back to article Top ten car gadgets: Get your motor running with new shiny-shiny

With more and more cars rolling out of the factory gates with built-in Bluetooth and navigation systems, the market for in-car gadgetry should be drying up but there is still a wealth of interesting tech add-ons for your jalopy. Of course, one reason for this is that cars have a much longer lifecycle than gadgets. A four-year- …

  1. Lionel Baden


    Not sure I would class all of the items as gadgets, but you have picked a extremely difficult task to complete.

    Having a Old car i was quite looking forward to this article, but I think i have looked at most of the options already. :(

    On another note on the in car recordings it is really worth researching which one to purchase as some really don't record well at night and or low resolution.

  2. Joe 48

    iODB2 Engine Data Reader - Cheaper option

    Rather than this you should check out a cheap £10 bluetooth ODB2 interface and an app called Torque.

    Combine the both and imo they perform better than iODB2 by a long way and for a third of the price.

    1. Jim 48
      Thumb Up

      Re: iODB2 Engine Data Reader - Cheaper option

      Beat me to it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: iODB2 Engine Data Reader - Cheaper option

      Bugger. I helped fund this - it looked so cool...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: iODB2 Engine Data Reader - Cheaper option

      I've got this combo too. Torque is very good. Problem is the ODB socket in my car is just above my feet so I'd worry about kicking the ridiculously big plug out if I left it in all the time ...

      1. Down not across

        Re: iODB2 Engine Data Reader - Cheaper option

        I've got this combo too. Torque is very good. Problem is the ODB socket in my car is just above my feet so I'd worry about kicking the ridiculously big plug out if I left it in all the time ...

        There are some quite slim ones, at a price. Probably good thing the cheaper ones are too bulky to leave in all the time (assuming the quite common under the steering column location for the ODBII socket) because the cheap modules don't tend to automatically power off and ODBII (apart from few exeptions I've heard of) is always powered (ie. even with ignition off).

        And yes I have also been very happy with cheap Bluetooth ODBII module combined with Torque.

      2. David Kelly 2

        Re: iODB2 Engine Data Reader - Cheaper option

        Problem is the ODB socket in my car is just above my feet so I'd worry about kicking the ridiculously big plug out if I left it in all the time ...

        They don't have to be connected to the ODB2 socket, they can be connected most anywhere you can tap the CAN bus.

    4. Hud Dunlap

      Re: iODB2 Engine Data Reader - Cheaper option ( help a Yank Out)

      This all looks just for the European market and the PayPal check out is turning me off.

      Anything similar in the U.S.

    5. David Roberts

      Re: iODB2 Engine Data Reader - Cheaper option

      Just to check.......

      I am looking at Bluetooth ODBII adapters on Amazon and eBay.

      They claim to be for reading and resetting diagnostic codes.

      Useful, but I would also like to see other information such as fuel flow, throttle setting and speed (to calculate MPG and work out an economical driving mode).

      Do all adapters provide all the available information, or are some limited to problem codes?

      An in car computer (Android phone, tablet or Windows laptop) with more functionality than built in displays (if the vehicle has one) could be very useful.

      I note that Torque warn against cheap eBay Bluetooth adapters - anyone recommend a good one?

      1. Joe 48

        Re: iODB2 Engine Data Reader - Cheaper option

        @david Roberts

        Its nothing to do with the interface. What PIDS (Car sensor information) can be read by Torque are depending on if the car has a sensor to monitor those items. The bluetooth dongle (EM327 iirc) is just and interface between the phone and car.

        I've always had cheap ones and no issues. I currently have this one:

        I'm quite sure they are all cheap imported items but if it ain't broke....

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: iODB2 Engine Data Reader - Cheaper option

        The data that you can get from the OBD socket depends on your car. My old Peugeot 206 only supports the basic diagnostic codes, and the current RPM.

        That said, a £15 ODB to USB cable plus $5 for Torque is much cheaper than the £25 my local garage charge to check an engine warning light. And if it turns out to be something simple like a faulty O2 sensor, you can probably replace it yourself.

  3. Ian Watkinson

    Tomtom and Garmin traffic vs Waze?

    I'd say Waze is the king of the real time traffic now. I've not seen it beaten by either Garmin or Tomtom. Plus the price kicks the other two as well, it's free (aside from your data)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tomtom and Garmin traffic vs Waze?

