LIKE many parents of young drivers, Shane Coulter wants his 16-year-old daughter’s car to be as safe as possible when she takes to the road. But like many older vehicles, the 2008 Jeep Wrangler that he bought for her lacked many high-tech safety features, like a rearview camera, that are increasingly found in newer cars.
But that didn’t mean he had to be left out of the technological revolution. Audiovox makes a rearview camera that can be added on.
“I actually put it on my daughter’s Jeep,” said Mr. Coulter, who lives in Warner Robins, Ga.
The rearview camera is one of the most popular of a growing list of add-on devices and services that promise to bring modern features to aging jalopies.
“Lane departure and collision warning, pedestrian warnings, high-beam control and traffic sign recognition — all of those can be retrofitted in a customer’s car,” said Elad Serfaty, a vice president at Mobileye, whose technology is built into a variety of vehicles from BMW, Volvo and other carmakers that offer collision detection and prevention.
The Mobileye warning and monitoring system can be added to older vehicles. Credit Mobileye
A warning and monitoring system that can be added to older vehicles, like the Mobileye 660, costs roughly $1,000 including a professional installation, Mr. Serfaty said, but he pointed out that the benefits could outweigh the costs. A Highway Loss Data Institute study of Honda Accords and Crosstours equipped with lane departure and forward collision warnings, for example, found a 14 percent reduction in damage claims compared with models without the systems.
Consequently, many car accessory companies are joining the driver assistance trend. Garmin, hoping to resuscitate flagging sales of portable navigation devices, has incorporated such technology in its $400 nüviCam LMTHD. The navigation device has a built-in video camera that scans the road ahead, offering not only directions but also chimes and yellow icon warnings whenever a driver drifts out of the lane or starts tailgating.
Usually cited as a major distraction to drivers, smartphones are also being enlisted to create alert systems. One of the earliest and most extensive driver assistance apps was iOnRoad, now owned by Harman International. Using a smartphone’s built-in camera, the app monitors the car’s speed and distance from the vehicle ahead, sounding a loud alarm if the distance shrinks too quickly or the driver fails to brake sufficiently.
Using the app can feel like having a digital back-seat driver that chides you every time you drift too close to the fog line. But iOnRoad’s constant pings can work to adjust driving habits, like improving driver alertness and increasing the following distance between cars.
“If you have a teenage driver, the app will allow you to analyze driving habits,” said Alon Atsmon, vice president for technology strategy at Harman. “It can log events, such as tailgating and lane departure warnings, then score his driving compared to other drivers around the world.” The basic app is free; a premium $5 version adds dashcamlike video recording and speed limit sign recognition.
Many customers decide to upgrade the older family car when it gets handed down to a new teenage driver, according to Keith Imbriglio, the manager at Long Radio, an installation firm in Hadley, Mass.
Among the most popular add-ons, he said, are rearview cameras like the one Mr. Coulter installed on his daughter’s Wrangler. They all but eliminate blind spots behind vehicles.The Viper app works with Apple and Android smartwatches. The app can remotely start, locate and unlock a car from a compatible watch. Credit Viper
The Audiovox ACA900, which Mr. Coulter purchased, is a $129 wide-angle backup video camera with an ultrasonic sensor. It mounts in a rear license plate bracket and sounds proximity warnings and displays a picture in a dashboard LCD screen or replacement rearview mirror.
When the car is put into reverse, the rearview picture appears, including distance and parking guidelines. If the driver gets too close to a pedestrian or nearby obstruction, the system beeps loudly and powerfully and shows a red “STOP” alert on the video monitor.
The biggest problem with the systems, Mr. Imbroglio said, is that they take a lot of time to install. Labor can add $70 to $100 to the price for consumers, many of whom may balk at sinking more money into an aging vehicle with tens of thousands of miles on it.
So some drivers opt for do-it-yourself tracking and car monitoring devices that simply plug into the onboard diagnostic or OBD-II port under the dashboard of cars built from 1996 onward. The proliferation of OBD II devices include models like those pitched by insurance companies promising to lower rates for good driving habits or those from Silicon Valley start-ups looking to capitalize on the connected car trend.
Taking connected car apps to the next level, Viper, which makes car alarms, has just introduced software that works with Apple and Android smartwatches. The Viper SmartStart 4.0 app can remotely start, locate and unlock a car from a compatible watch. The forthcoming Android app will even obey voice commands, like “O.K., Google, start my car,” according to the company. A typical Viper module package costs $399, installed, with geofencing alerts — which let parents know when their child strays outside a preset zone — available for an annual fee of $99.
William Stewart of Brooklyn was persuaded.
“I could be anywhere in the world and I can lock and unlock the car,” said Mr. Stewart, who had a Viper system professionally installed in his 2014 Lexus RS350. Initially, he was interested in adding a remote start feature for cold weather days, but liked the additional features. “And when the alarm triggers, it gives you a notification on your phone.”
For all the technical sleight of hand, there are limits to what aftermarket upgrades can bring to a car. Unlike built-in options in new cars, none of these systems can automatically brake a vehicle to prevent a crash or steer a car toward the center of the lane when the driver wanders. And none of the upgrades will stop a car remotely like OnStar can in the event of a theft.