Today's cars are fitted with some of the most advanced tech we've ever seen, from connected dashboards to built-in auto pilot. However, not everyone can afford to splurge on a brand-new automobile. To that end, we've listed our favorite gadgets and accessories that will help turn your current clunker into something a bit more high tech. We’ve also thrown a few non-commuting related gifts into the mix that the car lover in your life is sure to appreciate.
Anker Roav Bolt
Got an older car without Android Auto? Maybe it doesn't have any Bluetooth capabilities at all — just a pesky auxiliary port? If so, give Anker's Roav Bolt a look. This $49 dongle plugs into your car's 12V power socket and routes audio to your speakers, either wirelessly or through a 3.5-millimeter cable, to add hands-free Google Assistant voice functionality.
With the Roav Bolt serving as middle man between your car stereo and smartphone, you can stream media, hear directions and issue "Ok Google" voice commands. Dual microphones with noise cancellation built in are optimized to receive your instructions clearly, even within the loud environment of a car. Toss in a pair of Anker's PowerIQ charging ports to quickly top up multiple gadgets at once, and the Roav Bolt stands as one of the cheapest but most significant upgrades you can make to an old ride.
iOttie Easy One Touch Wireless Charging Car Mount
If you don’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in your ride, you’re missing out on some of the finest conveniences modern motoring has to offer. However, you can make up for a lot of that with a really sturdy car mount that also charges your smartphone, like this one here from iOttie. The Easy One Touch here is designed to stay firmly fixed to either an air vent or CD slot, can accommodate handsets of all sizes and uses widely-supported Qi technology to juice up iPhones at up to 7.5-watt power, or Android devices at up to 10 watts. If you’re unable to interact with your phone through your vehicle’s display, this bit of gear is the next best thing.
Anker Dual USB PowerDrive 2 Car Charger
Double your car's charging capabilities with this Anker dual-USB car charger. While this PowerDrive 2 adapter doesn't support Qualcomm's Quick Charge protocol, it can still top your device up quickly thanks to PowerIQ technology, which outputs up to 4.8 amps for one connected device or 2.4 amps when both ports are used simultaneously. It's also the most compact and highly rated car charger at this low price.
Aukey DR01 Dash Cam
Let's face it: Incidents on the road are, to a certain extent, unavoidable. And when somebody bumps into you at a traffic light or sideswipes your car while it's parked on the street, you're going to wish you had some sort of evidence. Fortunately, Aukey makes one of the best cheap dash cams on the market. It’s compact, easily adheres to your windshield, captures good quality video despite its low price and even has an emergency recording mode triggered by motion. Of course, there are much more expensive dash cams out there with larger, higher resolution touch screens, Alexa support and bidirectional recording. However, if you’re looking for a modest solution that checks all the boxes, Aukey’s offering has you covered.
Anker Roav Viva Pro
The Anker Roav Viva is essentially a variant of the company’s Roav Bolt smart cigarette lighter dongle that employs Amazon Alexa instead of Google Assistant. For those that use the Alexa app on their phone, or perhaps own a lot of Alexa-controlled products at home, the Roav Viva Pro is a better solution. It features two microphones for crystal-clear voice recognition, and can route media to your vehicle’s speakers over Bluetooth, an auxiliary cable, or through your head unit's FM tuner, if your ride is especially old. A pair of USB ports also deliver power to your devices at faster speeds, using Anker’s own PowerIQ technology.
Cobra RAD 450 Radar Detector
Radar detectors can be tough gifts to recommend. Cheap ones tend to be unreliable and even easily detectable by the authorities, while expensive ones carry loads of conveniences like Wi-Fi connectivity and GPS, but typically sell for upward of $500. With that in mind, Cobra’s RAD 450 strikes a good balance between the two extremes, offering sensitivity to bands commonly used by the fuzz and protection against false alarms, all for a reasonable fee. Just make sure you or your gift recipient don't live in one of the handful of states where radar detectors are illegal or restricted.
S'ip by S'well 16 oz. Insulated Travel Mug
Every driver needs a good insulated travel mug, and this one from S'well is a quality choice at a reasonable price. Thanks to double-walled vacuum insulation, it can keep hot drinks hot for 12 hours or cold drinks cold for a full day. The easy-to-open lid makes it much more convenient to use behind the wheel than a traditional screw-top thermos. And the attractive, minimalist design is available in a variety of colors and patterns to suit your style.
