If you’re driving an older vehicle, you’re probably missing out on a lot of cool new technology. Fortunately, there are numerous technical products and accessories that you can use to upgrade your car. And while we may not be able to make it a Tesla, adding some of the tech below will make your old car feel like new.
From getting a new touchscreen stereo to streaming music from your phone through that old tape deck, these are the best tech items to upgrade your car.
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Apple CarPlay / Android Auto Stereo (main unit)
Most people want to integrate their phone and screen into an old car. So one of the best ways to upgrade your car is a new stereo, also called a head unit. You want one that supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which can stream music and podcasts, get maps, navigation, calls, messages, and more from your phone to the dashboard.
These beautiful car radios have touchscreens from 6 to 9 inches. You want to choose a nice double-DIN model that will fit into the 7 × 4 slot in the dashboard where your current stereo, tape deck or CD drive sits. Keep in mind that the installation can often cost a few hundred dollars as well. Some places, like Best Buy, will run the installation for free on select stereos.
For double-DIN stereos, we recommend the Kenwood DMX7706S. With both Apple / Android support, Bluetooth and a 7-inch screen, it has most of the features you could want without spending too much money. If you only have a single-din slot on your dashboard that won’t fit a large 7-inch screen, consider the Alpine Halo9 stereo, which fits in a small slot and still delivers a large 9-inch Tesla-like screen to your older car.
Buy a good dashcam
Dash cams are a great way to upgrade your car and protect yourself in an accident. There are several reasons to buy a dash cam, and there are an equally wide variety of options. From cheap ones that just record what’s in front of you, to others that can act as a security system, record forward and backward, take time-lapse videos of a road trip and more.
We recommend the NextBase 522GW, thanks to a slew of features without an insanely high price tag. You get a wide-angle video recording in 1080p or even QuadHD, night mode and a built-in G-sensor for detecting (and initializing video recording of) accidents or theft. You view images on the 3-inch screen and quickly transfer videos to your phone via WiFi. NextBase also sells an add-on rear camera.
You will enjoy an external starter
There’s nothing better than remotely starting your car on a hot summer day or a windy winter morning, that way it’s not unbearable when you’re ready to go. In addition, warming up the engine is better for a longer life.
It is difficult to recommend a specific product as they vary by car make, model and year. In addition, depending on whether you already have keyless entry or not, which one you buy again. You can get an inexpensive add-on kit that uses your original keyless entry remote or fancy Viper systems that allow you to track, unlock and start your car from a smartphone. We recommend the CompuStar 4900S 2-way remote start system as it is universal and supports a wide variety of vehicles. We also like the 2-way communication feature, so the signal comes back and confirms that the car is on / off or that you have locked the doors securely.
Add Bluetooth to your Clunker
Perhaps the easiest and most affordable way to give an old car new functions is to add Bluetooth. That way, you can make hands-free calls, stream music, podcasts, audiobooks or anything else from your phone through the car stereo. We are happy to recommend Bluetooth FM adapters. The adapter pairs with your phone and then sends audio to an FM station in your car, similar to a modern drive-in movie theater.
The Anker ROAV FM Bluetooth Adapter and Charger is the perfect technical accessory for any car. It’s like a typical smartphone car charger with two ports, except it also has support for Bluetooth and FM radio, with simple touch buttons to choose which radio station works best in your area.
Receive a Caution display
Some newer vehicles have a heads-up display (HUD) that shows things like speed and navigation instructions right on the glass windshield in front of your face. This screen is also see-through, so it’s not a distraction. Ultimately, drivers can keep their eyes on the road instead of looking down, while still seeing crucial information. Many luxury vehicles have started using this technology and you can add it to your old car.
Affordable heads-up display options can make an older vehicle feel really chic and futuristic. The SHEROX 3.5-inch HUD we recommend even has speed warnings so you don’t get a ticket. It plugs into the ODB2 port under the handlebar, so it’s simple enough that anyone can install one.
