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Making the most of your in-car gadgets

Cars come with all kinds of great gadgets as standard, but are you getting the best out of them?

There's more to your in-car gadgets than you might think.

There's more to your in-car gadgets than you might think.

There was a time when all you needed for a great drive was your car, Roxette’s greatest hits on cassette and the joy of the open road. Well, times have changed. Staying safe and entertained is only ever one swipe on a touchscreen (or voice command) away…

Infotainment systems

Forget that faded road atlas in the boot. In-car sat nav systems are getting more and more sophisticated, and are increasingly available on entry-level models, or cars that are at the cheaper end of the market.

Many people still use their phone as a sat nav, however, so make sure to keep a charger on hand as GPS can really drain your battery. Happily, though, many new cars are now available with the option for wireless charging, via a sleek and conveniently positioned charging plate, leaving your dash free of messy USB connectors and cables. Isn’t technology wonderful?

Sat nav

Most new cars now come with satellite navigation systems as standard. Roads change all the time so it’s vital to ensure that you keep your maps up to date – this can usually be done by connecting the device to a computer or wireless network. If you have any destinations that you visit regularly, then you can add them as favourites, so no matter where you are, you’ll always find your way.

Many owners of older cars also choose to add a portable system or even use a smartphone app to make sure that they stay on the right track. If you are using a phone, don’t forget that having a screen switched on for long periods can use up lots of battery, so make sure you always have a charger on hand or you might run out of power before you reach your destination.

Comfort settings

Back in the day, setting your car’s air conditioning remotely via a phone with a colour screen was something even Q from James Bond could only dream of. Now many manufacturers offer apps that allow you to control the ambience of your cabin remotely. So if you want your seats warmed, or your climate cooler, you can set it in advance, meaning you’re not blasting the heater or air con for ages when you get in.

But climate control isn’t just convenient – it’s smarter than older-style air con systems in that it doesn’t rely completely on air conditioning to control the temperature. Instead, it allows you to set a specific temperature and blends warm and cold air to maintain the right balance, requiring less fuel to run.

Dash cams

Dash cams have become very popular, and there are loads of purpose-built devices available, from basic low-quality video to full HD with GPS tracking. It’s best to find a model that captures video in decent quality with number plates clearly visible in order to ensure it will be admissible as evidence if required. These devices usually record onto removable storage which, once full, will overwrite the oldest footage. If there is any footage that is deemed important, be sure to create a backup.

Wi-Fi hotspot

For those of a certain generation, the idea of being offline for any length of time is terrifying. Happily, a number of cars now come with their own built-in Wi-Fi hotspot (it’s also really useful if you want to stream some videos for the kids). It works via an aerial fitted to the roof of the car, and some models, like the Ford Focus, offer connectivity for up to ten devices. If your car isn’t fitted with a hotspot, you can always use your mobile phone to create one – but you may find it devours your data allowance.

Digital instrument clusters

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘digital cockpit’, which refers to the digital instrument cluster that is usually situated in the driver’s eyeline (or, if you’re very fancy, via a head-up display which is projected onto a clear screen the top of the dashboard). These high-resolution colour screens can tell you information about your car in a way that a little red petrol light can’t – from fuel efficiency to the temperature of the engine. You can also configure this information to drive smarter, helping you save money on fuel or preserve the battery in your EV.

Bluetooth connectivity

Bluetooth has gone from being the preserve of people with strange glowing in-ear pieces to a necessary utility. Put simply, it connects your phone to your car’s infotainment system. Just turn on your Bluetooth on your phone, pair the devices and then every time you get into your car, you’ll be happily hands-free and able to use all the features your connected car has to offer.

Driving modes

Saving money on fuel is easier than it ever was, thanks to driver features that optimise your car’s efficiency. Some cars now have eco modes that monitor your fuel consumption and suggest practical tips to help you drive more efficiently. Cruise Control does the job for you, too, by setting you a steady speed when you’re driving on the motorway. But if your car comes with only one mode (er…drive), then don’t despair. You can find lots of handy hints here to improve your fuel efficiency without needing any extra tech.

Tyre pressure monitor

When you read tyre pressure monitor on a car specification, you tend to think it’s just another dull feature used to pad out the space. In fact, it’s a hugely useful device. Running with low tyre pressure can mean your steering is less precise, there’s a risk of increasing braking distance and ultimately lifespan of the tyre will be reduced. If your car doesn’t have one of these handy gadgets fitted, you can always add to your functionality with something like a Snooper Tyre Pilot.

About the Author

Andrew Moir and Lucy Sweet