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Tech Upgrades to Bring Your Old Car to the 21st Century

Owning an older car can become frustrating, especially when considering that new models come to market with all sorts of exciting technologies that were not available for your vehicle when it was new.
Retrofit tech options for cars 6 photos
Photo: Autoevolution.com
Retrofit multimedia unit with Navigation for classic Porsche 911Aftermarket parking sensorsAftermarket Head-Up Display systemBack-up camera with display integrated into rear-view mirrorBluetooth car kit
Since selling your car just to get access to new features would be a silly thing to do, and your means of transport seems to be in great technical shape, you have the option to update it with some modern features.

Best of all, most of these innovations are not that expensive anymore, so you can upgrade your old vehicle to feature modern elements without too much hassle. We are talking about improvements that can be done without chopping up the dash, or dismantling the interior and putting it back together again.

Also, this article does not focus on modifications to improve your vehicle’s performance. We would like to concentrate on features that will bring more comfort to the user by adding elements that will make day-to-day driving easier.

Naturally, these modifications should only be made after extensive individual research, and only on cars which will not lose value because of the changes. So if you happen to own a rare classic car, avoid adding some of the modifications mentioned, as they will reduce the value of your vehicle.

We will not provide you with links to particular products or brands, as they may not be available for purchase in all markets. Instead, we will mention five available technology upgrades for just about any vehicle that could not get them from the factory.

Most of these will be available as aftermarket equipment for cars that range from something built in the 2000s, and to vehicles that are over 25 years old.

Parking Sensors

Aftermarket parking sensors
Photo: Amazon seller
Parking sensors were not common accessories for cars until they started to become affordable around ten years ago. Before this time, most people did not buy a car with parking sensors as optional equipment, or only customers of premium models enjoyed the “luxury” of knowing how much room they have left at the back of their vehicle when parking.

Thankfully, the wonders of technology allow us to be able to buy a set of decent parking sensors cheaper than ever before. If you live in a crowded city and want to eliminate some struggle when parking in tight spots, you can fit parking sensors to your car.

The cheapest set of parking sensors we found online was about $20 including world shipping. Some vendors even provide systems that do not require any drills in the rear bumper for their units, but these only work on cars with plastic bumpers. Either way, professional installation is recommended for best results.

Rear view camera

Back\-up camera with display integrated into rear\-view mirror
Photo: Rydeenmobile
If your vehicle has poor rear-view visibility and backing up is a major hurdle, you can fit it with a rear view camera. Instead of drilling the dash to install a monitor, you can opt for a modern system that integrates a display in the rearview mirror. The latter fits on top of the standard mirror, or instead of it, depending on the model chosen.

A professional can seamlessly hide all of the wires behind the headliner, so you will not notice the installation of the system until you put the car in reverse. As in the case of parking sensors, the rearview camera system can be installed in some instances without any visible drill holes. Other systems come with license plate holders and with the camera integrated into the rack, providing an improved fitment.

Depending on the features provided and on the resolution of the camera and the display, rearview camera systems range from $40 to $100. Some of the systems we found online come with parking sensors, so they can provide two functions in the same package. As usual, do not go for the cheapest systems you can find, as they provide a low resolution and questionable reliability.

Bluetooth Car Kit

Bluetooth car kit
Photo: Signstek
If you are going to use your telephone while driving, there is a way to do this without keeping the device in your hands. You all know this system as Bluetooth, and car kits that retrofit the function have been available as aftermarket equipment for years.

While modern cars have integrated the Bluetooth connectivity in the sound system, older models can receive a Bluetooth car kit. This package consists of a speaker, a microphone, and an interface. Naturally, buyers receive the necessary cables to link the three elements.

Usually, the microphone is pretty small (it is as big as a third of your pinky) and barely stands out in the interior, while the command interface is as big as your thumb and is fitted somewhere on the center console. Some systems have displays, while others have just buttons to Answer or Hang Up the phone, along with a volume knob.

People usually go for these systems instead of a Bluetooth headset because they do not require charging, and you do not need to wear them in your ear. A Bluetooth car kit system costs around $50, without installation.

Sound system

Retrofit multimedia unit with Navigation for classic Porsche 911
Photo: Porsche
Back in the day, cars did not come with high-performance sound systems. Most economy cars nowadays still do not feature powerful sound systems. However, the aftermarket offering for such systems is extremely broad, and a customer can get excellent sound in just about any vehicle.

The tricky part for a clean installation is hiding the subwoofer and finding a head unit that does not look out of place in the dash. Some providers of sound systems have developed retrofit head units for classic cars, which feature a design that is more suited for older cars. Even Porsche has developed a retrofit head unit with a navigation system for classic 911s, so there is a request for these systems on the market.

In the case of a sound system upgrade, customers can spend between $150 to thousands of dollars. Classic car enthusiasts can purchase speakers and amplifiers that can be concealed to preserve the look of their interiors, but those seeking significant enhancements in the power of their audio system require solutions that are not easily hidden from sight. Do not forget to get a better battery and to make sure your charging system is functioning properly.

Most aftermarket solutions support USB and AUX plugs, as well as a Bluetooth connection to play music directly from your phone. If that is what you desire, feel free to search the market in your area for a compatible system.

Head-Up Display

Aftermarket Head\-Up Display system
Photo: Garmin
If you have an older car, it is probable that it does not have a navigation system. If it does, it might be not as quick as the one on your phone, or the maps have not been updated for some time. While you have the option to buy a phone holder and just use your mobile device, suppliers have developed systems that even include a Head-up Display.

Unlike most of the systems that are mentioned above, this is a feature that has to be removed from the vehicle every time you get out of it, because it is not concealed. Furthermore, it increases the risk of your car becoming the target of thieves. It is easy to see why, as HUD systems are placed on the dash, somewhere in the driver’s field of view, and do not require any tools for fitment. You can just use a non-slip silicone pad for the dash, plug the device into your 12V socket, set the destination, and you are ready to go.

Reputable GPS makers sell such systems for around $100, but results may vary. Some start-ups have developed solutions to turn your smartphone into an HUD, but we would not want to keep our phones on the dash in full sunlight for several hours of driving, as they are not meant to withstand direct sunlight for so long.
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About the author: Sebastian Toma
Sebastian Toma profile photo

Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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