Just about everyone likes a cool gadget here and there, but let’s be honest, some car gadgets are an absolute waste of money. These gadgets come in all shapes and sizes and can accomplish a mind-mindbogglingly wide array of different tasks, with some, like flashlight gloves, falling squarely into the “Gimmick” category. Some car gadgets, such as an emergency window breaker, can be extremely helpful in a certain situations, while others, such as car humidifiers, can be described as “nice to have but not particularly helpful”.
So, how do you know which gadgets to buy and which ones to ignore? This can be a perplexing question, particularly in light of the wide variety of doodads and thingamajigs on the market, but never fear. With this buying guide, you can find just the right gadget to make your life easier, happier, or safer, depending on your particular needs and situation.
This phone charger mount wirelessly charges most smartphones and promotes safe, hands-free phone use. It automatically secures phones, is fully adjustable, and is built with high-quality materials.
- This mount supports wireless charging for Android and Apple phones using Qi technology
- Its frame consists of aluminum
- Adjustable and works with most phone cases
- Unfortunately, this phone mount will not charge phones sporting metal cases or other metallic accessories
This key organizer decreases bulk inside a pocket or purse and minimizes the chances of key-induced injuries or damage. It’s simple, durable design also decreases key noise when in use.
- This organizer holds up to eight keys and can be expanded to hold 14 keys
- Compact and made with durable materials
- Includes a loop for key fobs
- Only works with bare metal keys
- Achieving proper screw tension can be difficult
- Not always appreciated by TSA
This OBD2 Bluetooth adapter provides drivers with diagnostics and live data from their vehicle’s ECU. It is compatible with Android and iOS devices and provides repair information for most codes.
- This adapter is Android and iOS-compatible
- Can read and clear ECU and other codes
- Features enhanced diagnostics for common makes
- App is free and includes tech support
- This OBD2 adapter is rather pricey
- If left plugged in, this adapter will drain a car’s battery.
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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Car Gadgets
- Make life easier. If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the main reason most of us buy any accessory or gadget is to make our lives easier. The right gadget can simplify some of the smallest yet most mundane tasks, saving us a little time and sanity.
- Cool factor. Some car gadgets are just plain cool. Sure, you could stream music from your phone to the stereo system with an auxiliary plug, but that lacks the wow factor of using an FM radio transmitter to do the job instead.
- Save money. Sometimes the perfect gadget is the one that saves you from spending that hard-earned cash. Maybe that FM transmitter will save you the cost of a new stereo head, which is not exactly the cheapest or simplest item to replace.
Types of Car Gadgets
Even the simplest of gadgets can make all the difference in preserving a car’s health and enhancing its performance capabilities. Most often, these gadgets come in the form of tire pressure gauges, tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), OBD2 readers and scan tools, and a handful of other items designed to keep drivers up to speed on their vehicle’s condition and trends. A few are even designed specifically to help drivers save time and money.
Some car gadgets make life easier for drivers and passengers alike. Consider the challenges of trying to secure a load to a roof rack on top of a Chevy Suburban or the complications of trying to navigate the streets of a new city. Tools like temporary steps, GPS units, and smartphone mounts can make all the difference between a smooth, enjoyable trip and one plagued by irritation and frustration.
Older vehicles lack the standard equipment to integrate with modern technology, so as many drivers reach for the stereo knob, they feel the urge to replace ho-hum radio signals and outdated cassette players with something new. Some may find themselves limited to simple smartphone-to-FM transmitters, while others may have the cash for a new head unit with a full-size touchscreen, Bluetooth, and more.
Safety should be every driver’s top priority, and there are plenty of car gadgets dedicated to keeping everyone safe on the road. Some devices, such as backup cameras, emphasize accident prevention by enhanced visibility thereby improving a driver’s capabilities for situational awareness. Other tools were designed for those worst-case scenarios. Hopefully, these gadgets only serve as car ornaments that simply provide peace of mind, but when an emergency occurs, they can make all the difference.
In 1982, Helmut Lechner founded Lifehammer in his native Germany after surviving a scary auto accident and subsequently inventing the first safety hammer. Today, the company focuses on automotive emergency cabin equipment like the Lifehammer Safety Hammer Evolution.
Based out of San Mateo, Calif., Tile exists to provide people with a simple, convenient means of keeping track of their most important possessions. The Tile Mate is its signature product and is designed for pairing with keys and other valuables.
Car Gadget Pricing
- Under $50: These gadgets tend to be small items designed to accomplish simple tasks.
- $50 and up: This category is heavy on advanced electronics engineered for long-term or complex tasks, such as vehicular monitoring.
