a 3-button device. Plug the OBD-II connector into your car and once the LED on it activates, you’re ready to sync the devices together. Once synced, select the fuel type (gasoline or diesel) and the engine size. The engine size is not generally necessary, and for my Altima only the wrong engine size would properly synchronize. If you have a similar problem, don’t worry, just find an engine size that works and keep going. As the manual states, this is not a problem for most vehicles.

This review was made easier because my Altima has a built-in real-time MPG rating which updates instantly, so I always have a feeling for how economically I’m driving. For the past two years since I’ve owned the Altima, I’ve found the car runs at roughly 30mpg, which is exactly what the EconoDriver indicates, as seen above. This is for several reasons: I’m a very smooth driver (it’s important to understand when to brake and to accelerate…specifically, that braking always lowers gas mileage), that my car rarely spends gas when idling (thanks to the electric engine), that I don’t often carry excess weight and I rarely need to use the A/C.

My only problem with the EconoDriver is that while it’s made for a keychain, it’s very large. I recently had to clear off my keychain from too much clutter, and I never added the EconoDriver to it. Instead, it has a place in my front-seat cupholder, which isn’t so bad. I still checked on it regularly, especially when driving differently intentionally for this review.

As a 5-leaf driver, I can say with certainty that anyone who doesn’t have a good sense of how they drive, or perhaps if you have a new kid driver who is still learning the ropes, or if you just want a good method to keep track of your driving and spending on gas, the EconoDriver works great for all of those functions. Just remember two things: it requires a vehicle with an OBD-II port (meaning any car manufactured after 1996, and some 95 and 94 models), and that you may not be happy with the results. That is, you may find that you aren’t as economical driver as you think. A win-win, either way!

The EconoDriver is available on Amazon for $74.95.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.