The coolest smart gadgets for upgrading your car

Pimp your ride... with tech

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Many of you reading this will have an automobile to get you from A to B, and no matter how new and shiny or old and wheezy it is, you can upgrade your motor with some well-chosen tech - whether you want better parking, better music, or something else.

While we wait for the self-driving car revolution to kick into gear, think about the sort of improvements you'd like to make on what's already sitting in your driveway. You might be surprised at how much of a difference you'll get from some relatively inexpensive tech.

1. Video-recording dashcam

You've got plenty of reasons to install a dashcam: to provide evidence of who was at fault during an accident maybe, or to capture footage of a dog driving a car that will make you a viral sensation on YouTube, or to relive the glories of your coast-to-coast USA road trip.

Whatever your thinking for getting one installed, you've got a wide choice of inexpensive and capable units to pick from. Check for maximum recording times, and of course recording video quality, as well as any extra bonuses - you might even get discounted car insurance with some models, for instance.

It's also worth checking how the dashcam attaches, and reading up online to see how intuitive the bundled software is as well, because having the best camera in the world is no use if you can't work out how to get footage off it.

2. Audio head unit

Perhaps it's time to update that ageing CD player you've got installed in your car and swap it out for something a bit more up-to-date and capable. Any decent car parts shop will be able to do the job for you, but it's not too difficult if you want to take it on yourself.

Apple and Google both have their own in-car systems of course, in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and you'll find some head units offer both of these systems - very handy if you think you might be swapping phone OSes in the future.

Make sure you get a run-down of the various connection options as well. Bluetooth is usually a given, but there might be front-facing ports you can use to connect up audio cables, USB sticks and the like, giving you more options for pumping out the tunes.

3. Charging port and mount

Now that we're all taking our phones with us everywhere, charging mounts have become must-have accessories both from a convenience and a safety point of view. Many mounts are described as "universal", and will work with a variety of recent phones, but double-check the specs listing just to make sure your own handset is going to fit.

You also get a choice of mount type, usually related to where you want to put it - on the windscreen, on an air vent, attached to the CD drive or tape deck, and so on. Choose the one you've most comfortable with and make sure you don't obstruct your view of the road.

If you're getting a mount, you might as well get a charger while you're at it - check how your phone gets its juice and make your decision accordingly. Some mounts come with wireless charging built in, which works for some phones, while in other cases you can just run a cable from your car's cigarette lighter to the charging socket on your phone.

4. Parking sensors

Many cars come with parking sensors installed as standard these days, to help you squeeze into the smallest of spaces before everything is done autonomously for you, but if you're driving an older motor then you can kit your car out with some pretty capable sensors for not much money at all.

The more you spend, the more extras you get - like embedded cameras that let you see just how close you're getting to your neighbour's brick wall. At the most basic level, you just get simple beeps or lights that indicate how much room you've got left.

Like many car accessories, installing these sensors requires a bit of know-how but is something most people can have a go at. If you're not confident in your own sensor-fitting skills, or you want to make sure it's done right, you can get them installed at your local garage.

5. Dedicated sat nav

While it's true that many of us will use our phones as sat navs nowadays, thanks to the capabilities of Google Maps, Apple Maps and the like, there are advantages to having a dedicated device - not least saving on your smartphone's battery life.

If you do decide to plug in a proper sat nav then you're also saved the hassle of having to mount and unmount your phone in your car every time you get in. You typically get a nice big screen, regular maps updates, and a device that's not going to beep at you every time a new phone call or Snapchat message comes through.

Look for features like live traffic updates, speed camera warnings, and support for international maps, as well as all the basics involved in getting you from one place to another in the fastest possible time.

6. Diagnostics plug-in

Your engine is reporting a lot more information than you might realise, information that manufacturers and mechanics can get by plugging a dedicated device into what's known as the on-board diagnostics or OBD port. With the right bit of kit, you can get all this same stream of data yourself, unless your car is over a decade old.

All-in-one packages from the likes of Dash and Automatic add an OBD port plug-in to a smartphone app, so you can keep a check of where you're going, how far you're driving, any engine warning messages, fuel economy and so on. Essentially you're getting a much more detailed look at what's going on inside your car.

The apps and interfaces are friendly and simple to use, even for the less technically minded, and over time you can improve your driving, use petrol more efficiently, and safe money on repair bills - all through the readings from a little dongle that you can plug in yourself underneath the dashboard.