7 low-cost tech upgrades that make an old car seem new
One minute you are going along, blissfully unaware of the cool equipment your fellow drivers have in their new cars. Then you catch a ride, and it becomes clear that their car does some very cool things. It brakes on its own. It has cameras that show the driver what's behind them. It has radar. It's connected to the internet. It communicates. It can practically drive on its own. What happened? Your car isn't old. In-car technology has changed a lot in just a few years.
"That's it," you say. "Time for a new car!" And then comes the inevitable sticker shock. All that slick new technology is expensive. And the pace of change hasn't slowed: Next year, there will be something new to envy.
So, don't trade in your old car! Get it some new toys. Here are a few cool extras that will help you love your now-connected, camera-enabled, and thoroughly modern car all over again.
1. A rear-view camera
The rear-view camera is such a life-saving piece of in-car safety equipment that last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made it a requirement on new vehicles. If your car doesn't have one, you wish it did. Adding one usually requires replacing the head unit and an expensive installation. But, if you depend on your cell phone for navigation, there is an easier way. The Pearl RearVision ($299) replaces your rear license plate holder with a dual rear-view camera system that connects to your phone. If your habit is to snap your car into a mount and follow on-phone navigation, this will be easy for you. Just change out the license holder, plug the dongle into your car's OB-ii plug (every car made after 1996 has one of these), install the Pearl app, mount your phone, and back up. Two HD cameras will show you — on your phone — what's happening behind you. Bonus: The cameras are solar charged so you won't have to worry about batteries.
2. A warp drive
How dependent are you on Amazon's Alexa? Does she control your lights and garage door? Do you rely on her juvenile humor to get you through the day? How about this scenario: You get into your car, fire up the engine, type your destination into the nav and say, "Alexa, Warp 10!" Instead of the stony silence your car responds with now, the Echo Auto fires back, "Aye-aye, Captain! Engines engaged! Helm on course!" How's that for nerd fun? Can those new-car owners do that?
There are also practical reasons to have the Amazon Echo in your car. Ask aloud and she will play an audio book or music, place phone calls, find nearby businesses, or check your calendar. You can add things to your shopping list when you think of them. And she can offer a little artificially intelligent company on a long drive. You can't quite buy the Echo Auto yet. But you can go to Amazon and ask for an invitation to buy it when it's ready. If you do, you'll lock in a great price: $25.
3. A sidekick
The Hum (starting at $99) doesn't look like a sidekick. But once you plug it into the OBD-ii port of your car, download the app, and snap the speaker onto your visor, it will forever ride shotgun. It will call for help if it detects a crash, let you know when your car needs maintenance, connect you and the people in your life to your car so you can see where the car is or ask people to keep an eye out when you hit the road. The Hum X will add a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot to your interior. And, brand new this year, the Hum connects to Google Assistant. So, you can ask it all kinds of questions, including what's on your calendar, what the weather's like, or your ETA.
4. A security staff
What's your car doing, right now? If you have the Raven installed on your dash, you could take a look and see. It's a smart security camera for your car. You install it on the dash, run a cable to the OBD-ii port, and look in on your car whenever you like. Your Ferrari is in the garage, your kids are watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and you're afraid they'll get ideas? Open the app on your phone and check. You can see the road or flip around and look at the interior. A quick glance will tell you if your baby is safe and sound. You can capture video while you are driving, too. A simple gesture stores it so you can retrieve it later as evidence. The Raven offers turn-by-turn directions if you — somehow — don't already have that. And it will keep an eye on the health of your car, alerting you if you need oil, air, gas, or to rein in the speeding.
5. A teen driving coach
If your family sports a newly minted driver, get a subscription to Zubie. For $99 a year, you'll get up to four devices that plug into the OBD-ii port. Once installed, the app will alert you to the maintenance needs and driving skills of all the cars in your family fleet. You'll know if your teen is out late with a dead car battery because the car will tell you. You'll know when she's driving fast, braking hard, or traveling far away because the app will alert you. You can gamify good driving by comparing your score with hers. (Maybe you aren't the fabulous driver you think you are?) And when something goes wrong with the car, the app will estimate what repairs should cost and help you find someone nearby to do them.
6. A tire sensor
There are two kinds of people: those who routinely check the air in their tires and those who are shocked to learn that anyone would do that. The ZUS Smart Tire Safety Monitor solves for both. Screw the sensor into the air valves of your tires. (They have anti-theft protection.) Plug the receiver into your car's USB port. Download the app. The ZUZ will monitor each tire separately, alert you to slow leaks, and check your pressure constantly so you never have to.
7. A jump start
You probably have jumper cables in your car, right? But if your car battery goes dead when you are miles from anywhere, those won't help. Even if it goes dead in the parking lot of a crowded grocery store, you'll have to stand around in the rain begging strangers for a charge. Or you could put the AdventureJumpStart battery and charger cables in the glove box. Then you'll have jumper cables and a charge right there in the car. Bonus: It will charge your phone in a pinch.