Thinking of splashing out on a new car to enjoy the latest tech – think again. We’ve put together a list of retrofit gadgets that will turn your existing motor into a technological powerhouse, making you the envy of all your mates. Stick with us as we teach your old car some new tricks.
Thanks to the arrival of smartphone mirroring and touchscreen infotainment systems, it’s never been easier to secure a sat nav in a new car, but it remains a costly business. Order a Dacia Sandero in plush Laureate trim and the Media Nav Evolution navigation system will set you back £300. Alternatively, opt for the Audi A3 SE and you’ll need to find £495 for the excellent MMI Navigation. Fortunately, aftermarket sat navs are more cost-effective and you won’t need to worry about it being obsolete in a few years time
We’ve been using a Garmin DriveSmart 50, which is about as thin as a tablet and available in three different sizes: 5-inch, 6-inch and 7-inch. In entry-level 5-inch guise, it’s a bit on the small side compared to modern infotainment systems, but as it’s Bluetooth enabled, you can ask for directions via voice command.
It also features driver alerts, such as the whereabouts of speed cameras, dangerous corners and animal crossing points. You need not worry about upgrades and the sat nav becoming obsolete, because you get a lifetime of free map and traffic avoidance updates. At the time of writing, the Garmin DriveSmart 50 5-inch is available for the reduced price of £143.99, although there are many other sat navs available.
In-car coffee machine
This is one in-car gadget that might put you ahead of your friends and neighbours – an in-car coffee machine. The Handpresso Auto is the self-proclaimed ‘espresso machine for the car’, and it does exactly what it says on the box.
Plug it into your car’s 12v socket, fill it with cold water, add an Easy Serving Espresso (ESE) pod and – two minutes later – a fresh espresso is served. The Handpresso Auto is designed to fit most cupholders and it could save you a fortune on takeaway coffees.
The Handpresso Auto will set you back £133, which is the equivalent of 80 or so takeaway espressos, and while you do need to factor in the cost of ESE pods, it is possible to use your favourite ground coffee. If you spend much of your time on the road, and too much money in coffee shops, this could be classed as a must-have accessory.
Until relatively recently, a car cupholder wasn’t a thing. Climb aboard a car from the 80s or 90s and you might be disappointed to find nowhere to put your energy drink. But don’t worry, because help is at hand in the form of an aftermarket cupholder, which you can buy for not much more than the price of an overpriced takeaway coffee. Sadly, it won’t be as cool as the cupholder in a Saab 9-5 (pictured).
Under new rules likely to come in next year, motorists will receive six points on their licence and a £200 fine if they’re caught using a mobile phone at the wheel. While many new cars are fitted with Bluetooth connectivity, an older car will need upgrading if you want to make and receive calls on the move. A Parrot Minikit Neo 2 HD costs less than £80 and features HD sound quality, plus an ability to switch between two phones.
The digital radio switchover could happen as soon as 2017, meaning traditional FM/AM receivers will be about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. Not a problem if you own one of the 90% of new cars fitted with a DAB digital radio, but not so good if you’re making do with an old head unit. There are many options available if you fancy listening to DAB radio in an old car, including adapters and entirely new systems. Some companies will even retrofit a DAB system to an old unit, which will appeal to classic car owners who favour originality.
Alarm/immobiliser with remote central locking
Adding an alarm and immobiliser will not only secure your car, it might save you money on your car insurance. Some systems also offer options such as remote central locking and automatic window/sunroof closure, adding additional convenience.
Once upon a time, a cigarette lighter – or cigar lighter, if your car was a bit posh – was a sign that you’d splashed out on a higher trim level. You can make use of what might otherwise be a dormant socket by converting it into a USB charger. For just a few pounds you can charge one, two, three or even four accessories on the move. New life for the cigarette lighter!
These days, Apple CarPlay is available on everything from a Suzuki Baleno to a Ferrari GTC4Lusso, but don’t feel that you have to buy new in order to enjoy the joys of seamless iPhone connectivity. The Pioneer SPH-DA120 offers a 6.2-inch touchscreen, GPS, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay – simply plug in and play. It’s available from Halfords for £329.
