Top 5 Car Gadgets

An Amish family out for a drive.

­The 1985 blockbuster film "Witness" considers what would happen if a big-city cop, as portrayed by Harrison Ford, had to hide out with an Amish community because of widespread police corruption in a murder case. John Book, the police officer, has to adapt to a completely different way of life. He dresses differently and participates in simple pleasures like a barn-raising. Though a certain Amish lady makes the cop want to stick around, John Book knows that he ultimately can't fit in completely. But what if he had? What if there had been the need for a sequel, detailing how a man who's been living with the Amish becomes reacquainted with modern-day society?

The field of car gadgets may mystify a character like John Book, if we suppose he's been living in an Amish community all this time, but that doesn't mean it's any easier for the rest of us to navigate. The past few years have seen an explosion of various car gadgets, and some people are just as likely to have in-car sandwich makers as they are to have fuzzy dice these days. Some gadgets, however, have distinguished themselves -- these gadgets are both useful and cool, trendy and functional. These are the top gadgets you'll want to consider with your next car purchase. And if there ever was a sequel to "Witness," these are the gadgets that John Book should know before he abandons his buggy.


5: Keyless Ignition

Oh, Santa. Don't you know that we want keyless ignition for Christmas?

­John Book, the police officer that we're imagining has been living in Amish society since the 1980s, is probably used to shouting, "Throw me the keys!" to a fellow cop so that he can hop in a car and chase after bad guys and ruffians. That's why it will totally blow John Book's mind to know that now he doesn't need to do any such thing.

Many cars have remote ignition, which is particularly helpful on a winter day. With that gadget, you can push a button and -- kazam! -- the car starts heating up for you, while simultaneously locking the doors so no bad guys can steal it. But if you really want to keep your hands free to battle corruption, you should go keyless. With a keyless ignition system, you keep a key fob in your pocket. A sensor will detect the key fob's presence in the car and start; all the driver has to do is push a button on the dash and press the brake.


Crime fighters like John Book will be happy to know that this system deters car thieves because of the personalized nature of the fob codes and the system that reads them. Beyond just battling hooligans, this system could also have benefits for those with arthritis [source: Clarke].

4: Back-up Parking Camera

A back-up parking camera will help you see everything behind you.

As fans of 1985's "Witness" will remember, John Book goes to great lengths to protect the Amish child turned star witness in a murder case. It stands to r­eason that he'd work to ensure the safety of other children in our make-believe "Witness" sequel, which is why John Book will just love our next car gadget: back-up parking cameras. According to safety advocacy group Kids and Cars, two children are killed and 48 children are seriously injured every week because a driver that was backing up didn't see them [source: Consumer Reports]. It's not that these drivers are lazy or bad people, it's just that there's a blind spot when a car is reversing that's perfect for unknowing children to play in.

Enter back-up parking cameras. These cameras send live images of what's behind the car to a screen on the dashboard; the image comes up as soon as the driver puts it into reverse. And even if no children, pets or bad guys are hiding behind your vehicle, it still provides a handy way to parallel park perfectly or to back your vehicle up to a trailer hitch. This is a gadget that comes ready-installed in some vehicles, but wireless and wired versions are available as well.


3: Bluetooth

Drop the phone and focus on the road!

­Uh-oh, a bad guy is calling our modern-turned-Amish-turned-modern-again hero John Book with his ransom demands, but John Book is driving in a state where it's illegal to answer a cell phone unless he's using a hands-free device. Bluetooth to the rescue! While the John Book of old would have used a pay phone, now he doesn't have to leave the comfort of his car to take and make important phone calls. But since safety is still our hero's No. 1 priority, he uses a Bluetooth hands-free unit.

Bluetooth is a wireless signal that allows compatible devices to communicate with each other. In this instance, John Book has the gadgets that make his car and his phone sync up. Some cars come equipped with Bluetooth, though it's also possible to buy a receiver that makes your car a hands-free calling zone. Once connected, drivers can make phone calls simply by saying the name of the person they're trying to call. They hear the other person speak through the car's speakers. You can read more about other incredible Bluetooth gadgets in Top 5 Bluetooth Car Accessories.


2: Navigation System

A man setting the destination on his navigation system.

­The old days of reading a map or driving around in circles are over -- with a navigation system, you can get turn-by-turn directions from Point A to Point B. When you plug in a start and end point, a navigation device uses information from governmental positioning satellites to get you where you want to go. Just follow the prompts of your friendly guide (some models let you pick the voice!) and you're on your way. This gadget can span the spectrum of price points, with less expensive models that can be attached to a dashboard to higher priced options that are factory installed. Some navigation gadgets also include MP3 players and directories to help you find the nearest pizza joint.

Now, if you've been in the Amish community since the mid-1980s, which is the assumption we're making about John Book, then you likely think of real-time traffic information as a person yelling out that cows are in the road. But real-time information, of the sort that could help you plan an alternate route home, is the next step for these handy gadgets. Soon, your navigation system will be able to determine car accidents on your route home or re-route you to avoid holiday traffic.


1: iPod Connections

Wanna keep people singing along during a road trip? Plug in your iPod.

­In "Witness," John Book makes a joke that none of the Amish get when he references a coffee commercial. But with all the car gadgets that play music, no one ever has to hear a commercial again. One example is satellite radio, which offers more channels than you can shake a stick at and is available for a monthly subscription rate. (There's even an 80s music option for John Book.)

But many people have already made a musical commitment to their iPods, and they want to be able to take that music anywhere, even their cars. An MP3 player connection is becoming standard in many vehicles, but some car makers are going specifically after those Apple fans. An iPod-specific connection allows the driver to select iPod tracks through the car's stereo system, sometimes from the steering wheel itself. Need more iPod info? Head on over to Top 5 iPod Car Accessories.


Now we just have to explain to the Amish character what an iPod is.

For more gadgets to mystify people who shun technology, head on over to the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "Car backup cameras." Consumer Reports. October 2007. (Jan. 5, 2009),%20car
  • Clarke, Warren. "Going Keyless." Oct. 25, 2007. (Jan. 5, 2009)
  • Clarke, Warren. "Top 10 Car Gadgets You Won't Want to Live Without." (Jan. 5, 2009)
  • Dryer, Alexander Barnes. "GPS Is My Co-Pilot." Slate. Aug. 3, 2005. (Jan. 5, 2009)
  • Hau, Louis. "Great Gadgets For Your Car." Forbes. Jan. 18, 2008. (Jan. 5, 2009)
  • Jackson, Bill. "Mobile MP3." Sept. 23, 2008. (Jan. 5, 2009)
  • "Keyless Ignition Systems: Are They Worth It?" Buying Advice. (Jan. 5, 2009)
  • Kim, Nina. "Bluetooth Wireless Communication. Sept. 24, 2008. (Jan. 5, 2009)
  • Kim, Nina. "GPS on the Go." Sept. 23, 2008. (Jan. 5, 2009)
  • "New car technologies." Consumer Reports. August 2007. (Jan. 5, 2009)