How to bring your old car into the twenty-first century

Last Updated February 2020

In the automotive world, technology progresses so quickly that cars rival phones in how fast they become outdated. You can buy a vehicle today that communicates with other cars, talks to city infrastructure, connects to smart home devices, and nearly drives itself. The craziest part is these technologies were unheard of just five or so years ago, and with the amount automakers are investing in automation and artificial intelligence, the industry is showing no signs of slowing.

If all that makes you feel left out, fear not! There are plenty of gadgets on the market that can modernize your ride and make it feel new again. Here are the best ways to bring your old car into the twenty-first century.

  • GPS

The simplest way to update an old vehicle is to bid hand-written directions goodbye and add a modern navigation system. We’ve tested dozens of models and we found Garmin’s DriveSmart 50 NA LMT to be an excellent bang for your buck with its responsive pinch-to-zoom screen, free lifetime map updates, voice activation, and clever driver alerts. There are more expensive alternatives on the market with fancy 3D rendered maps and integrated cameras, but if you need an affordable, reliable GPS with intuitive features, look no further.

  • Rear-view camera

As of May 2018, every new automobile sold in the United States is required to have a rear-view camera. The safety benefits to these devices are obvious, which is why U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced they would be mandatory equipment moving forward.

If you’re looking for a well-priced solution that doesn’t take an engineering degree to install, consider this backup monitor from LeeKooLuu. Powered by either your reverse lights or the 12V outlet on your dashboard, this camera attaches securely to your license plate and offers crisp video no matter the time of day. Images are displayed on a 4.3-inch LCD screen that you can mount anywhere with adhesive foam, and it even provides grid lines for parking accuracy. Higher-end units like this 7-inch option from Toguard bundle front and rear cameras, 1080P resolution, and integrated parking monitors onto a seamless mirror-style display.

  • Infotainment

If you gaze at modern luxury cars and feel a tinge of screen envy, you’re not alone. While not all infotainment screens are created equal, the ability to manage navigation, entertainment settings, and vehicle functions from one place is incredibly convenient, and aftermarket companies offer plenty of options to fit older cars.

Pioneer’s AVH-1300NEX receiver is easily one of the more popular options available with its 6.2-inch display, built-in Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay compatibility, and backup camera integration. If you’re more comfortable with Android operating systems, Sony’s XAV-AX100 works with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and it includes many of the same features as its Pioneer equivalent at a comparable price.

  • Dash cam

The road can be a dangerous place, but with levels of congestion and driver distraction at all-time highs, commuters should do everything in their power to protect themselves. A dash cam is one of the best ways to go about that, as they provide irrefutable proof of fault in the event of an accident.

Put simply, KDLinks’ X1 has every feature you could want in a dash cam—1920 x 1080 full HD video at 30 fps, a wide 165-degree viewing angle, a 2.7-inch screen, night vision, and an included 8GB micro SD card. Even better than that, the built-in GPS module records navigation data onto video clips, so you can prove exactly where, when, and how fast you were going if a collision occurs. Whether you’re after extra peace of mind on the road or you’re just hoping to capture the next viral YouTube clip, this is the dash cam for you.

  • Head-up display

A head-up display (HUD) is equal parts safety tech, convenience tech, and flat-out futuristic. These devices are inspired by the digital displays used on fighter jets, but instead of tracking missiles and enemies, these HUDs project speed, navigation data, and real-time fuel economy onto the windshield to reduce distractions.

This simple 3.5-inch unit from Pyle displays speed and direction on your windshield and works with any car, which is probably enough to satisfy most drivers. This alternative from Lesmir takes things to the next level, though, which is why it gets our recommendation here. Suitable for vehicles built after 1996 (OBD-II), this HUD plugs into your on-board diagnostics port to tap into your vehicle’s computer. From there, it displays speed, engine RPM, water temp, battery voltage, fuel economy, and driving distance onto a semi-transparent lens that automatically adjusts its brightness for clarity. It won’t exactly turn your ride into a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but it’s perhaps the most stylish way to bring your old car into the modern automotive age.

Written by:
  • Andrew