Auto Tech

Top 5 tech gifts for drivers

Cooley picks out his favorite affordable, high-tech toys for the car.

vantrue dashcam
Vantrue

Lots of sites do a list of best cars to give as a gift, but I will assume you are down here on Earth with me, looking for a more affordable gift for the driver on your list. 

Here are my favorite five this year, ranked by usefulness, affordability and ease of installation. 

Now playing: Watch this: Here are the best gifts for the driver on your list
5:38

5. OBD-II dongle 

Admittedly a little geeky, but I bet a lot of drivers would like to see more info about their car when the trouble light comes on and be able to clear it, at least long enough to see if the problem comes back for real. The car buff will like the bevy of additional gauges this dongle displays on their phone. There are a slew of these dongles on the market for as little as $25 and they work on any 1996 or newer car sold in the US, in conjunction with a free smartphone app.

vlcsnap-2018-12-03-13h03m13s848

The OBD-II dongle is nothing more than a wireless interface to send data from your car's mysterious circuitry to an app on your phone that makes it useful.

Brian Cooley/Roadshow

4. Android Auto or Apple CarPlay head unit 

Installing a new car stereo based on Android Auto or Apple CarPlay is transformative. It accomplishes what I get a ton of email asking for: Making your phone the interface for your car's navigation, media and communication features. Alpine, Pioneer and Sony make great aftermarket car stereos that do that, in conjunction with Google and Apple technology. So why do I slot this upgrade at No. 4? The price is going to be in the low to mid hundreds of dollars and installation can be a bear. But nothing upgrades a car more than this gift. 

848-1lg-1

Alpine's iLX-107 is one of the best Android Auto and CarPlay head units to replace a factory car stereo. Adapter kits are available to connect it to steering wheel controls or to a backup camera.

Alpine

3. Backup camera

Late model cars have factory backup cams, but odds are that at least one person on your list doesn't have a car that new. Once they drive their car with this gift installed, they'll wonder how they ever avoided killing someone while backing up in the past. Yet I relegate this gift to No. 3 because the install will require some rather tedious wiring and the car has to have some kind of screen to connect the camera to. 

2. Phone mount 

Yes, this sounds like a stocking stuffer, but it will delight like something that cost hundreds of dollars. I can't believe how many people have clunky, junky suction and clamp mounts illegally mounted on their windshield. Recycle that nasty thing and replace it with something almost invisible that mounts on a dash vent with a magnetic ball or swivel pad. For bonus points, check out the Panavise site for a custom mount for your recipient's specific car or Google the make, year and model along with the phrase "phone mount" to potentially find other slick solutions.

thinkware

Thinkware's F800 Pro and optional rear facing camera go beyond the dashcam category and enter the world of basic driver assistance.

Thinkware

1. Dashcam 

This one hits the trifecta: Affordable, a snap to install, and something your gift recipient will literally use every minute that they drive. Dashcams are becoming hot on US roads after achieving massive popularity abroad years ago. They cost as little as $20 (though I'd recommend spending a bit more) and record everything seen out the windshield while you drive, as well as impacts and tampering that occurs when the car is parked. To get up to speed on dashcams, see my Car Tech 101 video explaining them.

Now playing: Watch this: Dashcams: They aren't just for Russians anymore
4:42