Saturday, September 24, 2016

Aftermarket car tech can save thousands of dollars - September 23, 2016

Our recent venture into the wonderful world of car buying brought home the nicest car I’ve ever driven.  That’s saying a lot--but on the other hand my brother never has let me drive his classic roadster or Lexus --but I digress.

We ventured forth with a list of must-have and nice-to-have features.  We came home without any of the nice-to-haves.

Our list of Android Auto, heated seats and a backup camera were available but added thousands to the cost.

And in one vehicle the package with those items came only with a third row of seats--seats that only a toddler would fit in, and would take away useful storage space. 

This is my first car with Bluetooth technology. I enjoy listening to podcasts and having phone calls through the speaker system instead of my Bluetooth earpiece. Coincidentally, last week’s column was about earpieces. Tech changes fast. Seriously, an earpiece is still good if you are not the only one in the car and you want to listen to something other than what the rest have chosen. 

Thankfully, I have found ways to get my nice-to-have features at much lower cost.

Android Auto and its Apple equivalent, Apple CarPlay, are devices in some cars that bring some of the functions of your phone to the dashboard.  Usually they display map and navigation information in large, easy to see and use displays.

Likewise, they make extensive use of voice to read your text messages and permit you to send texts and place calls using voice.

Some cars were available with only one of the systems. Some cars had both.

Your smartphone, mounted in a dash mount, can do many of the features of Android Auto and CarPlay.  Apps, in their respective app stores, duplicate many of the functions.

One app I’ve used on my Android phone reads incoming text to me. When I dictate a response, it reads out loud what it thinks I said so I can know for certain before sending it.

Other apps have large buttons taking you to apps you might want while driving, like navigation and phone.

And Google announced at their developers’ conference in June that Android Auto would be a stand-alone app for Android phones.  I am hoping it is one of the announcements they will make at their event on Oct. 4.

CarPlay and Android Auto units are available, too, from well-known manufacturers like Kenwood.

My wife’s car has heated seats, and it did not take me long to understand that what I first thought was a needless luxury was a delightful feature on frigid days. They would be nice on my commute.

I have found aftermarket heated seats at Amazon. Some install right inside the seats. From the installation video I saw, I would want them professionally installed, as the seats have to be removed from the vehicle and partially disassembled. Others sit on the seat themselves. One costs just $20 per seat.

A rental car I drove recently had a backup camera, and it took only one use to convince me these were essential for safety and efficiency.  I found I was being extremely conservative in my backing, often stopping many feet from the car behind me.

I found backup cameras on the internet for as little as $30.  They usually come with their own monitors.  With the phone, the dashboard could begin to fill up on displays. I found one model that used WiFi to send an image to a phone, but it was pricey and not well reviewed. An $86 model comes with a replacement rearview mirror that has a monitor built in.  That seems to be an elegant solution to the monitor problem.

The Automatic is a useful device for $130. It plugs into the diagnostic port that is in every car made since 1995. It tells you what a lit check engine light means. In the event of a crash, it notifies a service center via its built-in cellular communications. It does not need a phone to communicate.  And the cell service is free for the first year.

Together, I could add my missing nice-to-have features and the Automatic for less than a $1,000, much less than factory installed would have cost.

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