Spending so much time in and around brand-new cars certainly comes with its perks. Nothing quite compares with being handed the keys to a new BMW M2 and shown the way to a private race track, and few car shoppers are invited to test the best winter vehicles side by side. From auto-show previews to rambles in ragtops, it’s easy to take the new toys for granted.
When you just stepped out of a $50,000 2017 Acura MDX, $35,000 for a fully loaded Subaru Outback suddenly looks affordable. When a 2017 Nissan 370Z Roadster costs close to 45 grand, $32,000 for a 2017 Miata RF seems like a steal—I mean, it has a roof!
But at the end of the day, many of us are forced to hand back the keys to the car company’s representatives and climb inside our personal cars. And—surprise, surprise—our personal cars usually aren’t loaded to the gills with top-of-the-line, cutting-edge features and tech.
If you’re in the market for a used car, you’re probably not expecting to find one with fancy backup cameras, Bluetooth audio, and head-up displays. Luckily, whether you’re driving a 2011 Chevy Tahoe or a 1995 Cadillac Eldorado, there are a few devices you can easily find and install that will help bring your car up to modern standards.
USB Car Charger
I’m not willing to admit that kids these days care more about owning the new iPhone than they do owning a car, but I will concede that owning one greatly improves the experience of owning the other. Thus, the USB charger may be the single most critical piece in bringing a car out of the Stone Age. With maps and CDs headed the way of the passenger pigeon, being able to easily charge your phone while driving ensures that you’ll always be connected. Chances are, every car on your local dealerships’ lots will have at least one 12-volt outlet, and an inexpensive USB car charger can turn that relic into useful juice. Chargers have advanced to the point that you can even enjoy 3.0 quick-charging or—if you have more than one device—numerous USB ports. If you were to buy only one accessory for your car, this would be our recommendation. A USB car charger will open the doors to all of the following upgrades!
It might seem like a tiny convenience, but switching to Bluetooth will change your life. This upgrade requires an auxiliary audio input, so make sure your car has one, and then take the plunge, cut the cord, and finally allow the back-seat passenger to manage the Spotify playlist. Some Bluetooth receivers operate on a battery, but I’d recommend one that plugs in via your USB car charger, as it’s one fewer electronic device to run out of juice on your next road trip. Thanks to steady improvements to the technology, relying on Bluetooth for your music doesn’t mean you’ll be subjected to low-quality audio anymore, either.
Perhaps no assistance feature has helped the average driver more in the past decade than the rear-view camera. This upgrade is a bit more tricky to install than a plug-and-play device like a Bluetooth receiver, but its impact may end up being equally huge. It can make parallel parking easier and potentially turn you into one of those drivers who always backs into their parking spot. And if you have a challenging driveway or live in a neighborhood with children, a backup camera might be a necessary safety feature, rather than a simple convenience. Luckily, aftermarket rear-view cameras abound, and you have numerous options. All (obviously) include a camera that attaches to your car’s rear end—sometimes the bumper or trunk-release handle, and some come in the form of a special license-plate bracket. From there, the camera can feed images to either the dashboard’s infotainment screen, a standalone device like a smartphone or GPS unit, or even a rear-view mirror.
Bar none, my favorite new feature is the head-up display (HUD). Whether it’s showing only the vehicle’s speed or includes extras like turn-by-turn navigation or offers street-sign detection, the head-up display manages to blend practicality with an interface that feels, frankly, like magic. I cannot explain how convenient it is to see the last speed-limit sign posted clearly but unobtrusively whenever I need to reference it. These displays are often reserved for high-end cars and almost never come as standard equipment on top-selling cars, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy one. Garmin makes an aftermarket HUD that pairs with your phone, using an app to populate necessary information, which is then reflected onto your windshield.
Critics like to comment on how the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is quickly becoming a car show, and perhaps they’re right. Case in point: Few new technologies have made as much noise in the auto world as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Most shoppers assume that to enjoy either system, they’ll have to run out and buy a brand new car equipped with the proper tech. If you’re tied to Apple, that might be the case. However, if you’re an Android user, Android Auto is only as far away as Google Play. The Android Auto app launches the vehicle-smartphone-integration system directly on your device, giving you the same experience a brand new Chevy Camaro can. We’d recommend buying a smartphone mount to help keep your eyes on the road, but there’s no need to invest in an expensive head unit when you can enjoy the app for about $500 less.
What accessories do you keep in your car?
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