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Things You Didn't Know You Needed for Your Car
I recall many years ago walking into a gigantic 7-floor computer and electronics indoor "market" in China. The market was packed wall to wall with stalls from every big-name electronics brand on the planet alongside independent retailers all selling their wares. Every inch of space on every stall was full of laptops, computers, components, memory sticks, cameras, and all sorts of other gadgets. Some stalls were quite organised, others not so much. As is often the case in China, many of these stores were essentially selling the same things; it would be easy to miss some of the more unusual objects for sale hidden amongst the piles of computer parts.
This was the first time I saw what appeared to be a collection of rearview mirrors, except something wasn't quite right—they weren't particularly reflective. After asking the vendor for an explanation, they enthusiastically provided a demonstration of the functionality of this "mirror". If you haven't guessed already, it was not just any rearview mirror but was linked to two cameras: one a front-facing dashcam and the second a reversing camera. In addition to this, the "mirror" featured GPS navigation. These days people are likely more familiar with this particular car gadget, but as I recently returned to the aforementioned "computer city" it made me ponder about what other car gadgets exist today.
12 Cool Car Gadgets
The fruits of my pondering, wandering (through markets)—and not to mention trawling through AliExpress, Amazon, eBay, and Taobao—are below. Some of these could be considered useful, others perhaps just a bit niche, and the rest might just leave you confused wondering how and why they were ever invented. Nevertheless, here they are:
- LCD Rearview Mirror
- TUNAI Firefly Bluetooth Receiver
- Handpresso Auto
- OBDII Bluetooth Diagnostic Scanner
- Wheel Desk
- 12V Electric Kettle
- 12V Rice Cooker
- 12V Fan Heater/Windshield Defroster
- Tyre Pressure Monitor
- Multifunction Bluetooth FM Transmitter
- Rooftop Hammock
- Rooftop Tent
1. LCD Rearview Mirror
Usually, I am a big fan of anything that brings multiple pieces of functionality together into a single unit. Which is why when I first saw this gadget which integrated a front-facing dashcam, rearview camera, and GPS navigation I thought that it was a pretty cool idea.
However, a lot of people may not like having an LCD screen replace their rearview mirror and I can certainly empathize there. The technology here is not strictly necessary but it does have its advantages. For one, having two cameras (front and rear-facing) can be useful if you're ever in an accident or happen to witness one and require the footage to back up your version of events to the police or an insurance company. Another advantage is that the rear-facing camera, usually mounted on the back of the vehicle itself, can give a much clearer view of what's behind the vehicle, particularly for reversing or if you drive a vehicle with no rearview mirror or rear windscreen (i.e. most vans, trucks, etc.).
Many of these units stop there in terms of functionality, but the ones which bring it all together also feature maps and GPS navigation options or even run Android Auto, meaning that you can have access to a wide range of Android applications and up-to-date Google Maps. Watching Game of Thrones whilst you're driving, however, is not recommended!
2. TUNAI Firefly Bluetooth Receiver
Have you ever been frustrated by the lack of Bluetooth in your car? You just want to play your tunes from your phone on your car speakers! Or maybe your car has Bluetooth but doesn't support the relevant protocol for playing music and only works for call audio and contact sharing… Yeah, I know the feeling.
Whilst many modern cars and infotainment systems do have Bluetooth connectivity, the majority of cars on the road still do not or do not fully support playing music from your phone using Bluetooth. Enter Bluetooth receivers—simply connect to your phone via Bluetooth and to your car via its AUX input and you'll be singing along to your favourite songs in the car in no time at all. Of course, if you're driving around a banger with no AUX input either then there's always the classic FM transmitter (more on that one later).
However, Bluetooth receivers are pretty common these days; the TUNAI Firefly has a simple but distinct advantage over most on the market. I am sure I am not the only one who over the years has gone through numerous Bluetooth receivers but ultimately has been frustrated by all the messy cables required to power and connect to the car audio. Well, this simple gadget provides an obvious solution… Rather than having separate cables to attach to the receiver for power and audio, everything you need is already a part of this simple and minimalist product. It's easy to set up and easy to use. It just works and you can forget it's even there, which is ideal.
