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Recommended accessories for GPS and car tech

Practical ideas for making the gadgets in your car more useful

by Michael Arcand on November 9, 2010


Once you've purchased that new gadget for your car, it is almost certainly not enough. Whether it's a new satellite radio receiver, a GPS unit, or a hands-free phone system, you'll want an accessory or two to go along with your new tool or toy. Let's take a look at some practical ideas for accessorizing your latest car tech or GPS purchase.

Garmin Factory-Refurbished Portable Auto Friction Mount for Select Garmin GPS angleimageWhere, oh where should it go? Right off the bat, the issue of placement is a critical one when it comes to new car gadgets. You want your device to be easily accessible, but also not in the way of instrumentation or other vehicle controls. While most devices come with some default mechanism or method of installation, oftentimes it isn't the most practical or best suited for your particular vehicle. This is why the most sought-after accessory for most car gadgets is a mounting accessory.

There are many different types of mounting accessories on the market, depending on what gadget you will be mounting. For example, GPS units often have a top-of-the-dash mounting system, to enable you to easily view the map and access the touch screen system (if it is so enabled). However, some portable GPS systems that can go with you when you exit the vehicle might use a weighted cradle system that just sits on the dash and can be easily removed when not in use. The same is true for after-market satellite radio systems and smartphones as well. Many people use some sort of mounting accessory to hold their smartphones while driving, to facilitate hands-free-calling as well as phone charging.

Scosche reVIVE II Dual USB Car Charger for Apple® iPad™ angleimageNo matter what it is, it will need to be charged up. This brings up the second category of accessory most commonly purchased for automotive gadgets: the charging kit. Charging devices for the car come in all sorts of odd shapes and sizes. The main thing to keep in mind here is that you get the right charging kit for your device. Not all car technology is the same, and some devices require more amperage, or "oomph," when getting charged. Make sure that the charging accessory you purchase, if not specifically made by the manufacturer, is clearly labeled as a match for your device.

Key information to look for is the polarity of the plug that attaches to your device (if it's not a standard USB, etc.), the voltage required, and the amperage (which is usually in milliamps). If you don't address this key information, many bad things can inadvertently take place. For example, without the proper voltage, many electronic devices will fail to charge at all — or even worse, reverse polarity can short out and damage the device. Similarly, low amperage can fail to power the device at all, while high amperage can cause overcharging or damage to the electronic circuits inside the device.

Finally, let's talk about antennas. Whether you have a standard car stereo, a satellite radio receiver, or a brand-new GPS unit, the odds are that your device's performance can be enhanced through the use of an antenna. While some devices such as the built-in stereo come with an antenna, not all antennas are created equal. Don't try to use your GPS antenna for your Sirius or XM satellite radio. It simply won't have the appropriate effect.
Garmin Low-Profile GPS Antenna for Select Garmin GPS Navigation Systems image
Each type of antenna varies depending on the wavelength of the radio band it is trying to pick up. In urban areas where you are close to the AM or FM radio stations you want to listen to, the built-in stereo antenna should suffice. In rural areas, however, you may want to purchase an after-market antenna for your radio receiver. The same is true for a satellite receiver no matter where you live, since the source of the broadcast is a satellite 23,000 miles away from you in orbit around the earth.

In the case of GPS units, an external antenna such as the one pictured by Garmin, can greatly improve the results the unit provides. The reason for this is that the more satellites a unit can acquire, the more precisely it can calculate your location. So if you're looking for a 3D location accurate to within 15 meters, take the time and money to invest in a GPS antenna. Not only will it help in the accuracy of your device, it can also help when it comes to the time it takes for the device to acquire the signal.

Get what you need without spending a fortune. That's the bottom line in accessorizing your car gadgets. Most often, this means buying things from third-party vendors and not the actual device manufacturer. However, in order to be successful using these vendors, you have to make sure they have good reviews and that you match up the accessory to your device's needs.

Tecca

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