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5 essential tech options for your new car

A car is never just a car. Yes, there’s the engine, windshield, and axle; these parts have been fundamental to cars since they were known as “horseless carriages.” But the modern automobile is heavily computerized with oxygen sensors, a stability controller, a powertrain module, and a vast network of other functions.

Now, cars are more sophisticated than ever: Bluetooth, rear-view cameras, and zoned temperature controls are standard features in 2018 models. Not many people think about the vast amount of data collection that happens.

If you are renting a car this summer, don’t be a fool. Tap or click here to avoid making one colossal privacy mistake when renting a car.

As automotive technology continually improves, connected cars can radically enhance your driving – and even idling in a driveway can be a dynamic experience. If you’re in the market for a connected car, here are five essential features to consider:

1. Telematics

Simply put, telematics is a connected system that can monitor your vehicle’s behavior remotely.

With the help of a GPS system, computers, sensors, onboard diagnostic systems and telecommunication technology (like the one you use for your smartphone), telematics can collect and send your car’s vital data to a centralized management network.

This data may include your car’s location, speed, mileage, tire pressure, fuel use, braking, engine/battery status, driver behavior and more. Telematics is already being widely used by various industries like delivery, towing, and public transport to monitor entire fleets of vehicles. With real-time location tracking, your car’s dashboard can display pertinent data like live weather conditions, traffic updates and parking lot information.

Telematics can also inform your dealer if your car may be in need of service soon or alert and send your exact location and car diagnostics to roadside assistance companies like AAA.

Related: Three sites to buy, maintain and sell your car.

2. Audio Streaming and Apps

If you’re like me, you love streaming music, especially when you’re driving home after a long day at work. Now that the days of hauling your whole CD collection to the car are virtually gone, you probably have a music streaming service of choice. These features are especially handy for drivers with unlimited data plans.

Many drivers pair their smartphones via Bluetooth or connect them via the headphone jack, but it’s unwise to navigate an app while bombing down the highway.

That’s why many new cars provide “infotainment” systems, with screens embedded in the dashboard. Many car infotainment systems have their own dedicated music streaming apps, and in-car smartphone syncing systems like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay will display the streaming app’s interface on the dashboard itself. You can access apps like Spotify, Pandora, Google Play, Amazon Music and Apple Music for music streaming, Stitcher and Pocket Casts for podcasts, and Audible for audiobooks on the go.

Keep in mind that you will need an active subscription for most of these apps before you can stream music and content in your car. And be sure to watch your data usage, too!

3. Bluetooth and USB Power Ports

Aside from hands-free calling, you can use your car’s Bluetooth wireless connection for audio playback, data tethering, and infotainment system integration.

You want at least one USB port in your new car to charge your smartphone on the go. These USB ports can also be used in place of Bluetooth connections. This way, your phone is synced with the car.

Don’t have Bluetooth in your current car? Tap or click here for three ways to add Bluetooth to an older car.

4. Hands-free Texting and Calling

To read a text message, drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of five seconds – plenty of time to T-bone a turning truck. At 55 mph, reading a text is like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

Thousands of lives have been lost due to distracted-driving related accidents in the U.S. with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) citing 3,477 deaths over the course of a single year in 2015.

Hands-free calling and texting are still imperfect, and I don’t recommend interacting with any device while operating a motor vehicle. But newer infotainment systems let you pair up your smartphone via Bluetooth so you can take calls over the car’s audio system. This way, talking on the phone isn’t that much different from chatting with someone in the passenger seat.

While connected, you can also use your phone’s virtual assistant like Android’s "OK, Google" or Apple’s Siri to read your recent text messages and even shoot a quick reply via voice.

However, it’s still much safer to avoid all phone distractions while driving so I recommend that you turn on your phone’s “Do not disturb” modes.

You can also set up auto-reply texts that folks receive while you are driving. Tap or click here for the steps to turn on auto-reply on your Android or iPhone.

5. Apple Car Play or Android Auto

Many infotainment modules have partnered with tech companies like Google and Apple, and your smartphone can link to these systems via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

These two systems are similar. They automatically sync up your smartphone with your car for music, navigation, streaming audio and myriad communications. They have been a hit with consumers, and they will likely become standard features in the coming years.

Apple CarPlay

Apple CarPlay is designed to automatically sync with your iPhone so that you can safely use your phone in your car. Basically, CarPlay allows drivers to use certain apps through an in-dash display, rather than on the phone itself. In fact, the system syncs up to the designated smartphone without having to remove it from your purse or pocket.

You can get directions, make phone calls, send and receive messages, and listen to music. CarPlay allows you to use your iPhone while staying safe and focusing on the road. All you have to do is connect your phone with a USB cable.

CarPlay features Siri voice control and is designed for driving scenarios. It also works with the car’s controls, buttons, knobs, touchpad or touchscreen. Apps themselves have also been redesigned for the car, so you can use them while you’re driving.

Tap or click here for the facts to help you decide if Apple CarPlay is worth the money.

Android Auto

If you have an Android smartphone, version 5.0 or higher, you can transform your car into your phone with an Android Auto system.

Android Auto isn’t a standalone unit; your car may have come with an Android Auto on its dashboard display screen, or you may have purchased a stereo with a display screen.

To use it, you’ll need the Android Auto app, which is free in the Google Play Store. Similar to Apple CarPlay, you have to link up an Android gadget with a USB cable to make it work.

The screen displays a driver-friendly version of the Android apps you want to use while driving. Even the GPS on your phone works with Android Auto, and you don’t have to pay a fee for updated maps.

Android Auto has a more straightforward, cleaner look than your smartphone. So, instead of scanning dozens of apps for the one you want, there are just a couple of easy-to-see functions on Android Auto screens.

Tap or click here to get Android Auto in your car and learn why you’d want it.

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.

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