How To Upgrade Your Old Car With New Tech On A Budget


Ways to upgrade your car with the latest tech.

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So, you've looked after your old car well. You don't owe anything on it and don't want to sell it. But you can tell its age from its standard equipment and newer cars have so many tech features you don't. If you could just add a few modern-car features to your old car, it would make your life so much easier! Upgrades to an old car can modernize classic cars and give your early model a new lease on life.

You will be pleased to learn that modern convenience features like Bluetooth, multimedia systems, wireless phone chargers, and seat heaters can be retrofitted to old cars, as well as safety and driver-assist features such as a backup camera, head-up display, and blind-spot warning system. Some of these are DIY car upgrades you can do at home. You, too, can drive an old car with new technology.

Electrical Car Devices

Ways to Upgrade Your Car with New-Car Tech

Here are some of the most popular ways to upgrade your car on a budget:

Upgrade Your Old Car

1. Bluetooth for Old Cars

Installing a Bluetooth system for your car is simple, cheap, and a useful feature for safe driving, especially in an old car where this tech is absent. While it is legal in some states in the US to handle a mobile phone and make a call manually while driving, it's generally a bad idea because it is distracting and removes one hand from the car's controls. In this case, a hands-free Bluetooth kit for old cars is the solution. With it, you are safe on the road - and you are always on the right side of the law, as you are talking hands-free while driving. The best way to add Bluetooth to a car is to buy a simple plug-in unit, or have a more advanced setup installed professionally.

Advantages of a DIY Bluetooth hands-free kit:

  • Your hands are free to drive if you use Bluetooth in your car
  • You are legal in all states
  • One of the cheapest of all the car improvements

2. Backup Camera

On newer car models, park-distance control gives audible beeps when backing up, and a backup camera gives a color image on a display inside the car so you can see exactly what's behind you. It's been compulsory on all new cars sold in the US since 2018, even on small budget cars like the Chevrolet Spark or Honda Fit. But older vehicles don't all have this as standard, missing out on the benefit of having assistance when in reverse. These days, there are wireless backup cameras available that send the video to your phone, but these can be laggy and cumbersome to use. They also require your phone, which is often otherwise engaged, adding to the chaos instead of reducing it. Having a proper, wired system installed, even if this requires more work and is more expensive, is the recommended upgrade here. There are even some models available that are tailor-made for certain car models and fit in seamlessly with these cars' trunk handles or license-plate lights - typically for less than $100. You might find something just right for your car, so explore this option first, before going for a generic mount.

Advantages of a backup camera:

  • A clear, color video feed of what is directly behind your car
  • Improves safety when backing up
  • Helps with parking, much like a 'parking assistant' system from the manufacturer
  • In line with legal requirements

3. Blind-Spot Warning and Cross-Traffic Alert

Accidents happen because people change lanes without noticing a vehicle in their blind spot, but thankfully even compact sedans, such as the top-tier Kia Forte, come standard with lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning nowadays. Blind-spot detection in cars warns the driver that there is a vehicle in their blind spot without you having to physically check by either an audible warning and a visual cue lighting up on the side mirror, or a combination of both. A good system for your old car will set you back between $75 and a couple of hundred dollars, depending on what this includes, and whether you require professional installation or not. Those that include radar sensors, LED indicators, and all the necessary wiring can get close to $500. We recommend choosing a system that includes a GPS-based speed controller to avoid false alerts, and has the ability to use the same sensors as cross-traffic alert sensors when your vehicle is in reverse.

Advantages of cross-traffic alert and blind-spot detection in your car:

  • You don't have to visually check your blind spot
  • It greatly improves safety
  • Serves two purposes: blind-spot warning and cross-traffic alert (CTA) in reverse

4. Head-Up Display

A head-up display for your car shows you all the most important information from your instruments right in your line of sight, without you having to look away from the road ahead. Not all vehicles come standard with this tech yet, though, so aftermarket solutions are freely available. They are usually compatible with OBD2-enabled vehicles. The OBD2 standard was first used in 1996, so if you drive an old sedan, check whether the head-up display is compatible with your car. There are three basic types of head-up display for a car:

  • Physical display. A small module with an LCD or LED screen mounted on top of your instrument housing to show information in your line of sight. These typically cost less than $50 and are easy to equip.
  • Projection-type on a clear plastic screen. Information is projected onto a nearly invisible transparent plastic screen above your instrument housing, looking almost like a true projection HUD. Mid-range models cost from around $85 to over $200.
  • Projection-type on the windscreen. This type projects the information on the windscreen, but it looks as if it is floating in the air. Some types require a reflective film on the appropriate spot on the windscreen, while others are designed to reflect off of normal windscreen glass. Price range: more or less the same as the previous type.

Advantages of a HUD:

  • All the information you need in your line of sight
  • You can usually customize the display to show what you want to see
  • A massive range at all price points, so there will always be one that is right for you

5. Dashcam

A dashcam for your car is great if you need insurance or police evidence in the case of a vehicle accident. There are many models available with varying specifications and features. You can get a rather decent budget dashcam from under $50 or, if you want to record footage both in front and to the rear, from around $150 and upwards. Important features are a decent field of view, good recording quality at night, continuous-loop recording to reduce storage requirements, battery power for recording when the car's power supply fails, and incident recording. Some of the best options include those that attach to your rearview mirror.

