Gadgets make cars more comfortable for owners

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Satellite radio, global positioning satellite mapping and DVD screens are hot items on today’s vehicles, according to car accessory dealers.

And the more gadgets a vehicle has, the faster it sells, according to Greg Bass, Hamilton Big Country Truck Center manager.

Vehicles equipped with satellite radio, global positioning satellite systems, DVD players with multiple viewing screens, iPod accessories, reverse cameras and remote start systems rank toward the top of the list, Bass said.

Most requested items are added to vehicles after their arrival at the dealership with customers picking the products and brands in which they are interested. Bass said dealers often incorporate them into the sales deal as an incentive to buyers.

The most-asked-for gadgets are DVD players, Bass said.

“Everybody wants one,” he said, especially parents who say they make trips easier.
As technology items become more affordable, customers snatch them up, he said.

Car stereos do more than just play music these days.

New models have display screens that can flash album art from CDs and show screen savers. A port on the unit accepts connections for numerous electronic devices, such as thumbdrives and MP3 players, and can be synchronized with Bluetooth telephones to allow for hands-free communication through the vehicle’s speakers. Many also accept add-on receptacles so users can control iPods while the battery charges through the stereo.

Prices for the multifaceted stereos range from $200 to $400 with an extra $70 or so for the iPod adapter.

Drivers never need to get lost again with onboard global positioning satellite systems. Entering a street address pulls up a map of the destination or step-by-step directions. It can also show the vehicle’s location for the driver who doesn’t know where he or she is.

A portable screen mounts to the dashboard using a suction cup, and it can be connected to a home computer, giving users the ability to download music and movies to its internal 30-gigabyte hard drive.

The unit can be hand carried and used as a portable navigation system, MP3 player or movie screen.

Still a little pricey for the average consumer, at about $1200, Zach Love, manager of Eastern Audio, said the interest is there for GPS systems but many customers balk at the prices, saying they’ll wait until costs come down.

A solution to avoiding an 8-hour chorus of “the wheels on the bus,” parents can now entertain their children with a constant feed of movies. At the touch of a button, a screen can drop down from the ceiling of a vehicle’s passenger cabin or can be mounted to the back of headrests. The player itself can be installed in the front of the vehicle, discretely tucked out of view, according to Nathan Gomez with Master Trim.

A particularly popular accessory for the movie systems are wireless headphones, so viewers don’t disturb other passengers.

About $1,000 installed, Gomez said video units continue to be the most sought-after vehicle gadgets by consumers.

An alternative to car alarms that do little more than annoy neighbors when the local alley cat decides to snooze on the hood of a car, newer systems come with paging systems. A subtle vibration from the remote key fob alerts the owner to security breaches wherever they are, Eastern Audio’s Love said.

Using the remote-start option also makes it possible for users to start warming their vehicle’s engine on a cold winter day while they wait inside their homes.

At a range of $200 to $500, customers find the systems affordable and appealing, Love said, explaining he has difficulty keeping them in stock.