TYING a big red bow around a new sports car is one way to give someone the latest in-car technologies, but for most of us that’s just a marketer’s fantasy. Fortunately, there are plenty of high-tech baubles that can be added to your own car to improve safety, convenience or both. And you don’t have to take out a new loan to get them (or give them).
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The Anti Sleep Pilot tests a driver's alertness.
PERSONAL NAVIGATION DEVICE Smartphones have built-in GPS function, but for some tasks — like in-car navigation — a stand-alone device is still better. Free navigation on cellphones, for example, usually works only if you have a cell signal; when the signal drops, your directions stop. Furthermore, cellphone screens are generally smaller and difficult to read in direct sunlight.
TomTom’s GO 2535 M Live is a $350 portable navigation device with a 5-inch screen and a new live traffic feature known as HD Traffic, which the company recently started in the United States.
What’s different about TomTom’s approach is that it not only culls current traffic feeds from local reports and historical data to figure out the best route but includes live status reports from other TomTom drivers on the road. So fellow TomTom owners who are stuck in traffic can warn the service, and you, and offer to route you around the problem.
As the number of current and new users of TomTom’s HD Traffic grows, so will the accuracy and timeliness of traffic warnings. The first year is free, then it costs $59.95 a year for a bundle of services including local gas prices and weather warnings.
IPHONE RADAR Radar detectors are also getting high-tech upgrades. Cobra, for example, has created the $129 iRadar, which works in conjunction with an iPhone. The advantage is that the radar detector can use the connected smartphone’s built-in GPS function and Internet connection to add supplemental information, like the location of hidden red light cameras and stationary speed trap cameras. The location information is updated regularly and the relevant warnings are displayed on screen.
TRACKING YOUR CAR Increasingly popular are remote tracking devices for the car. One of the latest is the Viper SmartStart GPS. The $300 package includes a GPS unit with a cellular data connection that sends alerts to an iPhone or Android-based smartphone. It can tell you if your car is being moved, or being stolen, and parents can use it to monitor younger drivers. Just draw an electric fence on the associated app’s map and if the vehicle beyond the designated area, you’ll get an alert. The system must be installed by a professional, who may charge an additional fee, and monthly service plans start at $5 a month. A remote start costs an additional $200, but then you’ll be able to start the car by using your phone.
CHARGERS Arguments about who gets to use the limited 12-volt plugs in the car to power a phone or MP3 player are commonplace. To reduce charging conflicts — or charge two of your own gadgets simultaneously — there’s Belkin’s Dual Auto Charger for iPhone and iPod. The $29.99 accessory works with any device that charges via a USB cable, including Android phones, Bluetooth headsets and even navigation devices like the TomTom GO 2535 above. Just plug it into a 12-volt outlet and connect two devices; one USB outlet offers a “quick charge” and the other a longer charging time. So there may be something to argue about after all.
ANTI-SLEEP PILOT If people knew when they were about to fall asleep, they wouldn’t wake up on the couch. While this may seem like a cute foible, behind the wheel it can have dangerous consequences. A new solution is the Anti-Sleep Pilot, a $179 gadget that sticks to the dash. It has a built-in motion detector, flashing lights and audible alarms. The driver starts by setting a fatigue level (based on answers to a variety of questions) on the Pilot, then the device will periodically beep to test the driver’s alertness. Based on how long it takes for the driver to touch the Pilot and silence the alert, it gauges the level of fatigue. When it judges that the driver should take a break, its lights go red and an alarm sounds. IPhone devotees can opt for a $19.99 app that mimics most of the features of the stand-alone gadget.
BIKE RACK One of the more onerous chores associated with summer driving is the seemingly incessant loading and unloading of the family vehicle. Bicycles make the job even harder. Roof-top racks prevent you from parking in public garages, and most rear racks have to be unloaded every time you want to open the trunk. The $470 Thule 964 Revolver is designed to make these inconveniences obsolete.
Its design allows owners to simply swing the whole rack — fully loaded with up to four adult bikes — out to the side to get to the trunk or liftgate. To attach to a car, sport utility vehicle or minivan, a trailer hitch is required, but the Revolver is sturdier than inexpensive carriers so there’s minimal swaying over potholes, and your cycles won’t bang together. Better still, it includes two locks, one to keep it attached to your vehicle’s trailer hitch and another one to prevent thieves from lifting the cycles off the rack when you have parked. (r) post