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So, you’re planning that big trip interstate. There’s nothing like a few tunes to wile away the hours as your significant other and/or kids in the back play a little bit of car cricket.

But in this technological age, that crummy old cassette deck just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you can upgrade your home, then why not your car? There are several different types of upgrades to consider, and range from a simple cassette deck adaptor for the MP3 player to a full-blown in-car computer system. So, in the following pages we cover some of the ways that you can ‘Tech Upgrade Your Car’ for the coming Christmas and New Year period.

The humble iPod
One of the biggest boons for long, dusty trips is the iPod. It’s now superceded the need for disk changers in the car, and it’s a lot easier to maintain! Plus, the iPod can hold all your tunes, and its ‘playlist on the go’ feature enables you to chop and change tracks as you go. And though there are head-units that will play MP3 CDs and even boast hard-drives, an MP3 player is a more cost-efficient option.
But how to get the music from your pod into the stereo? Well, there’s the aforementioned cassette adaptor, but there are other ways depending on the age and type of car stereo.
One of the most popular is the iTrip by Griffin Technology which plugs into your pod and broadcasts via FM to your radio. FM transmitters are prone to intereference though, so a direct connection is best, and if you have a 3.5″ jack on the front of stereo, just connect a 3.5″-to-3.5″ cable from the likes of Belkin in and you’re away. The shorter the better, though, as you don’t the cable to interfere with the gear stick, or worse, the pedals! 0.5m is optimal, but 1m is the most common. And several manufacturers offer iPod cradles that stick to your dash or sit in an empty cup holder to keep it within reach.
Lastly, companies such as JVC and Pioneer offer iPod adaptors for their later model head units, but these can be costly. And, if you don’t have an iPod, a 3.5″ cable or a cassette adaptor are probably the best options for your MP3 player or CD device.

DVD players
DVD players head units have always struck us as a little strange, because even in a traffic jam you wouldn’t want to be distracted by a movie. But the portable, or headrest, models are perfect for keeping children entertained. There are several brands available, and range from several hundred dollars to thousands. And some even feature AV connections which means you can plug a console into them, giving you access to console gaming – with the right 12V power adaptors of course. For dedicated setups you’d want to consider getting them installed by a car electrician, running them off a cigarette lighter is not recommended!
Headphones are also a good idea, and wireless headphones will give backseat passengers the greatest freedom – if they happen to nod off with them still on for example.

 

GPS
While huge in Asia and Europe, widespread acceptance of GPS is still a little way off for Australians, we feel. Which is strange, considering how many of us use our cars on a daily basis. But there have been great strides made in the last six months which make GPS much more readily accessible.
There are several different types of devices available which will make ‘frustrated partners as navigators’ a thing of the past. Many different software developers offer GPS navigation for PDAs, and even the invaluable WhereIs site is now available in a Navigator version for your mobile.
Dedicated units from the likes of Mio and TomTom unit start at $899, and can stick to your dash or even windscreen (only where legal, of course).
And we don’t think it will be long before they become photorealistic, and show you actual satellite maps of your surroundings. Imagine a GPS unit combined with the Google Earth service!

Mobile
Anyone who watches “Mythbusters” will know that talking on the phone is just as dangerous as being twice over the legal alcohol limit! So, if you must talk on the phone, a hands-free unit is a no-brainer. The choices are many: some of the newer phones offer their own hands-free function, but may not be suitable for cars because of excessive road-noise. Of course, there’s always the mobile headset, but you still have to operate these by hand to accept calls, which can be kind of dangerous.
Some of the more advanced options hook up to your car stereo with either a dock or Bluetooth adaptor, allow you to speak via a microphone installed in your dash. Bring on in-car VoIP we say!

In-car computing
Using a computer in your car doesn’t sound as stupid as you might initially think. Just as in the home, the PC has connected the Smart House together, the PC can combine music, movies for the kids, and GPS. Even VoIP!
But this ideal is still a way off, and limited mostly to enthusiasts at this stage. Because even though Cadillac made a PC an option way back in 2000, the only local manufacturer who appeared to offer a pre-built car PC had ‘temporarily discontinued’ it.
But, just as the so-called ‘modding’ community helped popularise quiet computing and, er, mods, we feel that the next step will be in-car mods.
There are several sites dedicated to this – we even found a very enthusiastic Audi owner who had installed the latest Apple Front Row into his car, here. Of course, if you’re keen to build your own, a Shuttle-sized PC with the correct 12V inverters should do the job. Again, a car electrician is your best bet.

Conclusion
Whether you’re gliding across the Nullarbor, or simply visiting Auntie Gladys for Christmas, there are many alternatives to the crappy old cassette deck your car came with. And it’s no longer just about entertainment, for the road warriors out there, the car can truly become your mobile office. The only limits are your imagination and pocket depth.

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