3. Handpresso Auto
Do you love coffee? So much that you can't wait to get home or even to the nearest coffee shop, service station or diner. Or perhaps you're travelling long-distance or somewhere remote and just want a convenient way to have your cup of joe. Whatever the reason, perhaps the Handpresso Auto was invented just for you! Perhaps.
You simply place it in your car's cup holder, add water, add coffee then plug it into a 12V cigarette lighter socket and power on. It builds up 16 bars of pressure and then you turn it upside down and release your espresso, preferably into a glass or some form of drinking container and not all over your car. Once again, this is probably not one to be used whilst driving.
Perhaps a final word of warning is also required for this one; unless you want the inside of your car to look like a murder scene then it's probably advisable not to force open the lid once the container is pressurised, make sure you release the coffee first.
4. OBDII Bluetooth Diagnostic Scanner
This one has genuinely useful and practical applications, but can equally just be used to geek out a little. Sometimes this little gadget can even save you money. It's the perfect tool for the DIY mechanic. Modern cars with all their electrics can suffer from numerous ailments, fortunately, they also have a lot of sensors which means that there is plenty of data available that can be used to diagnose problems. And this is where this handy gadget thrives because you need a way to get that data off the ECU (Engine Control Unit) and interpret it.
Don't panic drive to the mechanic! Simply plug this device into your vehicle's OBDII port and connect it via Bluetooth to your phone or laptop. Using the accompanying software you can see any fault code that your vehicle has logged and even reset codes if necessary (although it's better to know exactly what you're doing before you attempt this). With a bit of research, quite often you will be able to find and possibly even fix the problem your car is experiencing yourself without ever going to a mechanic. Not only could it work out cheaper but it's also very rewarding being able to learn and fix things yourself.
You can also leave the unit in while driving to capture, display, and record data whilst you are driving such as speed, rpm, throttle position, and much more depending on your car and its sensors. This can also be used for diagnostic purposes as some issues only occur while driving, or it can be used to create a fancy HUD (Heads Up Display) on your dashboard using your phone with the app running.
5. Wheel Desk
Are you are workaholic? Maybe you just need to escape from the kids to get some peace and quiet and prepare your presentation for tomorrow's meeting; or perhaps it's this morning's meeting and you're parked at the office already but want to avoid showing your boss how unprepared you are. Well, now you can make your car your workplace (and not just if you drive for a living). Say "hello" to the Wheel Desk.
I've tried working in the car in the past, but really never found it particularly comfortable. Although perhaps this car accessory would have improved the situation a little. It's a small laptop desk which fits over or around your vehicle's steering wheel.
Most people probably don't need such an accessory, but it does have fairly legitimate applications for those who travel a lot for their work (e.g. between different customer sites/homes) and don't have a fixed office.
6. 12V Electric Kettle
The one problem with Pot Noodles other than possibly the taste, nutritional value, wasteful packaging… I'll start again. One of the many problems with Pot Noodles is that while they are quite convenient to carry with you, you still need access to hot water to eat them. Trust me, you do. So what is one to do when you're stuck on a long drive and hunger strikes and all you have is your trusty Pot Noodle? Well, clearly what you need is a portable 12V kettle which plugs into your car and fits in your cup holder!
OK, Pot Noodles aside, obviously you can also just use this kettle to make tea, coffee, or other hot beverages, etc.
7. 12V Rice Cooker
Yes, you read that correctly! I believe the statement "just because you can, doesn't mean you should" has particular relevance for this car gadget. Yes, in theory, many things can be done in a car and as with previous examples perhaps some slightly niche gadgets and accessories just about justify their existence, but I have to be honest that I am struggling to justify this one. I can't imagine that introducing that much moisture from all the steam to a car interior is a particularly good idea. Now all I can now think of is someone cooking their rice whilst driving along the highway and constantly having to wipe the condensation off the windscreen. I realise that is a ridiculous and exaggerated example of how this might be used but it is a ridiculous and unnecessary product after all.
That said, I do not doubt that many people have already made good use of this product and probably love it to bits. And it also likely has more practical applications on coaches or similar modes of transport.
8. 12V Fan Heater/Windshield Defroster
Are your car's internal fans or AC not quite doing it for you in the winter or perhaps they are broken altogether? Or maybe you need to defrost/demist your windscreen quicker in the morning because you woke up late. Well, perhaps this 12V fan heater can come to your aid.
