2016's Coolest Car Gadgets
With the holidays almost upon us, it's the perfect time to take stock of all the fancy gadgets, useful tools, and miscellaneous accessories you've got, and fill in the proverbial blanks. There's a ton of killer tech to give and be given -- but don't neglect the one place where you spend an average of 17,600 minutes per year: your car. Whether you're a perennial road-tripper wanting to maximize your time off, a proud parent schlepping your kids to practice, or a weekend warrior hitting America's finest back roads and dirt trails, here are 17 accessories to check out.
A cup holder car mount for your phone
Mediabridge smartphone cradle
Let's start with the obligatory PSA that you shouldn't use your phone while driving. Great. Now, let's continue under the notion that when you do use your phone for legitimate reasons (i.e., GPS), you're gonna need a good mount for it. Suction-cup mounts that let you stick your phone to your windshield interfere with your line of vision, and the ubiquitous air vent mounts are a non-starter if you live anywhere that requires the use of A/C. Instead, go with a good cup holder mount, like this Mediabridge unit. It's sturdy enough that you won't have to worry about your phone flying out just because you were a little over-exuberant on an off ramp.
A crash-tested harness for your pup
The frightening fact is that the vast majority of dog harnesses aren't even crash-tested -- and many of those that are perform somewhat terribly. As of now, the only harness that's approved by the Center for Pet Safety is the Sleepypod Clickit. It's worth your time to check out the harness crash tests -- they're kind of a wakeup call.
Phone mount & charger with head-up display
EASYOWN 2-in-1 Head Up Display Reflector Hud & Wireless Qi Charger Holder
This is a cool concept for anyone that wants to cram as much utility into a single product as possible. It's a mount for your phone that sits on top of your dashboard, and as a nice bonus offers wireless Qi charging... with the caveat that the charger itself does have a wire that needs to be routed to your DC outlet. The differentiator here, though, is the flip-up panel -- it's a reflection screen for your phone, essentially converting it into a makeshift HUD.
Cooler and warmer for your tasty beverages
BESTEK 12V Thermoelectric Personal Cooler/Warmer
On a long road trip, the small details make a huge difference in overall comfort. Keeping beverages cold and sandwich meats edible is essential in the summer, and keeping foods nice and warm is just as crucial in the winter. The fact that today's coolers are not only electric, but can also warm your food is nothing short of a miracle your grandpa would vehemently decry as witchcraft.
A slick navigation system
The head-up display is one of the coolest and most self-evidently useful bits of military technology to find its way into cars. They're not on every car yet, though, so there's still a pretty good chance you don't have one. Enter Navdy, which has been in the works for a while but is only now actually shipping to customers. It pairs with your phone to provide you with not just navigation, but also your music, speed, and incoming text/call info right in front of your face.
Cargo box for extra storage
Thule Force cargo box
Price: $358 and up
On a long road trip, every inch of leg space counts, which is why a roof-mounted cargo box makes a ton of sense. You can stuff it full of things you won't need while you're driving, and free up all that space for what you do need: snacks to stuff in your cooler.
A bag of charcoal
Moso Natural Air Purifying Bag
Kids do the darnedest things... like not telling you they spilled food all over the seat while you were busy paying attention to the road. It's always good to keep a bag of activated charcoal in your car; it doesn't just cover up odors like most scented air fresheners -- but it absorbs them. You can also make a DIY air freshener with coffee beans instead.
Trunk organizer for all your random crap
Trunk Organizer by Lebogner
If you've got kids, you probably have a veritable flea market of toys, wipes, tiny mismatched shoes, and other miscellany scattered about your car. All of that is problematic for your inner OCD neat freak, but more importantly, in a crash, the last thing you want is a legion of airborne Buzz Lightyears colliding into the back of your head. Invest in some organizers to keep everything in its right place.
Cheap cordless headphones
Bravo View IH-06A
Cordless headphones aren't new, obviously, but if you want to distract your kid from being a distraction, they're an absolute necessity. And since, depending on your precious cargo's age, there's a better-than-good chance they'll destroy said headphones, getting a super-cheap (read: easily replaceable) set is paramount.
If you happen to have a Garmin navigation unit, the babyCam uses the nav's display and a wireless remote camera to show you what your kids are up to like spilling food, destroying cheap headphones, etc. Cleverly, it only shows the video feed for a few seconds at a time so you won't get distracted from the road while staring at your adorable spawn.
Automatic GPS/MPG tracker
Automatic AUT-350C Pro Gold 3G Connected Car Adapter
When Automatic first came out a couple of years ago, it was little more than an advanced way of monitoring your fuel economy. It's evolved significantly since then, though, and while it still offers some the best means of tracking and improving your MPG, it also keeps constant track of your car's location, has crash detection and emergency response, offers compatibility with a host of apps, and can even connect with Nest and Alexa.
Sound deadener for a quieter ride
Dynamat sound deadener
Reducing excess road noise in your car actually makes your drive less fatiguing. It's a big reason why a luxury car is more relaxing than an economy car, in much the same way that noise-canceling headphones help you keep your energy up during a long flight. Bonus: It'll make your stereo sound about a million times better.
Curb Alert PRO™ audible proximity sensor
Tons of cars have proximity monitors that let you know if you're about to hit a car or a wall when you're parking, but not all of those monitors catch things like curbs of moderate height -- the kind high enough to scrape the bottom lip of your bumper that you find in so many parking lots. This monitor mounts at the very bottom of the front of your car and its sole mission in life is to sniff out those curbs and protect your paint from those tell-tale scrapes.
A good pair of touchscreen-friendly driving gloves
Pratt and Hart touchscreen leather driving gloves
A decent set of driving gloves makes your drive more enjoyable from a tactile standpoint: Your grip on the wheel feels more natural, your hands are insulated from both extreme cold and extreme heat, and because unlike your palms, gloves don't sweat, you'll be less fatigued from constantly adjusting your grip. A set that also happens to let you use your phone (after you've stopped, of course) is vital.
Kakadu rooftop tent
If you have the right vehicle for it, nothing beats driving yourself into the middle of nowhere and appreciating all that nature has to offer... until you realize that your phone has no signal, and you can't Google how dangerous the local fauna is. Those mysterious eyes reflecting the light of your campfire are reasons number one, two, and three to get a rooftop tent for your car and sleep above nature's fray.
Action camera with a stabilizer
Osmo with Sport Accessory Kit
It's pricey, but the stabilizer on the Osmo is second to none, and can prevent even the roughest roads or trails from resulting in unwatchable, jittery video. It doesn't quite have the indestructibility of a GoPro, but if first-rate video is your aim, you want this. It's what the pros use.
Lighter-powered slow cooker
RoadPro RPSL-350 12V 1.5-quart slow cooker
It's one thing to build a fire and use it to cook like you're some sort of old Western cowboy, but it's also time-consuming and tedious. A slow-cooker meal represents a far better use of your time, and this one actually runs off of your car's lighter outlet. Toss in all your ingredients, plug it in, go do whatever it is you do out in the wilderness, and come back at the end of the day to a nice hot meal... preferably up in your rooftop tent.
Want more of the world's best Cars content delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up for our daily email.