Auto-Finder Review: “Dude, where’s my car?”

In the mid 1990s, my best friend and I took a trip to DisneyWorld in Orlando.  Every time we returned to the parking lot, we faced a familiar scenario:  We couldn’t find our rental car.  Simply too many cars!  Adding insult to injury, our rental car was a red Chevrolet Corsica… which was a staple of rental car agencies back then.

When I saw the Auto-Finder from Finder Technologies, I knew I wanted to try this.  You see, my undergraduate senior design thesis was on radio-direction finding methods.  I’ve participated in many amateur radio “fox hunts”, where a buddy hides somewhere in town and a bunch of college guys without girlfriends on a Saturday night (yes I was one of them) run all over the hills with radio receivers trying to find the hidden “fox”.  Oh yes, a fun bunch we were. Would the Auto-Finder lead the way?

The basic kit is composed of a battery-operated beacon that stays in your car, a keyfob “locator” and a leatherette carry case.

1. Pointer Remote – battery powered transceiver carried by user and attached to keychain

  • One “Locate” push button for activation
  • Three LEDs for direction indication
  • A speaker that produces tones proportional to correct direction
  • Two custom, patented antennas used for determining directionality
  • 2x size 27A batteries (12V)

2. Beacon – battery powered transceiver mounted in the vehicle

  • A speaker for reporting status
  • Two omnidirectional antennas
  • 3x size AA batteries

Hardware Specs:

Pointer Remote

  • Transceiver frequency range: 2405 – 2480 MHz
  • Transmitter output power: +19 dBm
  • Internal operating voltage: 3.0V
  • Batteries: Size 27A, 12V Alkaline (x2)
  • Battery Life: approximately 6 months (typical use)
  • Dimensions (WxLxH): 1.87″ x 1.87″ x 0.63″
  • Weight (with batteries): 4.75oz./135g
  • Antennas: PCB trace antennas

Beacon:

  • Transceiver frequency range: 2405 – 2480 MHz
  • Transmitter output power: +19 dBm
  • Internal operating voltage: 3.0V
  • Batteries: Size AA 1.5V Alkaline or non-rechargeable Lithium (x3)
  • Battery Life: approximately 6 months (typical use)
  • Dimensions (WxLxH): 2.75″ x 3.54″ x 1.02″
  • Weight (with batteries): 7.0 oz/ 200g
  • Antennas: Embedded antennas

This wedge-shaped object is powered by three AA batteries and can be attached inside your car with the supplied hook-and-loop tape.

autofinder-beaconvelcro

The keyfob is roughly the size of an everday car alarm fob, although perfectly square.  Fits into the included carry pouch perfectly if you don’t wish to attach another fob to your key ring.

So how does it work?  To test this, I tried the Auto-Finder in two typical parking setups:  Inside a concrete parking structure with lots of hard surfaces, and while parked in an outdoor, open-air flat parking lot.  I knew reflected radio waves were going to be the enemy, so I thought this was prudent.

To operate the Auto-Finder you simply press the keyfob button.  It sends a signal to the beacon.  The beacon then sends a locating signal for the keyfob to home in on.  So far, so good.

The keyfob has three green LED arrows.  The stronger the signal, the more arrows.  There’s also a chirping speaker inside the keyfob that beeps with increasing tone and frequency the “hotter” you get.  All this makes perfect sense.

What I found, however, that the Auto-Finder is easily confused by reflected waves and bombards you with a cacophony of bleeps in rapidly changing tones.  The green LEDs were not much help, either;  They would frantically flash to the beat of the beeps, seldom providing any useful information.

The instructions suggest sweeping around in an arc while standing in place:

  • Stop
  • Press the Search button and slowly scan the whole parking area
  • Observe the sounds and arrows for the strongest indication
  • Release the Search button
  • Walk in the direction of the strongest indication

I got many odd stares by passers by as I was using this modern-day divining rod.  I was used to it.  After all, I’m a geek.

What surprised me was there was no change in accuracy or usability for me in a concrete parking structure vs. an open air one.  In either case, the Auto-Finder appeared overwhelmed by all the signals and spat out bleeps and beeps and green lights.

