Bring Your Old Gal Into The Modern Age
The average age of a car on American roads today is 11.5 years. That means the average driver is tooling along without benefit of modern safety technology. But it’s possible to bring those old cars up to speed. And it’s surprisingly easy and affordable. Some systems are free. Others sell for only a few bucks and can be installed DIY.
Why should you bother? Because safety features have come a long way in the last few years. It can be baffling to understand what each system does, but they make it easier to avoid collisions, find your destination, monitor the systems in your car, even park in tight spots.
After-market versions are available for nearly all of the smart technology safety features available in new cars. And most are less expensive than the comparable built-in option on a new car.
The free options work via apps on your smart phone (navigation and head up display are two good ones). But be forewarned: using your phone for navigation makes it hard to change your Spotify playlist.
Here are 10 ways to take your car from old school to space age in no time.
1. Collision Avoidance System
What it does: Detects potential safety hazards to help avoid a crash.
How it works: A camera, dash-mounted display and, with some systems, sensors embedded in the vehicle’s bumper, detect traffic, traffic lanes and people or objects around you. It gives you a visual warning if traffic slows, if you drift from your lane or if you’re speeding (some systems can read speed limit signs).
What it doesn’t do: Automatic braking, which is available in most new cars.
Cost and installation: $65+; MobilEye 560 does it all for $850. Simple systems are DIY installation; more sophisticated systems need a professional.
2. Blind Spot Warning
What it does: Lets you know if something is in your blind spot.
How it works: Sensors are installed in the front and/or rear bumpers to detect traffic surrounding traffic. Alerts are installed in the car (usually near the rear view mirrors) and flash when there’s something in your blind spot.
What it doesn’t do: Automatically brake to avoid a collision
Cost and installation: $75+; Goshers blind spot warning system $250; professional installation recommended.
3. Parking Sensors
What it does: Alerts you to low walls, cars or other objects in your path when reversing, parking or making a turn.
How it works: Sensors are embedded in the car’s bumpers. A dash-mounted display signals when the car is dangerously close to something outside of a driver’s view.
What it doesn’t do: Automatically brake before you hit something.
Cost and installation: $20+; sensors are installed via holes drilled into the car’s bumpers; professional installation recommended.
4. Rear View Camera
What it does: Provides a video view from the rear of the car when backing up; you can also monitor traffic behind you.
How it works: A camera is installed above the rear license plate and sends a video signal to a monitor or your smart phone. Some systems clip on to the rear view mirror (these can include a forward view camera, too), others mount on the dashboard or can be wired to an existing touch screen.
What it doesn’t do: Record images or automatically brake when an object is detected
Cost and installation: Camera prices start at $15; full systems such as Auto Vox start at $130; professional installation recommended.
5. Engine Diagnostics
What it does: Monitor your car’s health, from the oil level to what the check engine light is telling you. A smart phone app provides information on alerts, lets you check systems remotely and get reminders when maintenance is due.
How it works: A small device plugs into your car’s on-board diagnostic port (OBD-II) and a smart phone app lets you check your car’s systems or sends a notification if there’s an issue.
What it doesn’t do: Monitor non-engine systems such as tire pressure.
Cost and installation: $30+; Car MD offers a “car health checkup” for used car purchases and estimates repair costs; Hum by Verizon maintains a mechanic hotline to provide fast answers when the system sends an alert. Installation is simple—just pop the device into your OBD-II port (its location can be found online or in your owner’s manual).
6. GPS and Navigation
What it does: Digital maps and turn by turn directions with visual, voice and real time guidance to your destination.
How it works: There are plug and play systems with dash-mounted monitors, in-dash systems and smart phone apps. Many systems have real time traffic and free map updates.
What it doesn’t do: Read speed limit signs; speed limit information is pulled from GPS or map information and often doesn’t reflect temporary speed limits, such as construction zones.
Cost and installation: $60+; TomTom and Garmin pioneered this space and have a broad range of systems and prices. Most systems are plug and play, but for in-dash systems, professional installation is recommended.
7. Touch Screen Display
What it does: Like a tablet for your car, touch-sensitive systems let you access things like satellite radio, navigation, a rear view camera or smart phone apps.
How it works: Installed in your car’s center dashboard, it looks and functions just like factory installed versions. Touch the screen to choose Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, set up navigation or set your favorite radio station or playlist.
What it doesn’t do: Provide engine diagnostics or control the car’s other functions, such as climate control.
Cost and installation: $100+; the more features, the higher the price. Pioneer’s top of the line versions have it all for about $1,400. Professional installation recommended.
8. Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
What it does: Monitors the air pressure in your tires and alerts you if pressure is low or you have a flat tire.
How it works: Sensors in tire valve caps monitor each tire’s pressure and send a signal to a base monitor, which plugs into your vehicle’s cigarette lighter power port. Some systems also have a phone app that allows you to monitor tire pressure remotely and get an alert if pressure is low or if a sensor (or tire!) is missing.
What it doesn’t do: Fill your tires with air automatically!
9. Connected Car System
What it does: These systems let you know where your car is, where it went and how fast it went. You can set “geo-fencing” alerts to know if the car goes outside a designated area, call for roadside or emergency assistance and make hands-free phone calls.
How it works: A small device plugs into the cigarette lighter power port and clips to your visor or rear view mirror. Push a button for road side assistance, to request emergency assistance or to make a hands free call (the call will play through your car’s speakers and a microphone in the unit lets callers hear you).
What it doesn’t do: Relay your car’s information to the manufacturer.
Cost and installation: $30 plus $10 a month for calls and monitoring; Hum by Verizon’s edition also includes engine diagnostics. Set up is simple DIY.
10. Head Up Display
What it does: Displays key driver information, such as speed, navigation or music on the windshield in front of the driver, allowing the driver to keep her head up, and eyes on the road.
How it works: A small projector mounts on the dashboard in front of the driver and projects information onto the windshield. Simple systems provide only a few key items, more advanced systems have a dial that allows you to scroll through display choices. Smart phone apps use your phone’s screen as a projector (a phone mount should be used so your phone doesn’t fly off the dash while you’re driving).
What it doesn’t do: Systems are not hard wired to a car’s electrical or information system.
Cost and installation: $15+ for dash-mount phone holders; basic units are $40+ and Navdy’s top of the line multi-function system is $800. Installation is easy—DIY.