      Waze (Google) knows where you are going at what speed etc. in real time.

      Of course, I trust Google with all this data.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Garmin magnetic connector

    Be warned. Without thinking I removed the satnav and put it in my pocket. Book token erased, magnetic stripe card erased. This is not a good design.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Garmin magnetic connector

      Well at least it's got a powerful magnet!

  5. Synonymous Howard

    Rather expensive versions chosen

    I'd take a reasonable tablet with GPS + Bluetooth and £5 ODBII dongle + Torque over much of these, especially when tethered to a smartphone ('free' upgrade to 4G on Three has worked out well for me). There are a number of good Car DVR apps as well but I've yet to find a good 'trip recorder' which records front and back video + GPS / timestamp overlays, ODBII data recording (in sync with video) and provides turn by turn routing ... maybe one day I'll write one 8-)

    Car DVR cams are stupidly cheap on eBay and work rather well .. I have a 'basic' cam for £18 and it just sits there taking 720p video with motion detection, auto start, G-sensor lock, recording looping etc. Pay a few more quid and you get 1080p, dual cameras and GPS.

    1. Captain Scarlet

      Re: Rather expensive versions chosen

      Have to agree with the Car Dashcam, more decent car dashcams brands are becoming more available in the UK with a price range of around £70 to £120 for a decent 1080p camera.

  6. Kubla Cant

    What's inside?

    The EE Buzzard looks like a monstrous thing. Why does it need to be the size of a drinks can when it offers a small part of the functionality you get from the smartphone that fits in your pocket? Especially as most of the components seem to be on the outside of the can.

    And why is it such a vile colour? I could understand if it was disguised as a drinks can, thereby avoiding the attention of thieves, but this seems designed to attract their attention.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's inside?

      That's the silly packaging, presumably to catch your attention in store. It's actually just a 12v - 5v adaptor and a USB dongle...

      1. TAJW

        Re: What's inside?

        It is designed to fit in a cupholder.

  7. graeme leggett Silver badge

    Devices limited only by the car you put them in.

    Because some cars just aren't ready for easy gadget installation. [I could reminisce about the 70s and 80s when all it took to mod your car was a drill and hacksaw - and a bit of body paste afterwards - and you could fit almost anything. But that's long in the past.]

    Take a 4 year old Astra, dead common on the roads:

    You can't fit a new head unit easily because the factory fitted option is tied into the display of the trip "computer".

    A dash mount phone holder is stymied because the dash is a textured finish.

    And the ODBC connector is underneath the panel the handbrake "rests" on.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Devices limited only by the car you put them in.

      "And the ODBC connector is underneath the panel the handbrake "rests" on."

      Methinks you spend too much time tinkering with computers and not enough tinkering with cars!

      My car has an OBD-II connector, not sure I can connect via ODBC...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Devices limited only by the car you put them in.

      "A dash mount phone holder is stymied because the dash is a textured finish."

      The phone holder mentioned in the article is suitable for mounting on textured surfaces. I've got a different product that claims to do the same thing. Cheap suction mounts won't stick, but the more upmarket versions use some fancy 3M gel that sticks to almost any surface. For these mounts you'll be paying around twenty quid or so.

  8. SirMunchAlot

    Not the best value dash cam out there.

    Expensive for a dash cam really.

    I use one of these:

    It may be cheap but it will happily resolve registration numbers up to 10 - 20m even with oncoming traffic.

    1080p @ 30 fps. Which it actually does quite well.

    Another feature that seems to be quite rare it the fact that you can permanently power the stick on mount. This eliminates the need to have to plug a USB cable in each time. The device picks up it's power from the mount.

    Also, the device is set by default to start recording when it detects power from the mount connection and to stop 30 seconds after you disconnect it.

    A GPS logger is available and it takes standard MicroSD card up to 32GB.

    I bought the version without an SD card (as I had a few spare) and with the GPS mount.

    You can get them on Amazon for around £60.

    1. ScottME

      Re: Not the best value dash cam out there.

