Category: Product Reviews

By on April 6, 2017

Hopkins nVision Backup Sensor Kit

If you’re looking for some electronic assistance backing your car but don’t want to mess with installing a rearview camera, a backup sensor system might be the solution.

Consisting of ultrasonic sensors mounted at the rear of the vehicle and connected to an audible alarm inside the car, a sensor system gives you a warning when you’re getting close to something behind you, typically growing more urgent as you get closer.

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By on April 6, 2017

Pyle PLCM7500 Backup Camera Kit

There’s no question a rearview camera can add a measure of convenience to the business of backing up and increase your margin of safety. Studies have shown a rear camera makes it easier to see small children, pets, or obstacles behind your vehicle that might be otherwise invisible using just your mirrors or looking out the rear window. And that goes double for pickups and other tall vehicles, which can have a blind spot as long as 50 feet to the rear. Adding a rearview camera can also make it easier to see and hook up a trailer. 

Many new cars have backup cameras, and it’ll be mandatory equipment by the 2018 model year. For those of us without, the aftermarket offers plenty of choices. 

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By on March 30, 2017

Schumacher X114 Compact Inverter

If you’re looking for an inexpensive power inverter and don’t want to sacrifice a cup holder or other interior real estate, the Schumacher X114 might be just the ticket — as long as you don’t mind a bit of noise with your power. 

Capable of putting out 140 watts of continuous power, the X114 has more than enough juice to drive a laptop or other small electronic device. To that end, it comes equipped with one 120V receptacle, and a 2-amp USB outlet for charging a phone, music player, or most anything else that can be charged via USB. 

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By on March 20, 2017

Garmin HUD+

A windshield head-up display, or HUD, is a beautiful thing. Capable of displaying navigational guidance, vehicle speed, and other information on the lower part of the windshield and in the driver’s line of sight, HUD systems have become increasingly common on new cars since their first appearance a couple of decades ago.

More recently, a handful of aftermarket suppliers and startups have gotten on the bandwagon, offering devices that pair with a smartphone via Bluetooth to provide similar functionality, even if these devices lack the seamless integration of a factory system.

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By on March 17, 2017

Energizer EN180 Compact Power Inverter

Even if your car is equipped with a built-in power port or two, it may not have enough outlets to support all the electronic devices and habits of you and yours, or said ports may be inconveniently located or accessed. Maybe you want a configuration your car doesn’t have, like a 120V outlet to power a laptop or portable DVD player. Or maybe whatever ports your car has just haven’t been quite right since that last Big Gulp incident.

If any of these scenarios is the case, a power inverter can be the solution. Depending on the make and model you choose, an inverter can give you the versatility to power several devices at once, juice up your laptop or other electronic device, or provide more power and quicker charging than built-in ports in your car. And with prices starting at less than $50, inverters are affordable enough to make sense for almost any budget.

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By on March 13, 2017

Motorola Sonic Rider Bluetooth Speakerphone Kit

Safety experts generally agree that shutting off your phone altogether while behind the wheel is the safest way to travel, but the reality is that just isn’t going to happen for many drivers. In spite of thousands of deaths and close to a half million injuries chalked up to distracted driving every year, we are a society largely addicted to our phones.

But experts also agree going hands free is a safer option than handling a phone on the go, and most newer vehicles now have Bluetooth so drivers can keep their eyes on the road and use voice commands to make and receive calls. While arguably still distracting, hands-free calls are a better idea than punching keys at highway speeds, when a car travels the length of a football field in about five seconds — coincidentally, the average length of time it takes to read or send a text message.

For owners of vehicles without built-in Bluetooth, there are all kinds of aftermarket solutions available, from small units with a microphone and speaker that clip to a sun visor and cost as little as $20, to replacement head units that will set you back hundreds of dollars or more. For the purposes of this exercise, we looked at the former for their ease of installation and low cost.

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By on March 9, 2017

iOttie Easy One Touch 2

With the average age of cars on the road now on the far side of 11 years, the latest electronic safety and convenience systems don’t do most drivers much good. But the good news is that any car can be upgraded with many of these features, from blind spot warning to Bluetooth for streaming music and hands free phone calls. You can easily install most of them yourself, and for a lot less than making payments on a new car.

Our new series of articles detailing some of these features will take you through what products are available, how they work, and what they cost. We’re starting with nine products available from the automotive aftermarket provided by our sponsor eBay, who has also graciously offered up three $500 gift cards. We’ve independently made our product choices based on ease of DIY installation, popularity, favorable reviews from other sources and users, and brand recognition with websites and readily available customer support.

Oh, and we’re installing all these upgrades on a 1999 Acura TL with 152,000 miles.

First up, let’s keep it simple: a trick phone mount from iOttie, the Easy One Touch 2.

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By on December 2, 2016

mechanic vw

Everyone knows a friend or, more frequently, a friend’s middle-aged dad who has “a guy.”