Signal amplifiers for smartphones
It sounds crazy, but signal amplifiers really work when you buy a good one. If you travel frequently or drive to remote locations such as a family cab, a cell phone booster can work wonders. Most models will work with any carrier and will expand your cellular service (including 4G / 5G internet) quite a bit.
Signal boosters are bigger and more powerful than the small chip in your phone, so they pull a stronger cell signal. The WeBoost Drive Reach is one of the most popular options, and from personal experience I can say it works great. These amplify the signal for each carrier for the entire car, so it’s not limited to one person or device. Everyone in the car will benefit from the boost.
Put some heat in your seat
Many new cars have heated seats, and unfortunately not all of us have. However, did you know that you can easily add something to your car for little money, and even fit a nice on / off button on your dashboard?
Dorman’s universal seat heating set is affordable, easy to install and works great. As long as you have an average DIY mindset and some free time, you can shove these into your seats and run the wire nicely to your dashboard. Then tap the on / off button when it gets cold, and enjoy some warm heated seats in your rust bin.
Add Alexa to your vehicle
Nowadays you can place Alexa almost anywhere, including in your car. Alexa is great for hands-free help with calls or messages, music, news, weather information, or controlling your smart lights and home while driving home.
Turn your car into a voice assistant with the Amazon Echo Auto, which plugs directly into a USB plug or the 12-volt cigarette lighter.
ODB2 code reader / erase
This next little gadget is great for those who like to tinker with their vehicle or save money doing their own maintenance. An ODB2 reader can scan your car’s computer and check more than 3,000 trouble codes, including Check Engine Light issues, or display real-time information. Better yet, you can clear a check engine light with this handy tool.
The KOBRA ODB2 code reader works over BT or Wi-Fi and supports both iPhone and Android.
Add emergency services (similar to OnStar)
OnStar is GM’s vehicle-based communications, security, GPS, emergency services, navigation, remote diagnostics and more. But you need a newer GM vehicle to enjoy all of these features. Fortunately, people with older vehicles can get something similar from Verizon Wireless.
Hum, from Verizon Wireless, integrates all of the above features along with the Google Assistant in almost every car made after 1997. You plug the dongle into the ODB2 port under the steering wheel, and it does all the work for you. There is even a companion app that makes it easy to check diagnostics, track a vehicle, and much more.
Headrest DVD player
We know that many kids today have a phone or an iPad in the car, but a DVD player with a headrest is a great way to keep the little ones entertained with ease. Not only that, but you can also get two 10-inch screens that can be easily mounted on the headrests, making it a quick and affordable upgrade for your car.
While portable DVD players can vary wildly in size and price, the Fangor 10-inch Dual Screen on Amazon is a great budget choice. You get a DVD player that can be played on two different 10-inch screens, mounting hardware and more, so both rear seat passengers can enjoy a quick movie.
Bluetooth adapter for cassette tape
Like 8 tracks, cassette players are a thing of the past, wasting dashboard space all over vehicles. If you want to stream music from your phone to the car stereo via Bluetooth, but you only have a cassette player, this little gadget is just what you need.
The Arsvita Bluetooth cassette receiver pairs with your phone for music, navigation or hands-free calling, then sends it to the cassette player and through your car stereo. These are great little accessories that will make the oldest vehicles a little more modern.
Fill your cup holder with electricity
Last but not least, we wanted to recommend an inverter for a cup holder. What is that exactly? It’s a device that plugs into your 12-volt cigarette port and then converts that power into multiple USB ports and even an outlet for other electronics. In short, turning an old port on your dashboard into several useful ports for this modern age we live in.
With the BESTEK 200w inverter you can charge or power laptops, cameras and more from two outlets, then charge phones or tablets with two USB ports. Plus, there’s still a 12 volt cigarette lighter if you need it. This little tech gadget gives you more options in the car than ever before.
If you’re like me and love your old car, don’t trade it in. Instead, buy one of the many cool car gadgets or tech upgrades mentioned here. Whether that’s an affordable Bluetooth adapter or a chic stereo with Apple CarPlay for your junk. Any of these upgrades will make your old car feel a little bit newer.