Upgrading Grandma’s Car: How To Make Over a Car For a Millennial

Updating A Car

After market touches rejuvenate an older model car.

You know how replacing the buttons on a vintage coat can make that coat feel fresh and new? You can also add a few upgrades to an older car to make it feel fresh – and more palatable to a teen or millennial.

We bought a 2013 Mazda 3 for three millennials to drive, our daughters, who were most concerned with how the car would sound. Specifically, they were put off by the tinny sound of the original radio: the basic sound system that came in the base model of the car was a tiny radio that didn’t even have a satellite option. Since my girls likes to rock their rides, we souped up the Mazda with a Pioneer receiver.

Sounds like teen spirit? Updating a car improves the sound system.

But Pioneer’s NEX 2-DIN Flagship Multimedia DVD Receiver with 7″ WVGA Touchscreen Display, which retails for $700, is much more than a new radio. The receiver also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which means that my daughters can now make calls hands-free or even get navigation through their phones using Siri Eyes-Free and Google maps.

Not only that, if they are caught in traffic while driving back to New York (and when are you NOT stuck in traffic around NYC?), they can safely text me by voice—this will save me lots of gray hairs (and a lot of money at the hair salon).

The touchscreen took some getting used to, but once we got used to swiping (and wiping off our greasy fingers) we found the wireless audio streaming (aka A2DP) easy to use. And, the artist, album, and song search capability means no tedious searching for radio stations.

You should know, the Pioneer receiver has to be professionally installed; there is no do it yourself option here.

No built in navigation system? No problem

Updating A Car

The Garmin nüvi navigation system lets you find your way without using precious phone data. Photo: Judy Antell

With Apple CarPlay, you can easily use your phone for navigation, but we thought a stand-alone navigation system would be even better so we could get directions without using too much of our family’s data plan. We had one of the original after market navigation systems (an older model Garmin that we loved) so we found the Garmin nüvi 2589LMT to be the perfect dedicated GPS system. This system retails for $170. You can recoup some of your initial cost for the purchase of the system if you remember to take it on vacation when you are renting a car as you won’t need to pay the extra fee for a navigation system.

The Garmin GPS charges by plugging into the cigarette lighter. We like that you can position the GPS where you want on the windshield; it suctions on, so it can be moved to the best spot for visibility based on the height of the driver. But make sure it really sticks on or it will come flying off during your trip. We found that moistening the suction cups improves the stick. (Note: you can just keep the GPS on the windshield, but if you park on the street in New York City, you might want to take it with you so no one is tempted to walk off with it. And if you are taking it to use in a rental car, you will be moving it around a lot).

Garmin provides lifetime map updates, so that new development that didn’t even exist when you bought the car will now be in the database.

Powering up: what good is Apple CarPlay if your phone dies?

Older cars, like this 2013 model, don’t always have a USB port, but they almost always have a cigarette lighter, even if smoking has been declining for years. You can easily convert a lighter into a charger; we got a TYLT two pronged charger that plugs into the lighter and can charge two smartphones at the same time with a USB cord. Since millennials are also known as the Y generation, we thought it was appropriate that the TYLT is Y shaped. This little doodad costs just $15.

Updating A Car

The TYLT charger was the simplest, and easiest way to bring the car into this century – and it charges 2 devices at once!. Photo: Judy Antell

Other Updates To Consider

For an update to the safety features, you should also consider after market systems to add a back up camera (which can be found at Amazon starting at about $15) as well as forward collision radar and lane departure cameras. These require professional installation, but will go a long way toward keeping your millennial safe while she is rocking her ride.

Note: The Pioneer receiver and Garmin GPS were provided for the purposes of this article; opinions expressed are my own.


Judy Antell, who is TravelingMom.com's Free in 50 States editor, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and... More about Judy Antell