General Motors was the first carmaker to introduce a head-up display (HUD), with a system debuting on the 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Once the preserve of premium motors, HUD has filtered down to more humble vehicles, while it’s also possible to retro-fit a system to just about any car. The Garmin Head-Up Display receives navigation information from your smartphone and projects it onto a transparent film on the car’s windscreen. It’s compatible with the Navigon and Streetpilot apps.
Dashcam with added safety devices
These days, a dashcam might be considered less of an accessory and more of an essential requirement. Not only will it provide evidence in the event of an accident, it can also reduce the cost of your insurance. Prices start from around £50, although for £160 you can buy a ‘world first’ rear-view mirror camera, which also features forward collision and lane departure warning systems
Powerful headlight bulbs
Compared to new cars, many older vehicles may as well be running with candles perched on the edge of the front wings. Upgrading the headlight bulbs is a cost-effective way of improving visibility and staying safe. For example, a pair of Philips X-treme Vision bulbs will provide up to 130% more light, with a 45m longer beam, while a pair of Osram Night Breakers will add 110% and 35m respectively. Bank on paying between £20 and £30.
Tyre pressure monitor
The AA recommends you check your tyre pressures every couple of weeks, but how many of us remember to do so? Maplin offers a Bluetooth tyre pressure monitoring system, similar to that used in new cars. It monitors real time tyre pressure and temperature, and comes with an app for automatic monitoring and instant alerts. Yours for £149.99.
If you’re one of the many motorists who don’t enjoy parking, help is at hand from as little as £10. This might seem like a small price to pay for an aftermarket reversing sensor, but the reviews appear to stack up. The only problem – you’ll have to fit it yourself, although the reviewers endorse the claim that the system is “easy to install”. Worth a look?
Alternatively, you can watch where you’re going with an aftermarket reversing camera. We found one on the Maplin website, complete with 3.5-inch colour monitor and automatic switching when reverse gear is engaged. It costs £84.99, but at the time of writing this price has been reduced to £64.99.
If you like the comfort of a warm bottom on a winter’s morning, you’ll be pleased to know it’s possible to retro-fit heated seats to the front seats of most vehicles. Heating elements are placed between the upholstery and the seat cover, without altering the shape or look of the seat. Why not go the whole hog and add lumbar support?
If you run your sat nav via a smartphone or modern system, the chances are you already enjoy the benefits of real-time traffic monitoring. If not, it’s worth considering Waze, which claims to be ‘the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app’. Using insight from other motorists, Waze suggests the fastest and most optimal route possible to any destination. Best of all, it’s free!
Seat-back tablet mounts
This is one example of where an older car can stay ahead of the game. Rear-seat entertainment systems are fine, but technology moves on at such a rate, they’re soon outdated and outmoded. Besides, consumers want portability, so why not install a seat-back tablet mount – so you can take your entertainment with you? We found one for as little as £10.
Turn your car into a wi-fi hotspot to provide your passengers with internet access while on the move. EE offers a 4G wi-fi, allowing users to check newsfeeds, stream music, play online games or post social updates commenting on your poor driving skills. The system supports up to 10 wi-fi-enabled devices at once, and there are various tariffs available.
TomTom Curfer plug-in dongle
If your car was registered after 2004, you should be able to fit a TomTom Curfer. By plugging into your car’s OBD port, the Curfer links to your smartphone to provide feedback on your driving technique and your car’s performance. Curfer scores acceleration, cornering, braking and idling in real-time, along with detailed data on your car’s battery voltage, oil temperature and engine load. It’s geek heaven for £59.
Buy a new car
Combine all of the above and we reckon you could turn your old motor into a techno powerhouse for around £1,500. Considering the Dacia Sandero Access – Britain’s cheapest new car – costs £5,995, and that doesn’t even have a radio, we think that represents excellent value for money. Alternatively, nip out and spend a shed load of cash on a BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class.