Watch any car commercial and you’ll see just how far we’ve come from the days when the only car options were an engine and wheels. Now you can get a high-end entertainment system with navigation, Bluetooth support and more; a backup camera; adaptive cruise control; a lane-change warning system; night vision; self-parking; and, in the future, even self-driving capabilities.
There’s just one problem: To get all those cool new features you have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new car, and chances are it might not have the new features that are coming in next year’s model. Not many people have the money to upgrade cars as often as they do smartphones. But maybe you don’t need to.
It turns out you can add some of the same advanced new car features to the car you already own. Even better, it is incredibly affordable, and some of these features can actually save you thousands in the long run.
Now, you might be saying, “That’s great, Kim, but I’m not a mechanic, and I don’t want to risk ruining my car.” Don’t worry; you can install most of these in minutes with no special skill needed.
I can already tell you’re excited, so let’s jump right into it.
1. Know exactly what’s going on with your car
Few things about a car are as annoying as the “Check Engine” light. It might mean your gas cap is loose or your engine is about to conk out, or something else in between. How do you know which it is?
To find out, it used to be that you had to take it down to a mechanic so they could hook it up to an expensive diagnostic reader. Even if they didn’t charge you anything for the service, that’s still taking up your valuable time. Fortunately, those days are over.
There are plenty of units that plug into your car’s onboard diagnostics port and can send information via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to your smartphone. The OBDLink series from ScanTool is a popular option.
Using the dedicated app or Windows program (you can also use third-party apps and programs like Torque), you can instantly see if your car is going to pass a smog inspection, get the exact engine error codes causing the Check Engine light, or check engine speed, manifold pressure, fuel economy, and just about every other sensor your engine has.
Plus, you can clear the Check Engine light if it isn’t serious, and output your logs to Google Maps so you can see where you’ve been and how fast you were driving (great for keeping tabs on teenage drivers). Unlike some other units, OBDLink shuts down when your car isn’t running so it doesn’t drain your battery.
If you want to use Windows and Android take a look at the OBDLink MX Bluetooth ($79.95). To get iPhone or iPad support as well, the OBDLink MX Wi-Fi ($79.95) is your option, although some people report the Wi-Fi connection can be spotty.
2. Avoid insurance scams
There’s a car insurance scam that seems to be happening more frequently. The way it works, the scammer gets in front of you at a red light or stop sign and then backs into your car so it looks like you rear-ended him.
That’s why it’s great when a car can record video of what’s going on around it. You can prove your innocence and avoid your premiums going through the roof.
The easiest way to record what’s going on around your car is with my Komando Dash Cam ($184.99). It’s always recording in two directions at once so you don’t miss any action. In the event of a collision, it saves your footage to a memory card with a time stamp so you have solid proof of what happened.
It can also record in low-light at night to catch thieves breaking into your car. With the included memory card, it can record up to six hours of video.
Don’t leave yourself unprotected. Click here for more information and reasons why you need the Komando Dual Lens Dash Cam today.
3. Track your car’s location
Do you have teenage drivers or an aging parent with a car, or who uses your car? There are times when you might want to know exactly where they are. Newer cars have built-in systems like OnStar that can tell you.
4. Get a hands-free cellphone
Just about every new car has Bluetooth built into the onboard entertainment system. This lets you receive and make calls more easily using the car’s stereo system.
For a few hundred dollars, you can buy and have installed a third-party entertainment unit for your car that includes Bluetooth. Or you can add it to your existing system for less than $60.
The Solar Handsfree Bluetooth Car Kit ($59.99) mounts right to your windshield or visor. You can pair your smartphone to it for hands-free calling. It has a multifunction button that will trigger voice dialing so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to make a call.
One battery life will give you up to eight hours of talk time and the device can store up to 1,000 contacts. Let the sun charge it or plug it into the car adapter so it can charge at night. Click here to learn more about this must-have accessory for any car.
5. Back up safely
One of the most dangerous moments when driving isn’t changing lanes at 65 mph, but backing up your car. Whether it’s a parking lot or your own driveway, you never know if another car is going to drive past, if someone is going to walk behind you or if a small child is out of your rear field of view.
That’s why backup cameras are becoming standard on new cars, and especially larger vehicles like SUVs and trucks. You can see what’s behind you so you don’t hit anything, and it also helps with backing into parking spaces or other tight areas.
There are a number of third-party backup cameras you can add to your car, but there are several types available. Some mount inside the car and some outside. There are types that only send a signal to a TV monitor you mount on the dashboard and some that use Wi-Fi to send images to a smartphone or tablet.
Also, be aware that not all exterior cameras are waterproof. That’s fine for those of us who live in the Southwest, but anywhere else in the country it will be a problem.
Rear View Safety is a company that makes a wide range of backup camera options. Its Wi-Fi Backup Camera System ($129.99) is a nice balance of price and features. You can view the image on your smartphone or tablet using a free app. You will need to splice the Wi-Fi transmitter into your backup lights for power and automatic triggering when you reverse, but it isn’t too difficult.
If you’re using a smartphone with your backup camera, you want the smartphone mounted on the dashboard where it’s easy to see. Click here to learn about a cheap way to mount a smartphone inside your car.
If you don’t want to tie up your smartphone and you’re OK spending $50 or $100 more, you can get a rear-view mirror attachment with a TV monitor built in.
**Psst: For more ideas, read this article about other ways you can upgrade your car with new tech.