When I was a kid, my two sets of grandparents each had what I considered to be some high-tech 1970s gadgetry in their cars. One had a compass stuck to the windshield, a little floating ball that swiveled like BB-8 to show us the direction in which we traveled. Amazing! The other had a talking Chrysler that would voice warnings such as “The door…is ajar!” or “Your directional signal is…still on!” It was awesome.
These days, they’d probably drive a Toyota Prius at the very least, and that’s still got more technology than a Federation shuttlecraft. However, those of us with older cars may not be able to connect our smartphones to our aging vehicles. What’s an old jalopy driver to do?
Thankfully, there is a massive aftermarket of gadgets and add-ons that work with just about any existing vehicle on the road today. Here’s our deep dive into the tech you can add to your car to make it feel a bit more Tesla-esque.
The Best Car Tech Deals This Week*
*Deals are selected by our commerce team
The smartphone is the first screen most people turn to—even while driving. Making that a simpler, safer proposition is big business. It’s why Apple created CarPlay and Google made Android Auto. Each offers a way to connect your phone to your in-car entertainment system for easy, hands-free access to calls, messages, and a slew of apps like GPS, music, and podcasts. It’s what we’d recommend you use in any car. The interfaces created by the car companies for their stereos are, usually, garbage. (Tesla appears to be the exception.)
Lots of new cars support Android Auto and CarPlay from the get-go, but older vehicles are not entirely out of luck. Many aftermarket systems support them, with prices ranging from expensive to even more expensive. The brains of such systems are the box in the dash that we used to just call “the radio” or maybe “the stereo,” but is now called the stereo head unit. It’s what you access to play music and a whole lot more—phone and text communication, GPS, you name it. What you need to look for, typically, are double-DIN head units. A double-DIN unit goes in a 7-by-4-inch slot in the dash, which is relatively standard now. It can get pricey, as professional installation is recommended, and can cost big bucks for parts and labor on top of the head unit. We recommend some below.
The Best Stereo Replacement for Older Cars
This receiver’s 8.95-inch touchscreen will make you think you’ve taped an iPad mini to the dash. The Sony XAV-AX8100(Opens in a new window) fits a single-DIN opening—the kind that’s only a couple inches tall, found in older cars. Of course, it has all the cool features you’d expect in a head unit: Bluetooth, SiriusXM, HDMI input, rear camera support (with an additional camera sold separately), MP3s playback, support for wired CarPlay and Android Auto, and it can do a Weblink Cast (via the cable) to mirror what’s on your smartphone screen. There’s even a wireless remote if you’re not close to the dash. The only thing it won’t do is play CDs.
The Best Stereo Replacement for Modern Vehicles
This Pioneer digital media reliever(Opens in a new window) fits in a standard double-DIN height hole in your dash, perfect for upgrades on most modern cars. And what an upgrade you get, with a 6.8-inch touchscreen that delivers Bluetooth connectivity (for two phones simultaneously) as well as wired or wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It even supports Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant in the vehicle. This is a top pick for 2022 by the audio experts at Crutchfield(Opens in a new window).
The Best Head Unit for Audiophiles
JVC KW-M865BW Digital Multimedia Receiver
The JVC KW-M865BW supports a direct Wi-Fi connection to your smartphones to offer wireless access to Android Auto or CarPlay. Of course, the 6.8-inch resistive touch screen also gives you full access to plenty of other stuff, including AM/FM radio, an antenna for built-in GPS, Bluetooth for calls, and Bluetooth support for up to five audio sources, called “Streaming DJ.” There’s a reason this $599.95 unit topped the list of Crutchfield’s Best Car Stereos for 2021(Opens in a new window).
A Modern Stereo for Retro Car Owners
Retro Manufacturing Hermosa Radio
Do you want a classic look for the radio of your classic car, but with a few modern digital amenities hidden within? Retro Manufacturing delivers exactly that. This Hermosa gives you push-button tuning for AM/FM radio, but also secretly adds Bluetooth support and USB input of flash drives full of music files. This Hermosa model(Opens in a new window) is made for certain 1960s Chevrolet models, but you can find plenty more at retromanufacturing.com(Opens in a new window).
