The modern automobile is a technological marvel. Cars today offer everything from smartphone integration to battery-powered propulsion to pedestrian detection systems that can automatically apply the brakes in the event of a pending collision. But sometimes we still feel the urge to personalize and improve our vehicles in ways that make them uniquely ours, whether out of necessity or just for the fun of it. That’s where aftermarket accessories and gadgets come in, and there are a whole slew of options out there. Here are ten of the coolest aftermarket car accessories available right now.
Garmin Dash Cam – $130-$250
As camera technology becomes less and less expensive, dash cameras are gaining popularity. These devices attach to the top of your windshield and record what’s going on in front of the vehicle any time you’re out on the road. The idea is to set it and forget it. In the event of an accident or on-road incident, you’ll be able to refer back to your camera footage to prove to law enforcement and to your insurance company that you were in the right and the other driver was in the wrong… hopefully. Garmin’s line of dash cameras will even detect an incident and automatically set aside the footage taken a full minute before and after the mishap. They also offer voice commands and a variety of other options that you won’t find in cheaper alternatives.
Tepui Rooftop Tents – $950-$3,000+
As the overlanding craze has taken the automotive world by storm over the past few years, so have rooftop tents. These canvas-covered squares you see riding atop the roof racks of just about everything from Toyota Land Cruisers to Subaru Imprezas these days are actually pretty great for camping, as they keep you up off the ground and include a soft mattress and often include vestibules and other accessories that allow for even more privacy. There are even hard-shell models that are more aerodynamic and offer a sleeker look, but these generally cost about twice as much as their base canvas counterparts. While different manufacturers exist, from Cascadia Vehicle Tents to EZ-Awn to James Baroud, we’d probably start our search with a visit to the Tepui website. Now owned by Thule, the company is arguably the biggest name in rooftop tents and offers a good variety of options.
NOCO Lithium Ion Battery Jump Starters – $100-$375
These little battery jump starters have come onto the scene in the past few years as lithium ion battery packs have grown in popularity. Don’t get us wrong — jump boxes have been around for a while, but up until now, they’ve generally been bulky, heavy, suitcase-sized devices that pack the same antiquated lead-acid-style battery that’s under the hood of your car. These new battery packs are slightly larger than a smartphone, can be charged up via USB and function just like their larger counterparts, allowing you to keep them conveniently stashed in your trunk, glovebox or center console. Just make sure to keep yours charged up, as you never know when you’ll need it. While there are a lot of obscure brands in this category, it’s important to buy from a legitimate manufacturer. NOCO is a reputable name and offers options that can handle some of the biggest engines on the market.
Overland Vehicle Systems Cargo Management – $450-$500
Overland vehicle systems offers a wide variety of off-road gear and equipment for your 4×4, from air compressors to folding camping tables to replacement soft tops for your Wrangler. They also offer a great array of storage solutions in the form of drawer systems that fit in the back of your truck or SUV. There are three options to choose from: a basic lockable drawer; a lockable drawer with a slide-out work surface, great for preparing a campside dinner; and finally, a sliding, tilting tray meant to hold a small refrigerator offered by companies like ARB and Dometic.
Tile Keychain Trackers – $25-$35
Tile is a company that makes little plastic, well, tiles, that clip or stick onto all of your important devices like TV remotes, your wallet and your car keys. With this device attached, you’re then able to use the Tile app on your phone to locate these things any time they’ve gone missing by either showing their location on a map or making the Tile play an audible alert that should lead you right to it. This is obviously a great solution for anyone who seems to always misplace their car keys, an issue as old as the automobile itself. Additionally, the Tile ecosystem can even integrate with Google Home, allowing you use voice commands like "OK, Google. Where are my keys?" The Tile app also offers a feature that allows you to call on the entire Tile-using community to help locate a lost device.
Trailer Valet RVR – $2,750-$4,400
As you can probably guess by the name, Trailer Valet is a manufacturer of jacks and moving systems that help you to reposition your trailer when it’s not connected to your vehicle. The company’s most interesting product is the RVR, which is a little remote-controlled vehicle that connects to your trailer’s hitch and moves it around for you via remote control. Think Roomba meets military tank. Three different models are offered, the most capable of which can pull over 9,000 pounds, which is in excess of what many trucks and SUVs are even rated to tow. Needless to say, the RVR is impressive, but with a price tag starting at $2,750 and rising steeply from there, it definitely isn’t cheap.
12V Outlet USB Adapter – Less than $10
By far the cheapest of all the aftermarket car accessories on our list, this is simply a little cork-shaped item that plugs into your vehicle’s 12-volt outlet and turns it into a charging port for a USB device (many even come with two USB ports). As 12-volt chargers have largely gone the way of the dodo over the past few years, this item repurposes that little-used port into something that’ll be appreciated by just about anyone that rides in your vehicle. If you don’t already have one in your car, you can pick one up on Amazon or probably at the checkout counter at your local gas station. This one has two USB ports and currently costs under $10.
Snow Tires – $600-$1,000
Snow tires make a huge difference not only in snow but in cold weather in general, as they use a softer rubber compound that doesn’t turn rock-hard when the weather turns cold, allowing them to maintain grip in below-freezing temperatures — so much so, in fact, that tire manufacturers would probably see greater adoption if they were to start marketing them as "winter tires." Drivers who put snow/winter tires on their vehicle swear by them, and the case can even be made that a front-wheel drive car with snow tires is more capable than an all-wheel drive car riding on all-seasons when the weather gets blustery. The drawback to winter tires is that they’re super-soft in milder temperatures, so they wear out quickly, and you’ll want to change them out when the weather starts to warm up again. Bridgestone’s Blizzak series is one of the most trusted names in snow tires and is offered in a variety of sizes and applications. Pick up a cheap set of "winter wheels" to make the change out as simple as possible.
Wi-Fi OBDII Scanner – $20
Generally, when most of us look down to see a check engine light lit up on our dashboard, we’re overcome with that all-too-familiar feeling of helplessness. But what most people don’t know is that it’s relatively easy to diagnose the problem yourself, and all it takes is a little $20 scanner. This one is about as simple as it gets and should get the job done. These plug into what’s known as the on-board diagnostic port, usually located somewhere in the driver’s footwell and connect to your phone via their own Wi-Fi network. You then download an app that will allow you to find out exactly what "code" the engine is throwing. While this won’t necessarily fix your problem, being able to find out the issue on your own puts the power in your hands rather than solely in those of a mechanic. Additionally, this insight into the problem allows you to then research the issue to get an idea of possible resolutions and of the estimated cost of repairs, if necessary, before speaking with your mechanic.
And in some cases, you’ll even learn that the problem is simple enough to fix on your own. Your author used the scanner linked above to diagnose a failed ignition coil that I was then able to replace myself in about 30 minutes, despite having little to no experience working under the hood of a car, saving me considerable time, money and headache in the process.