Although I imagine it's also probably a good way to drain your battery thus leaving you stuck in the cold with no power and unable to start your car. But maybe it will be fine… More than anything, it's hard to imagine that this gadget is particularly effective or even convenient to store in your car or stick on your dash. But I've been wrong before.
I hope the picture above advertising the product is false advertising though! If the heater does breathe fire inside your car then you might not have a car left to heat. At least you could stay near your burning wreck of a car for warmth.
9. Tyre Pressure Monitor
We all know that before you go on a journey of any significant length there are several things which you really should check about the general health of your car, just to make sure you will reach your destination alive and also make it home again. Trivial things, really! But if you're honest with yourself, how many times have you checked everything you're supposed to because, well, it's just so much hassle. Tyre pressure is one on the list of things you should check since under-inflated tyres can affect road handling and braking; it also causes high tyre degradation and fuel consumption.
If you own a recent high-end car, then perhaps you already have this integrated into the car's system. But of course, for everyone else, this little gadget could potentially help save you money and keep you safer. You could just check the tyre pressure manually but being able to monitor your tyre pressure easily and over a period of time, all without getting your hands dirty is very useful. The sensors attach to your tyres (unsurprisingly) and usually communicate with a base unit which you can also connect to your phone or even your car's infotainment system where you can receive warnings about any abnormal tyre pressure. So even if you don't own a Mercedes S Class, you can still have some of the features!
10. Multifunction Bluetooth FM Transmitter
It took a while for most normal cars to catch up when MP3 players first caught on and the world has moved on again since, but back in the days when your car only had a cassette or CD player but you wanted to play the tunes from your brand new 256MB MP3 player you had a couple of choices: Buy a cassette adapter which would have an audio cable and jack left hanging out after inserted for you to insert into the headphone jack of your MP3 player OR buy an FM transmitter which you would also plug into the headphone jack and then the audio would be transmitted over an FM radio frequency which you could set.
Despite car entertainment technology catching up somewhat it still lags behind and the good old personal FM transmitter isn't dead yet! You can now get one which connects to your phone over Bluetooth, so no need to constantly attach and remove it from your phone every time you get in the car. The audio from your phone is then retransmitted over FM radio and there's no need for a cable to plug into the car's AUX input either. You just plug the transmitter directly into the car's 12V power, connect your phone over Bluetooth and even set it to automatically reconnect to your phone every time it's in range.
In addition to playing your favourite tunes, it can also be used for hands-free calls; activating a virtual assistant on your phone (e.g. Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa); charging your phone or other USB devices; and even playing songs from a TF card or USB drive.
11. Rooftop Hammock
Who doesn't love a good hammock? It's a great way to relax when on holiday or just in the garden. But how about a hammock suspended above your car? It seems this would be another accessory not to try whilst driving…it's amazing how many car gadgets and accessories are available which are not advisable to be used while driving.
Putting aside the issue of how one should even access this hammock once it is mounted on the roof of your car and also how safe it is to be suspended at this height or above a vehicle, I still love it…because it’s a hammock. Just if you do buy one and affix it to your car, perhaps you should also buy a sign which warns other drivers of your vehicle not to accidentally drive off whilst you're up there.
12. Rooftop Tent
Now this one is pretty cool and very useful for those who love to camp. Unless you're a hardcore wild camper and the idea of using your vehicle to assist in your enjoyment of the camping experience is like heresy to you, then the ease of setup and portability of this tent is bound to appeal.
The Skycamp Rooftop Tent folds out of a roof box mounted on your car and provides a sleeping space above the vehicle—with a ladder to access—as well as a cooking/social space next to it.
The manufacturer's website claims that you can set this tent up in just 60 seconds. That's a lot of saved time when compared to setting up a normal equivalent tent. It certainly comes at a steep cost but those who love to travel and camp could certainly get a lot of use out of it.
Would You Buy These?
What's your opinion on the usefulness of these items? Do you think any of them are worth owning, perhaps you've already added some to your online shopping basket or wish list!
Comment below and don't forget to vote for your favourite!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Phil Hobbs