Easy In Car Technology: Low Tech Ways to Go High Tech

Fm Tuner
This FM tuner adapter lets you stream your music or phone calls from your phone to the car's speakers

Gear, Apps and Plug-ins That Keep You Cutting Edge in an Old Jalopy

I can’t wait to get a new car if only for all the cool in car technology that is offered: systems that connect your phone quickly and allow you to make a call with the push of a button, to Bluetooth streaming of your iPod’s song list, phone apps that operate through the car’s media console, wifi hot spots, innovative safety features and more.

If your car is a few years old, like mine, you might think you’re missing the tech boat. However, an array of smart gadgets available at electronics stores offer smart ways to incorporate new technology in older cars.

Probably the most popular feature in new cars is hands-free calling. The ability to sync your phone to the car enables you to hear the conversation on the phone through the car’s speakers. Since my car does not have this I rely on a simple Bluetooth ear piece and a voice dialing app (or Siri) to make a call.

But if I want the kids to talk with Grandma and Grandpa too, I can cycle the call through the car’s speakers through an FM tuner. I actually found one at Marshall’s that charges the phone at the same time. The phone’s speaker picks up my end of the conversation just fine, so Grandma and Grandpa have no trouble hearing us.

Using the FM tuner has another perk: it allows us to play music from the phone through the car stereo system. Other options for this are a tape player adapter, which accomplishes the same thing, or an AUX port that allows us to just plug the phone right into the car’s speakers.

In Car Technology

Two ways to add GPS: A phone holder that mounts to your windshield or dash, or a GPS system such as Garmin, which can be purchased at an electronics store

More Than One Way To Get There: GPS and Navigation Options

Many newer cars have built in GPS systems, but not my car. Instead I have a Garmin GPS that I keep on my dashboard and it works great. I have a smartphone that also has GPS, such as Google Maps, which offers turn by turn directions for free. In order to use my phone as a GPS I needed something to hold the phone where I can easily see it. There are many cellphone holders for cars, but so far my favorite one is the the type that clips on to your air vents.

Another navigation option is to subscribe to OnStar. Customers can buy an On Star “mirror” to replace the rear view mirror and subscribe to the service (monthly fees apply). This allows you to have services such as turn by turn navigation, accident response and help making restaurant reservations.

Yes, I Do Have Eyes In the Back of My Head (Sort Of)

Rear view cameras are also a staple in new cars thanks to new government regulations. And it’s a great idea. So great that the GPS makers have figured out how to help customers who don’t have it in their cars. You can get an adapter and add a backup camera to your GPS system; when you shift into reverse the GPS screen automatically switches from the map to the camera.

New cars feature mirrors and sensors that alert you when something is in your blind spot. You can eliminate blind spots in older cars by placing an extra mirror either inside your car or attaching an extra mirror to your side mirrors.

In Car Technology
A double USB charger keeps your tech devices charged and ready to go

Keeping Your Devices Charged

My car does not even have a USB port, but that is an easy fix. I simply bought an adaptor with two USB ports allowing me to charge two devices at once. This means that both my phone and my passenger’s phone—or the kids Gameboy or the iPad— can charge at the same time. And that makes for a peaceful trip.

It Only Seems Expensive: Heads Up Display

In Car Technology

The SpeedHud iPhone app lets you beam your speed onto the windshield while you drive, reducing the need to look away from the road

In Car Technology

The Speed HUD display at work

Recently Mazda announced they are putting heads up display in all their cars. It’s a great tool; it keeps the driver’s eyes focused on the road by beaming speed and critical information onto the windshield in front of the steering wheel. There’s no need to look away from the road while driving. This feature previously only came on expensive luxury or sports cars, but with the Speed HUD app available in the iTunes App Store, you can have it for free.

Keeping the Troops Entertained: The In-Car Hot Spot

When DVD systems were introduced in minivans and SUVs, it seemed like a revolution: a family could drive for days while spinning Disney’s greatest hits on the DVD player. But as kids became more accustomed to having their own entertainment—and viewing devices—the single disc player lost its charm, and those cases full of discs became just more flotsam lost on the floor of the car. But by turning your laptop or smartphone into a wifi hot spot (this requires purchasing a plan or a broadband USB stick from your wireless provider) you can put fresh entertainment on the tablet in the hands of each kid in the back seat (or get some work done while someone else does the driving!).


Meagan is a travel writer who lives in Dallas, Texas with her three children. Founder of www.MommyTravels.net, Meagan is... More about Meagan Wristen