Advantages of a dashcam:

  • Evidence in case of a car accident
  • The possibility of reduced insurance premiums
  • Encourages you to drive more safely

6. Tunes, Directions, and Apps

The question of what to do with an old car with dated infotainment is easy to answer: upgrade your head unit, turning it into a modern multimedia touch screen system for your car. Aftermarket options include Android and iOS head units that can be fitted to your dash, and even single-DIN-size units can be upgraded with a larger multimedia screen sprouting from it. A double-DIN radio slot makes it even easier and allows you to have an integrated screen fitted that takes up the whole space. This transforms your car's interior and brings it right up to date. Lots of features are available, such as a touchscreen, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a satellite radio receiver, CD/DVD playback, USB/Aux inputs, subwoofer speaker output, music streaming, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and integration for a backup camera or 360-degree surround-view display. An app-enabled device can load apps just like your smartphone, including various navigation options. Comprehensive systems are available from $250 and up.

Advantages of an in-car multimedia system upgrade:

  • Dramatically updates the interior appearance of your car
  • The integrated system brings together multiple functions, bundled in one unit
  • Massive range at various price points
  • Modern interface for audio and video playback

7. Wireless Phone Charging

Wireless phone charging is one of the particularly cheap car modifications for old cars. A wireless charging pad can easily be installed in your car. A flat, relatively thin plastic panel on which your phone can lie, such as the floor of a storage tray, is ideal. The charging pad is attached to the other side of the panel and charges your phone through it. If there is no suitable surface to place your phone, wireless phone-charging mounts are also available that hold your phone up for you to see and charge it at the same time, and with no specific adapter or cable necessary. There are even charging pouches available, which can be installed upright, for example, in the central storage bin between the seats.

Advantages of wireless phone charging in your old car:

  • No need to remember to bring along your charging cable
  • No unsightly cables dangling everywhere
  • Your phone is always being charged when you are in your car
  • Cheap and easy to use

8. Phone Dock

Many types of phone docks are available. The phone mount in your car holds your phone in position while driving for easy access. Every type of phone dock attaches to the vehicle in its own way and some even incorporate a wireless phone-charging pad. Others are mounted in the windscreen and are ideal when you use your phone for navigation purposes. Most of these are compatible with phones of various sizes, with adjustable grips. Some of the cheap options cost less than $10, but you can splurge and spend over much more on a very fancy one.

Advantages of having a phone mount in your car:

  • The phone is always at hand and cannot be dropped or distract the driver
  • The phone can be positioned to use as a navigation device
  • The phone can be mounted and used with Bluetooth for safe, legal phone use

9. Seat Heater/Massager

Seat heaters are becoming relatively commonplace on new cars, but a seat massager in a car is still the preserve of the expensive vehicles. But, you can now buy an aftermarket seat heater for your car, as well as a massage setup. Similar to a seat cover, these are basically placed on top of the seat and, depending on the model, will offer heating or massage function, with its electric supply usually coming from a 12-volt socket. The functions are usually controlled from a remote transmitter. Depending on the one you're after, these can range in price from around $35 to well over $200.

Advantages of a seat warmer/massager:

  • Soothe aching muscles while in your car
  • Can be used on any seat and by any passenger
  • Convenient for cold-weather states and long road trips
  • Very affordable models available, especially if only heating or massaging is needed

The Advantages of Upgrading an Old Car Over Buying a New One

Wanting the latest tech doesn't mean you need to get rid of your old faithful car. There are many advantages to upgrading instead:

  • Cost. Investing in a few key upgrades is still cheaper than buying a whole new car, and if your car is maintained well, you are on top of its maintenance and repairs, and it is economical to run, you have an investment on hand that may not even owe any money on.
  • It can be improved. The combination of reliability, familiarity, and comfort you have in your old car, with the user-friendly modern upgrades make an ideal package for many. Easy car upgrades of modern convenience and driver-assistance features mean you get the best of both worlds.
  • Long-term affordability. If you simply don't drive all that much and can't justify splurging on a new car, adding to your vehicle in a smart way with high-quality products adds value in the long run too. You are more likely to resell a car with some modern conveniences in the used-car market.
Additional Devices in Your Car
Phone Navigator for Car


If you look at our list, there are a variety of mods you can undertake to bring your older car up to date. Whether it is in-car entertainment, parking-assistance features, heated seats, or a dashcam, all these are available at reasonable prices and can be fitted at home, or by your local mechanic. What's more, many of them can simply be removed and used in another car. Now there is no longer any reason to feel short-changed if you drive an older vehicle.


For which car models are all these aftermarket options available?

Virtually any car can be upgraded these days. Many aftermarket setups are made to be universal systems that work for most models out there, old and new. However, there are model-specific setups that guarantee an even better, more seamless, fit.

Does it make economic sense to upgrade my old car?

Yes. You will be able to sell it more easily later on if it has extra features, and might even get more for it. Many of the accessories can be removed and used in other cars again, too, if you want to make use of them in your next car.

How do I determine the quality of the accessories I am interested in?

Look at the warranty the manufacturer provides and read online reviews for other users' experiences. It may be in your interest to spend a little more on brands with better consumer reports.

Where can I buy these accessories?

Do an online search and you will find retailers near you where you can go have a look at the goods. If you are sure and don't need to inspect it, you can buy most of them online for delivery from popular online shopping portals such as Amazon.

How do I connect my device to my hands-free system?

Detailed instructions to pair and connect your device will accompany your hands-free system. There are also online forums that can guide you, should you require extra assistance.

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