The Simple Way to Make CarPlay or Android Auto Wireless
CarlinKit 4.0 Wireless Adapter
Do you get frustrated with constantly having to plug your phone into the car to use Apple’s CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto? Sometimes you don’t want your phone charging. Sometimes the connection is poor. It should be like Bluetooth, no wires needed—and in some vehicles with wireless CarPlay, that’s the case. If your car only supports wired CarPlay or Android Auto, the CarlinKit 4.0 Wireless adapter(Opens in a new window) can change that. It’s a lot to pay for a wireless dongle, but considering the hassle it eliminates, if you spend enough time in the car it may be worth it.
A Wireless Dongle for CarPlay Only
Drivelink Carplay Wireless Adapter
Another adapter that turns your car’s wired CarPlay to wireless, the DriveLink(Opens in a new window) unit works on any vehicle with CarPlay that’s from the model year 2018 forward. It’ll need Bluetooth for an initial connection, which is used to send 5GHz Wi-Fi credentials to the iPhone, so a connection after that is automatic. (If you want a dongle that supports only Android Auto, consider the $89 Carsifi(Opens in a new window).)
Best for Powering Devices While Talking to Alexa
Make your dumb car a little smarter with the Roav Viva from Anker(Opens in a new window). Plug it into the cigarette lighter, and you not only get a couple of USB-A ports for charging, but your car now also has an Amazon Alexa assistant inside that you can use to control things—even CarPlay and Android Auto. If you want some more power, get the Roav Viva Pro(Opens in a new window)—it has more microphones and support for audio that extends to the auxiliary inputs and even FM radio.
Best for In-Vehicle Alexa
The Amazon Echo Auto lets you take the Alexa voice assistant along for the ride. It’s a nondescript device that plugs into your car’s 12-volt outlet (or USB port if you have one) and connects to your phone’s Alexa app to provide every voice-activated service that your home-bound Echo does, including news, sports scores, shopping lists, and music streaming.
Dash Cams & Radar Detectors
Whether for safety, liability protection, or just capturing the occasional on-the-road spectacle, a dashboard camera can be your second set of eyes on the road.
The Best All-Around Speed Trap Protection
Cobra DualPro 360° Radar Detector
Does $400 seem like a lot to spend on a radar detector? Compare that with the speeding tickets you could avoid and suddenly that price becomes a bargain. Cobra’s DualPro 360°(Opens in a new window) gets that moniker because it looks for radar and lasers all around your car, using arrows to indicate where the source is and voice alerts to keep you informed. Owners can become part of a crowd-sourced alert network of other drivers reporting speed traps. The magnetic windshield mount makes it easy to take in and out as needed.
The Best High-Def Recording in Front and Back
Pioneer’s dual-recording dash cams(Opens in a new window) for the front and back gather 1440p video at a 135-degree field of view up front and 1080p at 128 degrees in the rear. The front camera sports a nice 3-inch LCD for recording and playback. The system features Sony Starvis sensors for a clear picture and night vision. The integrated motion sensor captures 20 seconds of video before and after any bump incident, just in case. It even comes with a 16GB microSD card for capturing video.
The Best Dash Video in the Hot Sun
The Vantrue S1(Opens in a new window) isn’t one camera, it’s two—one for a 170-degree view out the front, the other mounted in the back window for a 160-degree look behind. They record simultaneously in 1080p at 30 frames per second—if you want 4K up front, use the front cam alone. The units can stand heat up to 158 degrees Fahrenheit and have Sony Starvis night vision. The screen on the front camera shows you what the camera sees, plus a constant view of your speed (a handy tool for a back-seat-driving passenger). It even has a 720p parking mode so you can later view what might have happened to your car while you weren’t in it.
Best for Multiple Dash Cams
The 66w(Opens in a new window), Garmin’s top-of-the-line compact dash cam, has a 180-degree field of view for the road ahead and records 1440p video (sometimes called QHD or Quad HD) to a microSD card (sold separately). You can place up to four cameras around the vehicle to record, and you control playback via a smartphone app. Voice controls let you ask the 66w to take a picture or start a video recording whenever you desire.
