Turn Your Car Into a Smart Car for Holiday Travel

You don’t have to drop cash on a new car to drive a vehicle with brains. Virtually any model can be transformed into a ride of the future with just a few smart accessories, apps and entertainment systems. No matter how many miles are in your holiday travel future, these innovations can help turn your car into a happy place.

Automatic is a driving assistant that plugs right into the data port underneath your dashboard. It communicates wirelessly with your smartphone via an app and can monitor engine performance (when that red engine alert comes on, Automatic will tell you what’s wrong), gas efficiency (it will notify you if you’re wasting fuel through actions like rapidly accelerating or hard breaking) and can even contact emergency services (and your loved ones) if you are in an accident. The device also remembers where you’ve parked and tracks your driving so you can review your routes and make improvements to your habits.

SuperTooth HD allows you to keep your eyes on the road and make calls at the same time. The small device attaches to your car’s sun visor and links wirelessly via Bluetooth to your phone. Voila — not only can you chat hands-free, but you can also compose and send texts, emails and social media updates with your voice.

Navdy, which ships in 2015, but is available for pre-order now, takes this idea one step further. The portable device, which you place on your dash, projects a heads-up display on a transparent screen in your field of view. This allows you to see who’s calling, check maps, play music and perform a host of other smartphone-related activities without ever having to take your eyes off of the road. The system is controlled by voice commands and simple hand gestures, so you can also keep a good grip on the wheel.

There are plenty of regular smartphone apps that are capable of smartening up your ride as well. Fuelzee connects you to a community of drivers who report on gas prices across the country. It tells you which stations are near, and offers rewards and contests to help you save even more money on fuel. Another community-based app, Waze, will inform you about real-time traffic and road info. To keep your car moving along, the app Trapster warns you about upcoming speed traps, speed cameras, road hazards and red lights.

Road trips can be vastly improved with the help of Road Ninja. This free app will map out your trip in detail, let you know when restaurants and rest stops are coming up, help you find cool sites near your location and hook you up with local offers and deals. Around Me also alerts you to places you may be looking for while you drive, such as banks, ATMs, movie theaters and coffee shops.

Finally, it’s easy to prevent bored passengers from getting fidgety with the latest options in in-car entertainment. If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, you could buy one that has Apple CarPlay. Or you can get the Parrot Asteroid SMART Digital Media Receiver for Android, which allows you to stream music (with apps like Spotify), watch videos from external cameras, connect to Wi-Fi and more. (Sony’s Smartphone-Connected Receiver has the same capabilities and works with the iPhone.) The Philips Car Entertainment System has a built-in USB port and SDHC card slot, so you can instantly access your own music and movie files.

In the not-so-distant future, we’ll no doubt be zooming around in self-driving cars, free to fiddle with our phones to our heart’s content. But until then, these in-car gadgets are enough to trick out our current rides so we can drive more efficiently, safely and, of course, smartly.

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