      Based on lots of online reviews, I bought a 1080p dashcam including 16GB microSD card from eBay for less than £45 (this one: I can't fault the quality of the video - wide angle, pin-sharp, and it gets the exposure right all the way from bright sunshine to headlights only on a dark country lane at night. It uses a mini-USB power supply, and I plan to sort out a hard-wired connector cable coming out of the headlining when I have the time, but for now I leave it connected to an adapter in the cigarette lighter socket and it automatically switches on with the ignition and starts recording, and switches off a minute after you turn the engine off. 16GB gives you enough space for about 12 hours of recordings, and it automatically overwrites the oldest ones. Very pleased with it, can't think why anyone would pay over £100 for something that's no better apart from having a brand name on it.

  9. Andrew Oakley

    Brodit device mounts - seriously wonderful

    Some solid ideas but not the best choices. For OBDII diagnostics, as others have mentioned, the "Torque" app is massively cheaper at 3 quid and does everything you'd ever want the iODB app to do for £60, including telling you exactly why your engine management light is on (I could have spent a hundred and fifty quid at the dealers to find out I simply had a ten quid brake switch in need of replacement).

    For dashboard mounts, there really is only one best choice and that is Brodit, who will sell you a standard base/mount to fit the exact position you want on your exact dashboard on your exact car, into which screws in a variety of very slim and unobtrusive cradles to fit your exact device. For example I have the centre-mount dashboard base for my Seat Leon, plus the delightfully slim mount for my Samsung Galaxy S 4 Mini; meanwhile my wife's car has the right-hand mount for her Vauxhall Zafira, plus the larger but still svelte mount for her Samsung Galaxy Note Classic. Should we borrow each other's cars, we can easily swap the mounts over. And they are a billion squllion times less bulky than any generic mount.

    For offline GPS, I'm quite happy with CoPilot at twenty-five quid for the whole of Western Europe, but I appreciate that it isn't as fully-featured - or slick - as Garmin (my old employer paid for the Garmin app on my old N95 and that was better than CoPilot; but it was also one of those "nice if you can claim it on expenses" kinds of purchases; you'd be daft to buy something so extravagant for yourself unless you were spending a *lot* of time driving abroad). I really have no idea why anyone with a half decent smartphone and a Bluetooth car radio would want a separate GPS device.

    On the subject of Bluetooth car radios, basic generic non-DAB models come up in Aldi and Lidl frequently for under 50 quid, usually sporting AM/FM radio, SD card, USB port, aux-in socket and sometimes CD/MP3CD. I went for the one without a CD player - because who needs the clutter when you have SD cards? - and am mostly pleased, for the money. They're not amazing - in particular the MP3 file browsing and repeat/album play modes can be very poor, and AM reception prone to interference - but if your basic needs are Bluetooth + MP3 playback + FM/RDS and nothing fancy, they are reliable and offer great value for money.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Brodit device mounts - seriously wonderful

      I'll just on the subject of diagnostics, there is a reason why dealers and specialists charge a huge whack for just plugging in the box of tricks. They have access to the full diagnostic codes from the manufacturers, and those aren't cheap.

      I took my car into a garage and they couldn't tell me from their diagnostics why the engine management light came on and caused it to go into "safe mode". (fortunately not charged for their lack of capability in that area). In the end I took it to a specialist (who local main dealers used) who was able to tell me that both the accelerator pedal and the butterfly valve were reporting problems. And that cost me £60.

      Unfortunately as is the case with more modern cars, the cost of replacement parts, the labour (both the actual spanner work and programming) meant a fix was uneconomic.

    2. WOOOOO

      Re: Brodit device mounts - seriously wonderful

      Even cheaper I have the osmand+ app on my phone. About 6 quid and you can download any map you want. Granted as it's open source so not all countries are complete but it got me 2000 miles round europe on my motorbike. Imports from google maps easy once converted to gpx. If you are a biker worth looking up the So Easy Rider v5, it lets you velcro your phone or sat nav onto your handle bars, works a treat. Also works on mountain bikes!

  10. John H Woods Silver badge

    Thanks for finding the mount ...

    ... a cheap smartphone will do the rest. My almost disposably cheap LG Optimus 3 can just about run a map app (Google or OSM offline), a radio app (Jango or TuneIn+) - or music off the SD card, a dashcam app (Autoguard BlackBox) and a wifi hotspot simultaneously. It does need a high current USB cable tho :-)

    That's less than £50 for the phone, less than £20 on apps and less than £30 on mount and cable -- the dedicated hardware is increasingly unable to cut it against the vast economies of scale applicable to landfill Android.

