Quick Test: AutoMeter Goes Wireless with its AirDrive Gauge System

We’re told that digital is the end-all way of the future, yet the resurgence of paperback books and vinyl records say otherwise. While digital means of consuming information like books and music appear to be taking over, plenty of users show interest in doing things the old fashioned way. In the performance aftermarket, some may question why we still bother with analog-style gauges when there are plenty of digital dash solutions available. In a similar light, why do so many of us prefer manual transmissions when modern DCTs and automatics offer reduced shift times? We simply have more fun driving with a clutch and H-pattern shifter, and that’s all there is to it. When it comes to customizing a performance street car or race car, audiences are split between new-age digital dashes and old-fashioned analog-style gauges. For enthusiasts of the latter, AutoMeter introduces its AirDrive system. This hardware utilizes a wireless OBDII adapter to bring analog-style gauges up to modern technology with its plug-and-play functionality.

Text by Cameron Parsons // Photos by Joe Singleton

DSPORT Issue #183

The AirDrive lineup covers all of the essentials. This includes parameters such as boost/vacuum, coolant temperature, exhaust gas temperature, oil pressure, RPM, and wideband air/fuel ratio.

Refresh Rates

Whenever a new data logging or monitoring system offers an OBDII option, audiences are quick to dismiss its utility in the performance world. They are still under the impression that OBDII makes for a poor means to deliver data logs and gauge inputs. However, times have changed and this belief hardly stands true today. Modern vehicle ECUs have made strides in performance that enable using the OBDII port for more than just reading trouble codes. The amount of information that passes through the ECU, as well as the rate at which it travels, has vastly improved over the years. Now, refresh rates between the ECU and OBDII interfaces are quick enough to offer accuracy and responsiveness for monitoring engine vitals. AutoMeter saw this as an opportunity to offer its most user-friendly gauge series yet, the AirDrive.

Cord Cutters

Whether you agree with it or not, some people prefer analog-style gauges over digital dashes. It may be for looks, readability or easier installation and configuration. AutoMeter addresses this user base with the AirDrive system, one of the simplest gauge setups currently on the market. This is accomplished with the help of the car’s OBDII port and AutoMeter’s AirDrive WiFi OBDII Module. This module receives data from the car’s ECU and transmits it wirelessly over WiFi to the AirDrive gauges. Through this method, there’s no need to bother with custom wiring for individual sensors and data that is already read by the ECU. This leaves no wiring required except for a 12V power source and ground to each gauge.

As for gauge options, the AirDrive lineup covers all of the essentials. This includes parameters such as boost/vacuum, coolant temperature, exhaust gas temperature, oil pressure, RPM, and wideband air/fuel ratio. Size and face options are still somewhat limited, as the gauges are currently available in either black or silver and only in 2-1/16-inch diameters. While this doesn’t sound like a lot of room for customization, the WiFi functionality actually opens the door to many more features.

With the free downloadable Autometer Airdrive mobile app you can customize backlight colors, warning points and peak recall functions.

At Your Fingertips

The AutoMeter AirDrive Module connects to the OBDII port and broadcasts information via Wi-Fi, acting as a hub for the gauges to talk to. This wireless protocol enables users to connect their mobile device with the AirDrive System app and then customize the gauges. Through this app, users set up the gauges by mating readable OBDII channels to the associated gauges in the PID (OBD Parameter ID) menu. Once the gauge and parameter associations are made, the AirDrive app enables extra customization and features.

Although the AirDrive gauges only ship with black or silver faces, they come equipped with an adjustable backlight. Using the app on a mobile device, users have 256 different colors to choose from, laid out in a touchable palette. With selectable colors and a brightness slider, changes are instantly sent to the gauge. Taking advantage of the backlight options, the AirDrive app also allows for custom alarms on each gauge. Users simply pick a “greater than” or “less than” value to trigger the alarm, and set the alarm to either flash between two colors for a custom duration or to change to a solid color. Peak recall capabilities round out the major features list, offering users the ability to view gauge minimum and maximum readings.

Covering All Bases

Although OBDII was introduced in the mid 1990s, many vehicle makes and models haven’t offered many readable parameters through this protocol until just recently. Even on many brand new cars, you won’t find a numerical reading from the ECU for oil pressure or temperature. To this end, the AirDrive module comes with two additional analog sensor inputs in order to deliver information not received through the OBDII port. If you’re unsure of what channels the AirDrive can or can’t read off of your car, the app has a built-in search function to help you find out. It is strongly recommended that users try the app and figure out vehicle compatibility before dropping $210.95 on the OBDII module and individual gauges.

Keeping It Simple

AutoMeter’s AirDrive system is priced at a premium, but the result is simplicity and customizability that’s tough to match in the analog-style gauge market. By tapping into the ECU stream and providing the option of two extra sensor inputs, the system is capable of displaying all the engine vitals that most users would ever ask for. The system may not be completely wireless, since the gauges still require power, but the WiFi functionality makes setup and configuration much easier than wiring inputs for each individual gauge. With the added benefits of the AirDrive app for peak recall functionality and customization options, the system has a lot to offer to its users. Digital dashes haven’t dominated the gauge market yet, and perhaps never will as long as systems like the AirDrive offer function and convenience housed in the familiar analog appearance.

Who’s it for?

Whether it’s a street car or a purpose-built race car, some prefer a digital dash setup and others want the classic analog-style gauges. If you’re all about the analog style and you drive a modern car, there’s little reason to pass up on the AirDrive system gauges. The higher costs of $210.95 for the module and each gauge may scare away the entry-level spenders, but many will find the level of simplicity to be well worth it. Nearly all of the data for the gauges passes through the vehicle ECU anyways, so why not tap into it through the OBDII port instead of adding a whole mess of custom-wired sensors?