One thing that did work, however:  If you are VERY close to your car, the Auto-Finder’s beeps change into a constant tone.  BEEEEEEEEEEEP..!  This is better than nothing.  But at this point, if you’re right next to your car and need this kind of electronic assistance, you may be better served honking your horn with your car’s remote.

Does it work?  Sort of.  But I can appreciate the kind of challenges in a a product like this.  The remote itself is very small, so the antenna receiver design is limited.  A receiver sensitivity switch or knob would be handy, allowing the user to “fine tune” and reject stronger multipath signals.   But adding that would be difficult to explain to non-techies.

In the end, I like the idea.  It doesn’t rely on GPS so you don’t need a clear view to the sky.  It doesn’t draw attention to yourself by honking the horn of your vehicle (although you may get strange looks as you’re beeping away).  You can even purchase a multi-unit kit for the entire family.  It may need a little more work before it earns a permanent place on my key ring, however.

What did we do with our rented red Chevy Corsica?  We tied a green ribbon to the radio aerial.  It was the only way!

 

Product Information

Price:$99 for the Essential Kit (as shown)
Manufacturer:Finder Technologies
Pros:
  • Works with any car
  • Move from car to car
  • Does not rely on GPS signals, or subscription services
  • Batteries included
Cons:
  • Keyfob receiver seems overwhelmed by all the reflected signals
Posted in: Car Gear, Reviews

8 comments… add one

  • Mark February 15, 2010, 10:41 am

    Having recently been to Orlando with my extended family, I was faced with the similar situation.
    However, it doesn’t take much effort to remember that we parked in “Goofy 121″ and then once you get to that area, hit the
    panic” button on the key fob. The beeping car is easy enough to spot at that point.

    Having said that, I might get this and install it on my kids….THEN it will come in handy! :-D

    1
  • eClipse February 15, 2010, 11:20 am

    Another product useful 5 years ago.

    Assuming I can’t just remember, I could take a Geo-Code pic with my Android, take an Evernote photo with the location written down,
    and most cars these days have a locater / panic button from the factory.

    2
  • Sandee Cohen February 15, 2010, 1:17 pm

    One more thing to carry.
    One more set of batteries to install.
    One more thing to forget to take out of a rental car.

    I agree with Mark. Just look up at the light post and remember Donald 80.

    And I have a feeling this gadget would never work in a five-story parking garage where I forgot which floor we are on.

    eClipse is spot on. A great product for the past.

    3
  • mrofone February 15, 2010, 8:31 pm

    I just record a voice memo on my phone and say the exact location of the car. “Parked at Level 3, Section C, space 121.” If I need to, I play it back when it is time to find the car. Usually, the act of recording it is enough to get me to remember it anyway, but I have the recording as a backup. This has worked great for years.

    4
  • Voice of Reason February 18, 2010, 4:52 pm

    Car alarm- 50 foot range with embarrassing auto alarm noise and flashing lights. People have adapted using this device as an auto finding device because it is the only thing the public has been given.

    GPS- unlimited range but has many problems with large buildings, underground parking, accuracy, cost and having to preset the location every time you park.

    Taking a photo with your phone and writing youself a note are OK but, do you do that every time you go to the Grocery store and push your full cart down the wrong isle???

    This Auto-Finder has helped me numerous times when I thought I knew what I was doing and this thing came in handy. I am totally stoked that I got one for Christmas from my sister and I think it just takes a little practice to get used to…

    5
  • Tried it myself February 18, 2010, 8:35 pm

    I got one of these for Christmas gift and was intrigued, and what I found was it is like using a metal detector. Lots of noises and variations of those noises as I did what the instructions said and moved my hand slowly to scan for my car. But what I discovered is you have to listen for that highest-pitch blip amongst all the other sounds. Once you hear it, that is the direction you need to walk in. The other thing I found is that if you really don’t know where your car is, you are completely dependent on listening for the strongest signal and it really does lead you to your car. I also found that the green arrows work better than the sounds from farther away.

    6
  • Bill Levin September 6, 2014, 12:53 pm

    What is the effective range (distance)?

    7
  • Andy Chen September 6, 2014, 6:25 pm

    I don’t recall. It seems this company is no longer around.

    8

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