    The only thing I need to add when driving older vehicles is a cigarette lighter bluetooth receiver with a 3.5mm output which, in extremis, can be plugged into one of those fake cassette things when the car doesn't even have an audio input.

  11. Alister

    The Alcosense Lite

    Is it me, or does that use the case mouldings for an old Nokia phone! It sure looks like it!

    1. Throatwobbler Mangrove

      Re: The Alcosense Lite

      "I can still see the point of a gadget that let’s you know where you stand viz-a-viz the long arm of the law."

      The breathalyzer shoulda been used on the proofreader ;)

  12. Gene Cash Silver badge

    TomTom vs. Garmin

    While the Garmin might be a better product, the company is a complete bag of dicks. TomTom actually lives up to the "lifetime" maps, and seems to understand you shouldn't charge $60 for a map update CD.

    1. Robin 12

      Re: TomTom vs. Garmin

      I purchased a Garmin when I could download the updates to a SD card and install it into the GPS. Now I cannot get updates without Windows or Mac which I don't own or have access too. I now agree that Garmin are dicks as they refuse to support

      I know many people that don't have Windows or Macs. They have Android and smart TV's. Maybe a Chrome book or two. I see Tom Tom is doing the same thing. I guess I will stick with my smart phone maps and get a decent mount to hold the phone.

      1. Terry Cloth

        Re: TomTom vs. Garmin

        I got a Garmin at the right price (free from a friend who doesn't use it anymore), but was also shocked by the cost for an update.

        FWIW, there's a purported method to put Open Street Map data on a Garmin. Haven't gotten around to trying it yet, so Your Mileage Will Vary. :-)

        1. Robin 12

          Re: TomTom vs. Garmin

          As I cannot use Garmin's update service because of their Window or Mac policy, I have used Open Street Maps for a few years. Works like a dream and if you find an error, you can get if fixed for the price of free. :)

          I feel that all non Mac or Windows users should contact Garmin and other companies to request support.

          I won't purchase Garmin again, even at work due to this policy.

          I received this from Garmin.

          Thank you for contacting Garmin International.

          Unfortunately, none of our programs that will allow you to load LifeTime updates to a unit will work on any of the listed machines, it will require a Windows or a Mac computer. Same thing with all of our updates now, and probably going forward.

          With Best Regards,

          Nathan 5840

          Customer Care - Outdoor Team

          Garmin International



          913-440-8280 (Fax) Att: Nathan 5840

  13. Charles Manning

    Stupid laws kick in...

    I don't know how the driving-while-using-phone laws work elsewhere, but in NZ they specifically disallow cell phones.

    As I said back then, even to some MPs, it's a dumb law because it is tech-specific. It doesn't cover VoIP phones.

    It would seem that using VoIP + Wifi hotspot you can phone+drive all you want without falling foul of these laws.

  14. Mike Lewis

    TomTom? Just say no

    No, not TomTom. Never again. I bought one for my mum and it was hopeless at navigation. A sextant would have been more useful.

    It did have a nice display, though. Something pretty to look at while you wander around, lost.

  15. hokum

    TomTom Go 40?

    You heartily recommend Garmin in the previous page, but then your 'cheap' option for a satnav is TomTom?

    The Garmin 2595 has a wide 5-inch display and Bluetooth for voice commands and hands-free, and includes free map updates and free traffic alerts. It's available for less than £130.

  16. jimborae


    Another very dissatisfied TomTom owner here, had two, both were very unreliable - overheating, shit battery life, poor software, devices launched without all features working, unresponsive touch screen, appalling customer service etc etc the list just goes on. Now just use my phone, much better, much cheaper!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still no Head Up Display then

    This makes me sad

    1. Down not across

      Re: Still no Head Up Display then

      Something like this?

  18. druck Silver badge
    Thumb Down


    Please elaborate on those scales falling from your eyes, as every time I've driven a car with DAB, I've been forced to retune back to FM within 15 minutes, given the shocking signal quality pretty much everywhere. Even when you can get it, why suffer low bit rate mono, when the same channels are in glorious stereo on FM.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Important car gadget for every car owner

    all are important and not doubt important for every car owner. I found to see more car accessories.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon