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Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: How Can I Make My Older Car Smarter?

Mechanic Shop FemmeChaya Milchtein is an automotive educator, writer, and speaker. She'll be here every other week answering all your car questions. Need to know what engine oil you need? She's got you covered. Wondering what gas your car really needs? She has an answer. Let's untangle cars together.

Top Product: The Driver’s Smartphone To Large Screen Display | $250 | Hammacher Schlemmer

According to a AAA report, as of May of 2018, 92.7% of new vehicle manufacturers had some advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). These include things like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, forward collision technology, and blind-spot assistance. The 92.7% statistic doesn’t even cover the other smart technology that’s a standard requirement for many car shoppers, like satellite radio, Bluetooth, and for some even navigation. And ADAS itself is expensive, with the average package running $1950, which runs on average 5.4% of the vehicle purchasing cost.

As expected, the total number of cars sold in 2020 was well below forecasted numbers, and while there was a short run on used vehicles, by December that demand was back to normal.

If buying a new, or new-er car, isn’t something you’re willing to invest in during these tumultuous times, that’s understandable. Wanting access to better tech is also understandable. As we’ve fled from public transit and public places in general, many of us are spending more time at home, and consequently, spending more time in the car for a safe change of scenery. From car dates to drive-in movie theaters and road trips, safety and comfort are at the top of many consumers’ lists for their vehicles.

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With that in mind, I pulled together a list of the smartest tech upgrades you can easily make to your old clunker without upgrading your car and the hefty price tag that comes along with it. Can you live without these? Of course. But maybe you’re ready for something shiny and helpful.

Bluetooth Dashboard Display

Illustration for article titled Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: How Can I Make My Older Car Smarter?
Image: Hammacher Schlemmer

Are you tired of figuring out how to prop up your smartphone to see the navigation, or struggling to make a call on speakerphone? This is a tablet display that makes your car a whole lot smarter. Hook it up to your phone and it will allow you to easily access the smart features of most new cars. With this dashboard display, you’ll have access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as navigation and Bluetooth capabilities. While it comes with a steep price tag, if it’s this or replacing your car, this is the less expensive option.

A Smart, Fast Car Charger with Siri and Google Assistant

Illustration for article titled Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: How Can I Make My Older Car Smarter?
Image: Car and Driver
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Let’s talk about Bluetooth. When I drove around with my 2002 Toyota Camry a few years back, its lack of Bluetooth capabilities irked me. This charging device from Car and Driver adds a layer of smart to your car in a simple (and budget-friendly) way without installing a whole new unit. For $30, you get a smart USB charger, a radio transmitter, Bluetooth capabilities, and even Siri or Google Assistant. While reviews rave about the charger, you’ll also find that folks are focused on the value it provides, it gets the job done with no frills, which I expect for the budget-friendly price.

“I have a 2009 Toyota Camry that does not have the ability to connect a smartphone to the stereo system,” writes reviewer JediKnight on the Best Buy website.It pairs up quickly and easily with no radio static during play. I can now play my music library from my iPhone over to my car stereo and also have the capability of answering and taking phone calls hands-free. This item is priced reasonably as well.”

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An Elevated Dash Cam

Illustration for article titled Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: How Can I Make My Older Car Smarter?
Graphic: Chaya Milchtein

There are dozens of dash cams on the market, each with various perks and benefits. For this smart tech piece, the spotlight is on a dash cam that offers the ability to add ADAS to your vehicle. The Thinkware dash cam is a pricey pick, but it offers the safety features you want to add to an older car, instead of just the simple recording ability most people are looking for.

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The Thinkware Q800Pro is one of the more feature-heavy options on the market. It is designed to both record your driving and alert you of impending collisions, and has both lane departure and forward departure warnings. If you choose the front camera only opinion, it does not have to be hardwired, although it can be if you choose. While it does have cloud storage, internet reviewers suggest backing up any recordings before disconnecting.

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Bun Warmers and Coolers

Illustration for article titled Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: How Can I Make My Older Car Smarter?
Image: Sojoy

One of the premium features older cars miss out on is the ability to warm, and sometimes cool, the front seats. Today you can buy seat covers that add similar functionality to your current vehicle, without a huge price tag. Covering your car seats allow you to avoid damaging the seat leather or fabric, protecting your investment.

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Sojoy offers more than that. The design of the covers is intended to cool or warm you depending on the weather and easily fits any car seat. While certainly still a luxury, it helped Jesse Silkoff of Austin, Texas hang on to her car a little longer. She spoke with me in 2020 for The Inventory, sharing that these cooling seat covers made a huge difference for her, and she kept her car for a year longer than she would have liked to.


Chaya Milchtein is an automotive educator, freelance writer, and empowerment speaker who's made it her mission to engage and empower people in her community and beyond.

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