Carista Customization App Review

On the 86 Owners of New England Facebook group someone was complaining about the FR-S/BRZ’s extremely sensitive seat belt sensors causing false warnings for the passenger seat. It’s true – one time a water bottle spilled a little water into the unoccupied seat, and the warning blared at me and wouldn’t shut off. I had to buckle the passenger seat belt to make it shut up until the seat dried out. In the comments someone suggested using the Carista app to turn off that warning. I did a little research and found that Carista is capable of all kinds of comfort, convenience, and lighting customization. I downloaded it for free to my iPhone (Android is supported as well) and gave it a try.

Carista requires you to have an OBD2 interface to connect to your car. You can buy Carista’s for $39.99, but I already have an ELM327 that I got to run DashCommand, and Carista supports this specific interface as well. You can get the ELM327 on Amazon for a fraction of Carista’s price, so I recommend that instead. Carista supports a number of models by Audi, BMW, Lexus, Mini, Toyota, Scion, Seat, Skoda, and Volkswagen, as well as the Subaru BRZ – so basically BMW, Volkswagen, and Toyota. Their web site says support for more manufacturers is coming.

I had some problems connecting at first, and actually used DashCommand to troubleshoot and confirm a good connection. Between my car, my phone, and the ELM327, getting a good connection can be tricky sometimes – not a fault of any particular app. But once I successfully connected with DashCommand, I shut it off and was able to connect with Carista. Its user interface is very basic, but effective. Upon connecting I was presented with options to customize or check faults. There is also a feature to check if your VW or Audi is one of those affected in the Dieselgate debacle, which presumably just pulls your VIN and compares it to a database of affected cars. Since I have a Subaru, I didn’t test this.

Don’t even bother using Carista for OBD2 diagnostics.  It took a good five minutes for it to pull data from my BRZ. In comparison, DashCommand will do it in under five seconds. Carista did give my car a clean bill of health, which was correct, but it took way too long to do it. If your Check Engine light comes on and you already have Carista it will work fine to pull the code, but there are many better apps you can get for diagnostic purposes.

No, the reason to get Carista is to customize comfort and convenience features. Different cars have different features that you can play with, and you get a full list when you select the Customize option. Unfortunately, that’s where it gets you. Nearly all of the customization features are locked until you make an in-app purchase, which was $19.99 for my BRZ. Nowhere on the web site or in the app itself does it say anything about costing money until it’s teased you to this point, which is rather annoying. But at least you can see exactly what you can and can’t customize on your own car before you spend anything. My list included enough features to make it worth it to me, and the in-app purchase unlocked all functions instantly. I can also go back and change settings as much or as often as I want. But since communication between the app and the car is extremely slow in customize mode as well – especially since it has to download all of the car’s available functions every single time you connect – I won’t be changing settings often.

I started on the Doors/Windows/Remote menu. I was fine with the stock remote lock/unlock functions, but quite a bit of customization was available here. I could disable the light flash, beeps, and even adjust the beep volume if I wanted. I did disable the warning that the doors can’t lock because they’re open, because the long continuous beep is irritating when I hit it by accident. Similarly, I disabled the panic function because there have been times the button has gotten pushed in my pocket by other keys, no doubt annoying the whole neighborhood. I also gave myself 60 seconds to open an unlocked door before it locks again instead of the standard 30 seconds, which I’ve found to be not quite enough time for me to load the trunk and get to the door at times. Additional functions are available if you have a smart key, but I don’t. No window functions were available for the BRZ, but on some VWs you can turn remote window and sunroof control on and off. Check the list of supported vehicles to find yours and what features you can customize on your own car.

On the Instruments/Display/Dings menu, I disabled the seat belt warning buzzers. This didn’t have as much effect as I expected, but it still did what I was looking for. If you’re not buckled up when you start the engine, the car still beeps the standard warning at you. If you drive off with no belt the warning light flashes as usual but all subsequent beeps are disabled. Of course I encourage everyone to wear their seat belt on the street at all times, but I was tired of getting beeped at after getting my mail and not buckling up to go up my driveway. I left the key-in-ignition and headlight warnings alone, but each can be disabled as well.

For lighting, I left my daytime running lights on, but I might try turning them off at ice time trials to not give away my handbrake strategy. There’s an option for “Coming Home Lights Duration,” which I eventually figured out meant how long the headlights remain on if you leave them on the automatic setting and leave the car. I had no idea they were even on a timer at all, so I shut the timer off and now the lights turn off as soon as I open the door, just like my AW11 MR2. You can change the automatic headlight sensor calibration, but I find the stock setting to work well. I did extend the interior light shutoff delay to the maximum of 30 seconds. At the stock setting I’m only partway through putting the key in the ignition, plugging in my phone, and putting it in its mount, so this should give me time to finish before turning off the light.

If I had a BRZ Limited with automatic climate control I’d have some options available there, too, about just how automatic I’d want it to be – turn the A/C on automatically or increase blower speed with the front defroster, or recirculate anytime A/C is on. But since I dial my own climate control manually, I don’t have these options.

When I change any of these settings, they work after a brief pause to transmit the change to the ECU. I watched my daytime running lights turn off and on when I tested changing that function to verify that it took effect immediately. Like I said, the user interface is super simple – just text and radio buttons, which is why I haven’t bothered to include any screen shots here – and it takes minutes, rather than seconds, to connect and download your car’s data. But Carista does serve its purpose in giving you access to customized settings you don’t have access to otherwise. It’s not an app you’ll use all the time, so pretty screens and lightning speed aren’t required. Now that I’ve changed my settings I doubt I’ll change them again very often.

Is it worth the money? It depends. I decided it was, between the features I wanted to modify in my car and the opportunity to review it for you. But if there was only one setting I might want to change, it wouldn’t be worth it. I also have no idea whether other cars cost $19.99 or a different price, because I’d have to find all those cars, scan them, and get well into the app before it will tell me. But Carista does work exactly as it’s supposed to, and the added enjoyment of my slightly modified functionality is worth it to me.

Carista

6 out of 10
The Good Lets you reprogram lights, warnings, locks, and other comfort and convenience functions without any specialized equipment. The Bad Slow to read and write to ECU. Diagnostics way too slow to scan. The Bottom Line Useful for customizing comfort and convenience features occasionally, but there are far better apps for OBD2 diagnostics.