Best Car Gadgets Reviews & Recommendations 2021
The CHGeek Wireless Car Charger Mount keeps a driver’s phone close at hand, promoting safer use. This phone mount uses an automatic clamp to secure the user’s phone and leverages Qi wireless charging technology to keep compatible Android and Apple phones ready to go, even charging phones with cases up to six millimeters thick. Using either the washable and reusable gel suction cup or the air vent clamp, users can attach this mount virtually anywhere, and with a 360-degree rotating ball joining and 210-degree adjustable, telescoping arm, it can be oriented in virtually any direction. To free the phone, simply depress the clamp release button. The CHGeek Wireless Car Charger Mount features a sturdy aluminum alloy frame and, when not in use, will automatically power off when not in use.
The only downside to this mount is its inability to charge phones with metallic cases or similar obstructions.
While keyrings certainly have their place, they cannot compete with a KeySmart, an amazing alternative to big pocket bulges, painful thigh jabs, and loud keyring jingles (because “Jingle Bells” is only fashionable at Christmastime). The KeySmart is an ingenious key storage system designed specifically to reorganize large keyring payloads into a slim, compact key collection that is easy to access and makes everyday life more enjoyable. A single unit can hold up to eight keys at a time, and with the expansion system, users can increase that capacity to 14 keys. The frame consists of aircraft-grade aluminum and is held together by stainless steel hardware. Each KeySmart is available in multiple colors and includes a loop for key fobs and large keys.
While adding and removing keys is straightforward, achieving proper screw tension can be a challenge. Also, KeySmart only works with bare metal keys and can be TSA-unfriendly.
Best for Car Care
Car maintenance and repairs can be expensive, particularly when unexpected. BlueDriver exists to keep drivers informed of their car’s health and performance and equips professional and DIY mechanics with enhanced diagnostics and improved repair data. This OBD2 Bluetooth adapter allows users to sync their mobile device with the ECU on any vehicle built during or after the 1996 model year. Once paired with the free BlueDriver mobile app, users can leverage their Android or iOS device to read and clear engine, airbag, ABS, TPMS, and other codes, and they can access enhanced diagnostics for a wide variety of common auto makes, including Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, and more. BlueDriver users also have access to 24/7 technical support should any questions arise.
This device is rather expensive which is simultaneously understandable and unfortunate. It also cannot be left plugged into a vehicle without putting a drain on the battery.
Best for Tire Care
Avoid the frustrations of unexpected flat tires, poor gas mileage, and more with the Tymate M12-3 Tire Pressure Monitoring System. This affordable, easy-to-use TPMS includes a main console and four tire cap sensors which provide real-time tire pressure data and boasts an 87-PSI maximum with accuracy to within three PSI. Users can monitor tire pressure and temperature and can receive warnings when temperatures spike, when pressure exceeds or drops below user-determined levels, or when the system detects a fast leak. The console is rechargeable via the integrated solar panel or by USB charging cable, and it features a battery health monitor and both auto sleep and auto wake functions. The Tymate M12-3 Tire Pressure Monitoring System also comes with a two-year warranty.
Some users have reported difficulty in reading the display, while users have noted that the instruction manual is poorly written.
Best for Cargo Racks
Reaching the roof on many vehicles can be quite a challenge. Thankfully, the Rightline Gear Moki Door Step makes rooftop access and packing a breeze for virtually everyone. This innovative design consists of a single piece of aircraft-grade aluminum, making it both sturdy and lightweight. The integrated hook allows users to attach the step to any car door latch, making the step capable of supporting up to 400 pounds. (Per federal law, automotive door latches are impressively resilient.) The rubber bumper on the step helps prevent paint damage to its host vehicle, and the bright orange color makes it easy to avoid accidentally closing the car door at the wrong time. The Rightline Gear Moki Door Step is easy to store and includes a one-year warranty.
However, this step is a poor fit for most rear door frames and thin frames. The exposed steel screws can dent some door frames.
Best for Navigation
Tired of getting lost or trying to navigate via a smartphone? Then pick up a Garmin DriveSmart 55, and trust yourself to a dedicated GPS, a modern technological marvel. This Garmin is easy to read and can be controlled via either the 5.5-inch, 1280 by 720-pixel touchscreen display or the voice-recognition software. The GPS unit pairs nicely with compatible smartphones via Bluetooth which allows for easy hands-free calling and convenient access to TripAdvisor, a list of History Network-listed sites, and a National Parks directory via the Garmin Drive app. The app also provides access to real-time information, such as public parking lot status, traffic cameras, and current weather data. The Garmin DriveSmart 55 includes integrated Wi-Fi connectivity for computer-free map and software updates and is backup camera-compatible.
This unit is a little pricey, which is disappointing in light of its hit-or-miss voice recognition and the occasionally inefficient routing.
Best for Audiophiles
The Anker Roav SmartCharge T1 is an amazing option for drivers looking to play some rad tunes in an old car without springing for a new head unit. This little unit receives streaming audio from any mobile device via USB cable or Bluetooth, then translates into an FM frequency and broadcasts it directly to the driver’s radio. This system uses static cancellation technology for a clear signal, and it supports hands-free calling for greater safety, convenience, and compliance with traffic laws. The unit plugs directly into any vehicle’s 12-volt charging port or cigarette lighter, and it includes both an adjustable neck for custom positioning and a USB fast-charging port. The Anker Roav SmartCharge T1 is easy to use and comes with a one-year warranty.
Once set, the chosen FM frequency is hard to change. Also, some users have reported static and sound quality issues, although both are covered under warranty.
Best for Emergencies
Auto accidents can happen when we least expect them, and tools like the Lifehammer Safety Hammer Evolution can make the difference between life and death when seconds count. Escaping a car that has flipped or rolled can be extremely difficult, even impossible, when the driver finds themselves at an awkward angle, fighting gravity. This emergency hammer includes a seat belt cutter and an ultra-hard, spring-loaded ceramic window breaker designed specifically for shattering non-laminated side windows. To break a window, simply press the gray protective housing against the window to launch the ceramic breaker against the glass. The non-slip grip matches up with an ergonomic design, and the hammer itself comes with an easy-to-install mount. The Lifehammer Safety Hammer Evolution is GS-certified by German TÜV for added confidence.
The mount can be difficult to install in all but a few locations and must be dramatically tightened to prevent rotation.
Best for Safety
Got a new driver in the family? Then consider installing a Bouncie on the family cruiser. This vehicle monitor plugs into the OBD2 port of vehicles from 1996 or later and provides real-time driving data, vehicle diagnostics, and much more. This unit features a 15-second automatic refresh rate, and when synced with the mobile app/website, users will receive notifications when the assigned vehicle suffers an accident, enters or leaves designated “Geo-Circles”, or exceeds certain speeds. Thanks to the GPS and OBD2 links, users can analyze data and create reports regarding vehicle diagnostics, trip history, travel route details, and various driving events. Data can be synced to an unlimited number of app-equipped devices, and the Bouncie service starts at an impressive $8 per month without any hidden fees.
The Bouncie only works when the ignition is on, making a poor choice for theft-deterrence. It tends to work better on newer vehicles.
Best for Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is critical to safety, and the VanTop H612 Mirror Dash Cam gives drivers the ultimate view in virtually any conditions. This system features a 12-inch 2.5K Ultra HD touchscreen and control panel that attaches to a car’s rearview mirror and is paired with a front camera boasting a 170-degree viewing angle and a waterproof, 1080-pixel backup camera with a 160-degree viewing angle. The Sony Starvis IMX335 sensor ensures clear viewing in the dark, and the Intelligent Escort Partner uses voice activation to launch essential operations. This system supports memory cards with up to 128 gigabytes of storage and uses advanced GPS support for travel data, and the VanTop H612 Mirror Dash Cam automatically records and saves accident footage.
This expensive system’s time-lapse recording and parking assist features require an extra hardwire kit. It also lacks a memory card and can have a glare after dark.
- Carefully consider whether or not you plan to use an item before you purchase it. There are plenty of neat gadgets available, but all that coolness can get expensive in a hurry!
Q: What are some cool car accessories?
Some of the most impressive car accessories include electronic gadgets like the CHGeek Wireless Car Charger Mount, the VanTop H612 Mirror Dash Cam, and the Anker Roav SmartCharge T1. For DIYers and data-driven drivers, the BlueDriver is sure to win a ton of cool points with any audience.
Q: What is the best place to buy car accessories?
Car accessories can be found almost anywhere, but some of our favorite outlets include Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. When it comes to audio-specific gear, we love to see what Crutchfield and Rockville have to offer.
Q: How can I decorate my car?
Custom car décor can range anywhere from slapping on a couple of entertaining bumper stickers to dropping some dough on new rims. Some may even want to entirely redo their vehicle’s exterior with PlastiDip, a vinyl
wrap, a custom
paint job, or even a full coat of bed liner.
Most modern drivers carry smartphones, and the CHGeek Wireless Car Charger Mount promotes safety thanks to its hands-free design, wireless charging, and its durability. For those wanting something cool but less expensive, KeySmart provides a compact, durable solution to key storage and organization sure to please any driver.