The Best Cam for Night Driving
The Pro version of this camera-and-screen combo for your dash is a slight upgrade to the original that’s $200 less expensive. The Lanmodo Vast Pro (Opens in a new window)is only $299.99 but still offers a 1080p, wide-angle, infra-red night-vision view with an 8-inch screen to help navigate what may be ahead in the dark, rain, or fog.
The Best Wireless Charger for Hot Cars
Kenu Airframe Qi Wireless Charging Car Vent Mount
Holding a phone is the basic job of a vent-mounted phone holder. The Kenu Airframe goes the extra mile with built-in 10W Qi wireless charging. It’s smart enough to turn off when the temp goes up (always a potential problem in a hot car). There’s a 4-foot cable that goes to the 12V DC car charger, which includes an extra USB port for friends to use. For more, check out our roundup of The Best Car Phone Mounts.
The Best Wireless Charger Clamp
iOttie Wireless Car Charger
Placing your phone in the car to charge shouldn’t require a cable anymore, as most of them can charge wirelessly. But few cars have a spot where you can set down the phone to do that. Enter iOttie’s charger(Opens in a new window), which mounts right on the dashboard (or get a version that goes on the air vent or cup holder). As you bring your phone close to the base, it auto-senses it and clamps down to hold the device steady. Then the Qi charging can commence. It fits phones up to 3.64 inches wide. The arm extends from 4.9 inches to 8.3-inches and pivots 225 degrees, so you or the front passenger can take control.
The Best Way to Bring Wi-Fi to Your Whole Car
T-Mobile Inseego 5G MiFi M2000
Our favorite mobile 5G hotspot is what every traveler needs for full and affordable Wi-Fi on the go. It costs $50 a month, but for that, you get 100GB of data over the T-Mobile network, be it 4G or 5G. That’s better than any T-Mobile hotspot plan over a phone, which tops out at 40GB per month. The unit has a 2.4-inch touch screen for controls and full Wi-Fi 6 support for up to 30 devices.
The Best Way to Strengthen In-Car Cellular Service
If you need better cell signal in your car, use a booster. With a $399.99 weBoost Drive X(Opens in a new window) (and an external antenna outside), you’ll get up to 33% signal improvement for all the major North American carriers for multiple users within a vehicle, the company says. You can find other weBoost models for trucks and RVs.
The Best Cell Booster for a Single Phone
WeBoost’s Drive Sleek is a phone holder with a cellular signal booster for one phone, giving it an extra mile of connectivity to the next tower. You’ll have to stick a magnetized fin antenna atop the car for the full signal.
The Bluetooth Option for Cassette Fanatics
Aluratek Universal Bluetooth Audio Cassette Receiver
There is a Bluetooth option for those with a car stereo so ancient, so archaic, that it has a cassette player. The inexpensive Aluratek Cassette Bluetooth Adapter(Opens in a new window) looks just like a cassette and slides inside the deck like one, but pairs with your smartphone for audio playback through your car’s speakers. Eject it, and it automatically turns off. The adapter does need power, so you’ll have to plug it into the car outlet, or run it off its built-in battery rated for about eight hours. Optionally, get the less expensive Aluratek Bluetooth Car Audio Receiver and FM Transmitter(Opens in a new window) so your phone’s audio can be played as if it was a radio station.
The Headset That Keeps You Awake
Vigo’s Bluetooth Headset(Opens in a new window) lets you make hands-free calls with noise cancellation, but it’s also an alert system. It plays sounds, vibrates, or flashes LEDs to keep you awake when it senses driver drowsiness.
The Best Way to Add USB-C Charging
Nekteck PD 45W Type-C Car Charger
Even if your car has a USB port, you may want more—especially as more and more devices charge from a USB-C port, rather than the classic USB-A. The Nekteck PD 45W(Opens in a new window) has both. Plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter and using the 45-watt USB-C you can get three times the charging speed on an iPhone.
For Fast Charging via Four Ports
The more new tech you add to your car, the more you’ll find a need for USB-based charging. Especially in an older car that doesn’t have integrated USB ports. This unit(Opens in a new window) goes right in the car lighter/charger outlet and offers four fast charging ports you can use simultaneously.
