Great Outdoors: In Car Diversions

griswoldswave.jpgWe all spend too much time in our cars and a summer drive can turn into a nightmare with the right mix of traffic, heat, and gas prices. There are industries built around making our in-car time more productive and enjoyable. The degree to which they’ve been successful is debatable. There is something to the argument that every solution creates another problem. For example’ we all want to avoid traffic but can we? Consider this, if everyone had the real-time information about a traffic jam in one location, then everyone who has that information would choose an alternate route. At that point all those vehicles move to this new route, most likely causing another jam.

When new car models come out later this year, the tech in cars will really start to percolate. Some new models will have Microsoft’s Auto operating system. This voice activated system will enable you to control your MP3 player and iPod with voice commands. Then, by next year you can use this application to download your emails and have them read to you. But what does this have to do with summer driving?

Ensuring that you and your passengers get from point A to point B while stopping off to see the largest ball of twine in Idaho is hard work. Here are some gadgets to make that process considerably more comfortable.

Autonet Car Router
Soon, (this summer) you can install a rolling hot spot by Autonet Mobile to keep everyone in touch, even the kids in the back seat. This router at $399 plus $50 per month will be better than a wireless card because it’s a connection that everyone in the car (and anyone in a nearby car) can share. The Autonet router will create an 802.11g network automatically and should be available in Avis rental cars this year as well. Just don’t type and drive.

Garmin c580 GPS
Ok, with all the GPS’s out there why the c580? The first very compelling reason is to help you find the cheapest gas, wherever you are. The Garmin c580 has MSN direct (1st year free) with all its live concierge features making it one of the most advanced point-of- interest (POI) programs. With the MSN direct service, you can even find movie start times based on your location as well as real time traffic and weather. The c580 GPS has a really bright, viewable 3.5 inch screen (even in bright sunlight). Of course, the c580 has the entire GPS mapping and direction application and is intuitive, fast and very easy to use. It also has Bluetooth, so it can serve as a speaker phone and phone book. The c580 features an SD slot for MP3 files or use the slot for extra maps and optional software like travel guides. Then there is Garmin lock, an anti-theft feature that locks the system.

Roadmaster VR3 Wireless Back Up Camera

My Dad always said, “When backing up, watch out for the kids and their toys”. The Roadmaster Wireless VR3 backup camera is just the thing to prevent your kids and their toys from getting run over. The VR3 installs quickly and easily without much fuss. The 2.5 inch color LCD screen mounts on either your dash or visor with the camera lens fitting alongside the rear license plate. There are two options: either leave it on all the time or turn it off (they told me this) — it’s not smart enough to tell when you’re backing up. Over 2,400 kids are injured in back up accidents each year, so maybe it’s best to just leave it on.

TeleNav GPS
One of the annoying things about portable after-market GPS systems is that it isn’t safe to leave them in your car. Another aspect is that you bought the display so it is what it is. Yes, I know you can update the maps but at some point down the road it’s going to be outdated. So a really smart and portable option is to have the GPS on your cell phone. A really good service, TeleNav, has full 3D maps, voice commands, traffic alerts and one-click rerouting. It also has a WiFi hotspot finder and it will find you the lowest gas prices. One of the coolest aspects of TeleNav is that the company keeps adding functions and features but you’re not married to the hardware. You can take it with you to your new phone. It’s all good till you lose your cell signal.

Scrolling License Plate Frame
Disco Stu doesn’t advertise

Want something nutty to embarrass the kids? Roadmaster also has these really tacky Scrolling Digital license plate frames that let you personalize your own message in the back window or on your license plate. It comes with 99 pre-set words and phrases including my fave, “Help Me!” You can also program five interchangeable messages up to 120 characters each including “back off” or “car for sale” with your phone number. Messages can be repeated or combined and you can adjust the speed and brightness via the wireless remote. Certainly, this is not for everyone.

In-Car DVD/CD Player

I remember back when I had my first DVD player installed in my car. I immediately drove down to the DVD rental store and rented a bunch of movies. Two days later, when I got back home my wife was pissed off, but me? I had fun. Anyway both the wife and that DVD player are long gone so when Dual showed me the XDVD8285 in Dash DVD player I knew I could once again disappear in my car. Up front, the 8285 has a 6.5 inch motorized touch-screen that gives you access to a variety of entertainment and communication options. Compatible with most Bluetooth phones the 8285 has a built-in microphone for hands-free calls. It’s got one-touch phone book dialing and caller ID so now when my new girl friend calls me during a movie I can totally blow her off. The 8285 has Multi-zone A/V and 5.1 outputs for a full-blown rear-seat cinema system. Other features include iPod integration and MP3 compatibility. In-car DVD players, you’ve come a long way Baby.

ViewBase Dash Board Gear
To deal with the clutter on your dashboard the ViewBase provides a solution for mounting your electronics without any adhesives or drilling. They use some kind of anti-skid technology; the ViewBase stays attached in any type of driving condition, off road, rapid braking, serious bumps, even accidents. I like the concept because it moves my GPS closer, but it is also good for mounting your cellphone to make use of its speakerphone feature.

Clearing the Air
Does the interior of your car stink? The auto AirTamer by Filterstream will clean up that air for you. The AirTamer is not just for smokers, but for all of you stinkers. It makes the air healthier while you drive. It works like this: advanced electrostatic purification technology creates cleaner air by producing healthy negative ions that force airborne pollutants away form your breathing space. No filters and quiet too, the AirTamer has an attachment for your car’s air vent utilizing the fan’s power and increasing the ion dispersion and cleaning functions. Clean air is everyone’s job…hold it in.

FM Transmitter
The Roadmaster FM modulator VRFM9 has a USB, SD card slot with Song Name read-outs of each song. An elegant solution, there are dual function buttons for Shuffle/Random, play, stop, volume, track selection, last song played, last FM channel and you can see all your pre-set FM channels. It can also play MP3’s and WMA from a USB memory stick or SD cards and plugs into your cigarette lighter.

iPod Gear
‘All thumbs’ is an expression I’ve been hearing all my life but now it has a positive meaning. DLO (the iPod silly accessory provider) makes the TransDock Deluxe. It broadcasts your iPod’s music through your car’s stereo system and your iPod videos can be shown on the in-car video screen (DVD player). The DLO steering-wheel remote is the safest way to go because you never take your hands off the wheel. With the remote you have all functions, pause, play, volume adjust and skip songs. Another benefit is that the cradle also is a charger so your iPod is always charged. It will only power up when you dock your iPod and turn off when you remove it, saving your car’s battery.

Solar Charger

media.gifBy accident or just bad luck, at some point your car’s battery is going to die. The Sunsei Solar Charger 135 by ICP Solar will keep your battery topped off with the power of the sun. The panel is designed to work inside the car, so just lay it on the dash and you will always be charged up and raring to go. Note this is more maintenance than a charger because you’re only getting “trickle down” power. It works with any 12 volt vehicle, even boats.

Don’t forget, before you go on any trip to tune-up your car and summer-proof it. Have fun and don’t be like me and lose your wife/girlfriend because of technology.