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Smartphone Apps Rated By Consumer Reports

The consumer publication listed its favorite mobile apps for car and truck drivers.

Consumer Reports has come out with a list of smartphone applications geared at car and truck drivers that will appear in the August issue of the publication. Some of the apps CR tested for the major smartphone platforms are available for free.

Among the free apps is aCar. The Android-based tool reminds drivers when their cars are due for service once the user enters information about a car's maintenance schedule from the owner's manual. The app will also send a reminder when it is time for the driver to renew the annual inspection sticker and tracks fuel costs and mileage.

For both the Blackberry and the Android there is the Drive app, available for free or $13.95 for a premium version. While a car is in motion, the premium version reads e-mail and text messages out loud and will send a response message of up to 500 words saying the driver is unavailable. The free version offers up to 25 words per message. The app will also soon be available for the iPhone and Palm webOS.

iPhone users can also get the iWrecked app for free, which gives a driver a list of useful steps to take after a car crash, like getting insurance and contact information from the other driver and taking photos at the scene. The app will also call 911 and help the driver find a local police station, taxi, and tow truck service.

Another free app for the iPhone, and coming soon for Android, is RepairPal. This program will help drivers find a repair shop and get estimates. It will also find a tow truck if a car breaks down. Drivers need to enter their car's make, model, and some other details in order to get a variety of estimates in a matter of seconds, according to CR. The tool also keeps records and provides service reminders.

Car Finder is an app that is sold for 99 cents, and marks the position of a car when it is parked, using the phone's compass and GPS, and then guides the user back to it at a later time. Car Finder works on streets or in parking lots, but not in indoor garages because it needs the phone's GPS signal.

Among GPS apps they tested, CR said the Magellan RoadMate, Navigon Mobile Navigator, and TomTom are the standouts. The prices range between $70 and $80. Both Magellan and TomTom are available for the iPhone, while Navigon is available for the iPhone and Windows Mobile. "All are easy to use and have features found on better portable GPS navigators," CR said in a statement announcing the driver-related smartphone apps. Using a phone's contact list, all of these programs also let a driver route to an address. The downside, CR cautioned, is that they are fairly expensive and require a separate mount, while many new smartphones have free navigation capability already built in.

The August issue of Consumer Reports goes on sale Tuesday. The publication said it does not accept any advertising and pays for all of the products it tests.

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