The Best Standalone GPS for Easy Updates
You might think of a standalone GPS as not needing a smartphone. But the TomTom Go Comfort is a great model that happens to also use your smartphone for updates to maps. Plus, it shows your messages on the screen as they appear. For our top-rated reviews, read Not Wild About Waze? Try One of The Best GPS Devices.
The Best Way to Find Your Car
Want an almost foolproof way to find your lost (or maybe even stolen) vehicle? Hide an Apple AirTag in it somewhere. These reliable and accurate trackers are inexpensive, will tell your iOS or iPadOS device where to find the car from miles away, and even track it as it moves. The closer the car is to other iOS-based devices, the more accurate it gets.
Of course, Apple also has released ways to prevent AirTags from being used for stalking, so behave. For more, read How to Protect Yourself Against AirTag and Tile Stalking. Android users should look at using the Tile Pro for the same effect.
Vehicle Monitoring Systems
For Security Against Car Theft and Mishandling
The Vivint Car Guard, our Editors’ Choice for car monitoring, plugs directly into your vehicle’s OBD-II port and lets you track its location and receive alerts when it’s been bumped or moved. It’ll also let you know of erratic driving such as speeding and harsh braking, will diagnose mechanical issues, and trigger Vivint Smart Home devices such as cameras, outdoor lighting, and sirens. You’ll pay $9.99 per month for it and can add units for other drivers for $4.99 a month.
Best Monitor For Wi-Fi + Roadside Assistance
Most wireless carriers offer a way to connect practically any car to the cloud by plugging an internet-enabled dongle into its onboard diagnostic (OBD) port. The T-Mobile SyncUp Drive(Opens in a new window) adds the ability to create an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot and free roadside assistance via the Allstate Motor Club. It also provides vehicle tracking for fleet operators—or really large families—since up to 24 vehicles can be added to a single account.
The Best OnStar Duplicate
With the Verizon Hum+ Gen 2(Opens in a new window), you get an OBD-II dongle, a Bluetooth speakerphone/controller to clip to the visor, and a USB charger to plug into the DC power receptacle. It’s like a user-friendly replacement for OnStar—it detects crashes and airbag deployments, and with built-in Verizon cellular service, it can make calls for emergency services, and even relay info to the cops if your car is stolen. Naturally, it has mobile apps to keep track of info from the OBD-II port, but it also helps you find your car in giant parking lots and offers maintenance reminders. It’s $99 plus $10 per month after a $35 activation fee.
Optionally, you can get the HumX Gen 2(Opens in a new window), which is pretty much the same but includes an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot and a speaker. Both support using Google Assistant right in the car.
The Best Monitor for Vehicle Maintenance
The affordable $59 Fixd Active Car Health Monitor plugs into your vehicle’s OBD-II port and connects to an app on your phone to provide maintenance reminders and other helpful info to keep your car in top shape.
The Tire Pressure Monitor for Smartphone Addicts
Nonda ZUS Smart Tire Safety Monitor
Properly inflated tires can save you money on fuel. But pulling out the tire pressure gauge can get cumbersome, and before you know it, you’ve gone months without checking. That won’t happen with Nonda’s ZUS Smart Tire Safety Monitor(Opens in a new window). Anti-theft tire pressure sensors screw onto your tire valves (no matter the make or model) and send pressure and temperature information to your smartphone in real-time. You’ll receive a notification if anything looks out of the ordinary, and you’ll be warned of slow leaks before they develop into something more serious.
The Tire Pressure Monitor for the Rest of Us
Jansite Tyre Pressure Monitor
You don’t need a fancy TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) that connects to your phone. Get a third-party unit like the Jansite(Opens in a new window), put the waterproof sensors on the stem of each tire, plop the solar-powered display on the car dash, and get ready to monitor. It’ll inform you about low pressure, high pressure, leaks, high temperatures, and more as you go.
The Best Maps on Any Mobile OS
There’s little reason to buy a dedicated GPS device when Google Maps is the best way to instantly add a GPS to your vehicle (or bike, or while walking just as a reference). If you’re not into Google (or its sister map product, Waze), read our collection of the top-rated GPS devices. But if you give Google Maps a shot, check out our list of top tips.
