"Imagine buying a used car—whether lightly pre-owned or rather well-seasoned—and knowing you could just download the latest in software updates and features." Awesome, right? That future is nearly here, but there are some other steps you can take to keep your older car feeling fresh and high-tech in the mean time.
Starting in 2016, many carmakers will give their new cars the ability to take even major infotainment updates via over-the-air (OTA) connections. That means those cars will be substantially future-proofed for new apps, features, and abilities, as long as new hardware isn’t required.
A few carmakers already push out updates to the cars themselves via systems like OnStar (a General Motors telematics system), but it’s not yet common, and it doesn’t typically affect the systems we use most in our cars every day: the entertainment systems, our phones, and the smart apps we wish our used cars had.
But there’s an easy solution to make your 2008 Honda Accord as cutting edge as the latest BMW, Audi, or Mercedes-Benz: Android Auto and Apple Carplay. Both are available as in-dash head units you can install (or have installed) to bring the latest in smartphone connectivity to your car.
Best of all, Android Auto is done not by whoever made your car, but by the company that makes the Android phone operating system—meaning it’s going to work with your phone better than any proprietary solution from the likes of Toyota, Nissan, or Chrysler. Apple Carplay is the same, but for iOS devices.
With prices in the $700-$1,500 range, the CarPlay and Android Auto systems aren’t exactly cheap, but considering how much a new car’s infotainment system costs—not to mention the new car itself—they’re relative bargains.
These systems aren’t just dumb stereos sitting in your dash, either—they include beautiful touch-screen displays, letting you interact with your devices and your car is ways that feel totally modern and high-end, however old your car may be.
Bonus, it’s often as easy as stopping by your local electronics store: Best Buy and other major retailers sell the equipment and perform the installations, so you can have your new smartphone-capable system in your current car in just a matter of hours. Of course, if you’re handy with basic electronics and wiring, you can do the job yourself and save some more cash.
Whatever route you take to breathe new life into your used car, just know there are options that won’t have to break the bank—and that will help keep your car just as useful, fun, and entertaining as the newest cars on the block for years to come.
automotive freelance journalist