Beatit BT-D11 800A Portable Jump Starter
Prepare for the inevitability of a dead battery with Beatit's popular and versatile 800A portable jump-starter. This lightweight pack can jump-start a car, boat or motorcycle in seconds. It's quite small, too, making it perfect to stow away in your glove box. Meanwhile, the jump-starter's built-in USB ports mean you can use the device to recharge your phone, tablet or laptop several times over.
Mpow Aux Bluetooth Adapter
It's 2021 — everyone should have the ability to stream tunes to their car stereos. With Mpow's auxiliary Bluetooth adapter, you can do exactly that. This dongle plugs in to your car's 3.5mm port and can connect to two devices simultaneously, so passengers can share DJ duties. It also boasts excellent battery life, delivering 11 hours of playback on a full 45-minute charge.
Topdon TD309 OBD2 Scanner
Here’s a tip every car owner should follow. Rather than drive to the mechanic next time your check engine light goes on and run the risk of being strung along on a sizable and unnecessary service bill, buy your own OBD2 scanner — like this highly-rated, $19 one from Topdon — and diagnose the problems yourself, before you get them fixed. You’ll have to look up the codes yourself to learn what they mean, of course, but that’s a small inconvenience for the insight you’ll have into what’s really ailing your vehicle.
Automatic Connected Car Assistant
Automatic’s Connected Car Assistant dongle plugs into your car’s OBD2 port, which is the same one you’d plug a scanner into to check on error codes. However, it can do much more than relay technical issues. This device can share your location with your family, document your vehicle’s journeys and even plot them on a map. From there, you can view lots of granular information, from fuel mileage to how many times you abruptly accelerate or slam on the brakes during your trips. Automatic’s software sifts through this data to award you a driving score, pinpointing ways to make you safer and more efficient behind the wheel. The Connected Car Assistant comes with six months of full service out of the box; after that, you’ll have to pay $5 per month for premium features like roadside assistance and business expensing.
eRapta ERT01 Backup Camera
While an increasing number of cars are rolling off the production line with backup cameras installed, it's still a rarity in older models. Enter eRapta's modestly priced ERT01. This camera offers high-definition optics and grid lines for a clear view of what's behind your vehicle, as well as adjustability to suit all body styles. With IP69 waterproofing, you can expect this camera to stand up to inclement weather, too. Just be advised that you'll need to buy a display, sold separately, to see what the camera is recording.
Gran Turismo Sport
Although we have loads of tips to make your driving experience better, we at Tom's Guide don't have the power to put you in the seat of a Ferrari, Porsche or McLaren. That's why Gran Turismo Sport is on this list. The latest entry in Sony's long-running Real Driving Simulator franchise and one of the best PS4 games available, GT Sport puts a deep emphasis on esports and performance-balanced, highly competitive online racing. And although it’s hard to believe, GT Sport is still getting free, monthly updates full of cars and tracks more than two years since its initial release date. These days, you can snag a copy for just $19 — making GT Sport a no-brainer for gamers and car fans alike.
Forza Horizon 4
While Forza Motorsport is more of a driving simulation, Forza Horizon is about traversing an open-world populated with hundreds of the world's most iconic cars and a bustling community other players itching to turn chance encounters into impromptu showdowns. The latest installment, Forza Horizon 4, chooses the United Kingdom as its venue.
Wherever you passion lies as a car enthusiast, Horizon lets you act it out — from racing to drifting, off-roading, customizing, painting or just generally causing mayhem. The environment in Horizon 4 transitions through each of the four seasons on a weekly basis, making the map feel truly alive. The heat from the asphalt in the summer gives you the most grip and fastest lap times, while snow in the winter turns public roads into rally special stages. Better yet, the game's slew of post-release support even includes a Lego Speed Champions expansion, allowing you to freewheel in brick-built dopplegangers of your favorite vehicles. Horizon 4 is arguably the biggest racing game ever, and a must-have for four-wheeled enthusiasts of all stripes.
Logitech Driving Force G29/G920 Wheel
For the gamers among us, Logitech produces dual-motor force-feedback racing wheels that offer exceptional features for a relatively low price. Considered one of the best racing wheels out there, the Driving Force G29 boasts a premium leather-wrapped wheel, a plethora of buttons, high-grade metal paddle shifters with a satisfying clicky feel and a heavy three-pedal deck that can withstand a lot of abuse. The G29 is the version compatible with the PS4, while Logitech also sells a G920 variant made for Xbox One (though both will work on PC).