The Way Back (to the Car) Machine
If you’re the kind of person who misplaces their entire car in the parking lot, consider getting the Parked Car Locator(Opens in a new window) app for your Android phone. Give it a tap as you leave the vehicle; upon your return, the app provides you with an arrow pointing in the right direction.
The No-Subscription Roadside Assistance Option
Honk(Opens in a new window) (not to be confused with the Honk(Opens in a new window) messaging app) will hook you up with help if you’re out of gas, in a ditch, get a flat, get locked out, or need a jump (unless you’re in Oklahoma or Montana). It collects the cash to pay the service that helps you out, such as Uber for towing. No subscription fee is required.
The Uber of Roadside Assistance
Another AAA-meets-Uber roadside assistance app/service, Urgent.ly(Opens in a new window) has iOS and Android apps to get you help, fast. It’s formed partnerships with other services that make it very convenient to access. Your business could even become a roadside helper.
The Best App for Finding Cheap(er) Fuel
GasBuddy (Opens in a new window)has been around in one form or another for years, helping you find the least expensive way to gas up your car no matter where you are.
The Ultimate App(s) for Pain-Free Parking
Many communities have gone digital when it comes to parking. If you live in a place(Opens in a new window) that supports it, or plan to visit one, you’ll find the Parkmobile (Opens in a new window)app invaluable. Rather than running to ticket machines to print out a piece of paper that goes on the dash, walk away from the car while using the app to submit your payment and zone number. The payment is tied to your license plate (just pick the right car if you have more than one listed). As the meter-checkers go around to give tickets, a scan of your plate will show you’re all paid up. Best of all, if your “meter” is about to run out, you’ll get push notifications or texts, and can re-up for as long as you need.
(ParkMobile did have a data breach(Opens in a new window) once. Similar apps include SpotHero(Opens in a new window), PayByPhone(Opens in a new window), BestParking(Opens in a new window), and ParkMe(Opens in a new window), to name a few. Which one you pick may depend on where the service is supported.)
For Interstate Exit Info Galore
iExit (Opens in a new window)offers gas price info, but perhaps more excitingly, it has a rundown of the great things to find at almost every interstate exit in the United States. Grab it for iOS or Android, or try it on the web.
Not every car add-on fits a category. Here are a few you may still want to consider.
The Ultimate Inflator
Dewalt 20V MAX Cordless Tire Inflator
Whether or not you’ve invested in Dewalt tools that use 20V batteries, the Dewalt inflator(Opens in a new window) is a must-own, because it can also plug into the car charger. It has a high-pressure hose on one side that connects tightly to vehicle tires, screwing on for no leaks. You set the PSI needed, hit the button, and it inflates (or deflates) to the right number. On the other side is a hose ready to blow up balls, cushions, and floatation devices of all shapes and sizes. It even has a light in case you’re blowing up tires at night.
The Best In-Vehicle Jump Battery
Noco Boost Plus GB40 1000A 12V Ultra Safe Portable Jump Starter
Jumper cables that rely on another car are smart to have, but a little outdated. You should be carrying a fully charged jump-starter battery box in your car for emergencies. The cables to clamp on the battery are built right in. The Noco Boost Plus GB64(Opens in a new window) is affordable and comes with a 100-lumen LED flashlight that can strobe, plus a power bank you can use to charge phones and tablets. Get a bigger Boost jump starter depending on the size of your vehicle and battery, right up to the 24V 3,000A GB251+ Noco Boost Max(Opens in a new window) for just over a grand.
The Best Way to Store Hot or Cold Food or Drinks
This might be as close as you get to having a refrigerator or oven in the car. The Wagan Cooler/Warmer(Opens in a new window) plugs into the 12-volt DC direct for power or to recharge the battery. It shifts with a switch between hot (140 degrees Fahrenheit) and cold (36 degrees). Its 46-quart capacity holds up to 60 12-ounce cans of soda.
Keep the Kids in Back Entertained at All Times
Audiovox 7-Inch Headrest DVD Player
DVDs are still a thing—and they’re a thing you can use to keep kids occupied in the back of the car. There are many options to buy screens with DVD players that mount on the seat; this one becomes part of the seat, with a 7-inch screen integrated into the headrest itself(Opens in a new window). It can work with headphones, or play through the car’s radio via its FM transmitter.
