About 4 years ago, I purchased an OBD device for reading codes from my car’s on-board computer. The device connects via bluetooth to my phone, and can tell me all sorts of information about my vehicle’s on-going issues — right now it’s the transmission. Although I don’t use the device for much more than something to catch my leg on as I exit, I’ve been toying with the idea of how to utilize the information for greater detail. And more specifically, I’ve been thinking of ways lawyers can use the technology for their clients.

Tracking and monitoring

Torque Pro ($4.99) is my preferred Android app for tracking and monitoring your vehicle’s information. There are other apps that’ll perform the same functions, but Torque works for me, and for our purposes includes the tracking features we want.


Torque Pro’s logging system is what you’ll need to set up. Set up logging by going to Settings > Data Logging & Upload.

You’re really going to focus on the information available under the Select what to log screen. Here is where you’ll see all of the data monitored — this will depend on your vehicle’s ECU and your device.

Select as many data points as you’d like. I selected the following to monitor for each trip:

  • Time
  • Speed
  • Bearing
  • Ambient air temp
  • Average trip speed
  • Barometric pressue
  • Distance traveled since cleared codes
  • Engine coolant temp
  • Engine RPM
  • Fuel flow
  • Fuel remaining
  • GPS
  • GPS v. OBD speed difference
  • MPG
  • Speed (GPS & OBD)
  • Trip distance
  • Trip time
  • Voltage

Once you have everything set, Torque will begin creating logs of the data for use in Google Earth. Note, I have “auto logging” enabled in Torque. But if you don’t, you can click Start Logging on the display screen to track the information.

When you’re ready to retrieve and use the logged data, simply select Email Logs to share your data.

I share my logs to Google Drive, but you can use any of Android’s sharing functions. Torque includes an option to upload to a web server, but I’ve never had much interest (or need) for that function.

The logs are in KML or comma separated values format, for Google Earth or spreadsheet.

Viewing your data

I email all of my data points in KML format, and import the KML file — it’s shared from Torque as a .zip file — into Google Earth (File > Import). Google Earth will take a moment to load the data points, which is when you’ll see a screen that looks like similar to this:

Yes, indeed, those are all of your data points plotted neatly into Google Earth. And if you click on one of those point, you’ll see options to expand and view the information available.

Using the data for “legal” purposes

And now, after seeing this data, I think the best easiest use is for beating speeding tickets. Assuming the attorney can authenticate the data and overcome other hearsay issues, you could use Torque to show that your client wasn’t speeding. Similarly, I can see a personal injury attorney using this data to show her client’s actions immediately before the collision.

And now the realities

The reality of my thinking is that it’s going to be very difficult (and in some states/countries, impossible) — or maybe unrealistic — to use this data. Consent is crucial, so you’re heavily dependent on the user. You’re also relying on the user to star the app for each and every trip, since there’s not a “dummy driver” feature.

The second reality, as I already alluded to above, is that some courts may be reluctant to admit evidence from Torque or the OBD. You’ll have to make sure you plan accordingly for all objections.

Photo: Check engine light just came on | Jim Bauer via Flickr

Jeff Taylor

I'm just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I'm also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.

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