For Espresso on the Go
You may spend a lot of time sitting in the car sipping coffee. But make it just a little more interesting, delicious, and probably dangerous with the Handpresso(Opens in a new window), an in-car espresso machine that you plug into the 12V lighter socket for power. Toss in a new espresso capsule for each tiny cup. Each squirt of hot bean juice takes about 2.5 minutes, but bring enough tiny cups for everyone in the carpool.
Add Alarms to Unsecure Vehicles
Technaxx Portable Car Alarm System
The Technax TX-168(Opens in a new window) is a car alarm any owner can install. It has two parts—a siren speaker you mount in the engine compartment and connect to the battery, and the wireless transmitter inside the car with a built-in motion detector. The latter sits plugged into your vehicle’s lighter receptacle, so it’ll charge as you drive. A key fob lets you turn off the unit before you enter the car. If you don’t want the extra-loud alarm in the engine, the TX-100 version(Opens in a new window) comes with only the interior motion detector, which has a loud siren all its own. With either, take it with you to serve as a panic button.
The Ultimate Ultrasonic Parking Sensor
STKR Concepts Garage Parking Sensor
Need help parking in a tight garage in a way that won’t scratch the front or back bumper? This wall-mounted ultrasonic sensor(Opens in a new window) will show you a green light when you’re close enough and red when you’re in danger of banging into the wall. You can adjust the perfect parking depth from 6 inches to 6 feet.
The Best High-Tech Garage Parking Guide
ZoneTech Garage Parking Assist
Looking for more high-tech parking assistance? Mount the Zone Tech Parking Assist Dual Laser Guide on the ceiling of a one- or two-car garage. Point each laser at a perfect spot on the dash of the already-parked car. Memorize the spot. Then, whenever you pull in, line it up and you’ll have a perfect parking job every time.
Best for Clearing the Air
FRiEQ Car Air Freshener and Ionic Air Purifier
Got a subtle stink in the car from kids, pets, gym clothes, or that one jerk in the carpool who won’t put out the stoogie? Plug in the FRiEQ Car Freshener and Ionic Air Purifier(Opens in a new window) and get the interior back to smelling brand new.
Suck the Filth Out With Real Power
Got a lot of dirt in the car? Make sure the Turbotube 2.0(Opens in a new window) is on hand and charged up. The tube-shaped vac uses 135 watts of power and sucks with a whopping 15,000Pa (pascals) of power (about 5 to 7 times more than a lot of robot vacs). With standard use, the battery is rated for up to 50 minutes, but that full suction requires the turbo mode. It even has a flashlight to help you find crumbs in the nooks and crannies of the vehicle. The blowpipe attachment blasts out the vents and other spots that require some extra air in the opposite direction.
Slime Your Way to Cleanliness
Keeping the car clean is a never-ending battle. One piece of “tech” that is invaluable at the keyboard also works in the car—cleaning gel(Opens in a new window). It’s like kid’s slime that you work into the impossible-to-reach spots, like the vents, to pull out the dust and other grossness that accumulates over time. Don’t let it dry out and it’ll keep your dash and steering column clean for months. Toss it when the color gets too ugly to look upon.
The Abominable Snow Remover
The ultimate tool in your arsenal to clean the car of the fluffy (or heavy) white stuff is an extendable snow brush, and the Snow MOOver(Opens in a new window) is one of the best. That foam brush is great for dragging every glop of frozenness off the car without scratching, plus it also has a scraper on the other end for the caked-on ice.
The Best Way to Sleep On the Road
Planning a long trip that may involve some sleeping in the vehicle? This camping mattress(Opens in a new window) is specific to the backseat, and with dimensions of 35.4 by 55 by 17.7 inches it fits most, with part of the mattress filling the foot wells for support. It even comes with a self-inflator you can plug into the cigarette lighter (though we recommend you get the Dewalt above for more varied uses). Highly recommended for long drives with a sleepy kid, or for next year’s Best Mobile Networks drivers who need a siesta in their rental.