The guy in question doesn’t necessarily need to be male and the friend only needs to know them tangentially. They just have to be some kind of professional or tradesman that they trust implicitly with a single important aspect of their life. For automotive enthusiasts, the guy is a mechanic and usually has a whole shop backing him up. Unfortunately, “the guy” has remained elusive for younger generations. Read More >

By on June 17, 2016

The-Last-Chase-images-2c314575-9812-4e79-989b-d8b96933461

This post started, as some of mine do, with a question about cars from my brother Jeff.

He texted me from Jerusalem, Israel, wanting to know whether the Porsche in a 1981 movie titled “The Last Chase,” starring Lee Majors, was a real Porsche or a replica.

Not knowing anything about the movie, I told him it was likely to be a real 911, since they weren’t that expensive then, so nobody would have bothered making a replica. He texted back that it wasn’t a 911, but something that looked “more like a Chaparral.”

Intrigued, I did an image search and he’s correct. While it’s easy to tell a Porsche 917 from one of Jim Hall’s racers, the 917 in The Last Chase does indeed look more like a Chaparral than like Porsche’s iconic 911 road car.

My brother’s question answered, I proceeded to watch the film, which is posted in its entirety on YouTube (you can watch it below the jump).

My next thought: how did I not know about this movie? Read More >

By on May 26, 2016

ReliefBand, source ReliefBand Technologies

They say the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

I was blessed with an appreciation for road racing and cars that corner and handle well. Unfortunately, I’m also very prone to motion sickness. That means I can’t race cars.

Back when I was riding around in the rear facing far back seat in the Buick station wagon belonging to my best friend Stevie Margolin’s mom, this affliction was called “car sickness.” It was either in that Buick or on one of Detroit’s Bob-Lo boats that I recall first experiencing nausea when in motion.

Nausea and motion have a long association. The term nausea in fact comes to use from the ancient Greek word for boat. Up to 95 percent of the population experiences some form of motion sickness, with 5-15 percent being extremely sensitive to it. Placebos, pharmaceuticals, over the counter medications, pressure bands, and even skin patches behind the ear have all been tried as treatments to varying degrees of success and side effects.

A new wearable medical device called the ReliefBand may make that motion induced nausea a thing of the past — and finally let me go racing. Read More >

By on March 24, 2016

Koenigsegg One:1

I tend live my life by a rather loose set of rules and codes, but there are a few maxims to which I always adhere. The first and foremost of them? When Alex Roy invites you to something, you go. No questions asked. Put on your best scarf and show up. Something interesting is bound to happen.

Therefore, when I received an invitation from Alex to attend the New York Premiere of APEX: The Story of the Hypercar, I made sure to be in attendance.
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By on January 19, 2016

KO2Main

BFGoodrich’s All-Terrain T/A tires can be found everywhere, from your local construction site to the most grueling of off-road races. I’ve fitted some of my trucks with the original KO and used them on and off-road, so I was curious what improvements BFGoodrich could bring to its latest iteration: the new KO2.

BFGoodrich brought me up to Bethel, Maine to test out its new tire in the nearby hills — and to catch this year’s Red Bull Frozen Rush.

The Frozen Rush trucks run a one-off spiked version of the same tire, but I was more interested in the street version that might adorn one of my (or your) vehicles.

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By on August 3, 2015

K40

I’ll admit it. I haven’t used a radar detector in years. My typical method of avoiding tickets has relied on the (patent pending) Spousal Alert System, in which the wife screams at me if the car is going too quickly in proximity to one of Ohio’s finest.

Problem is, 10 years in, I have yet to find the mute button.

Plus, she doesn’t drink coffee, so the Spousal Alert System has some glitches on drives longer than four hours. A planned family reunion in northern Wisconsin, 10-plus hours from home, reminded me that an alternative was needed. Thankfully, the kind folks from K40 Electronics offered their new RLS2 radar/laser detector for review. I’m pretty sure it already saved me from a ticket or two. With an MSRP right around $400, it is priced in the ballpark of the major players in the market.

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By on April 22, 2015

2015 Infiniti QX70

Fifteen years ago, buying a practical luxury car to replace a Honda Accord meant going down to your BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, or occasionally, Audi showroom and coming back with a 5-Series, E-Class, GS, or if you were particularly brave, an A6. All these brands except Audi had SUVs at the time though, but they were hardly replacements for a midsize luxury sport sedan. The Mercedes ML handled like a truck while the RX300 wasn’t exactly intended for the sport sedan driver, something emphasized by the number of moms and AARP members who bought them at the time. Meanwhile, my dad test drove an X5 and 5-Series back to back and promptly bought a 530i.

But no one fifteen years ago would have considered Infiniti, whose only rear-drive sedan was the full-size Q45, which no one bought. A few years later, Infiniti went through a product renaissance, bringing out the Infiniti G35 (which many people bought), the M (the one based on the JDM Nissan Gloria few people bought), and an updated Q45 (which even fewer people bought). In 2003, they also brought out a sporty crossover – the FX. It was meant to compete with the X5, Porsche Cayenne, and XC90, but the FX was dramatically better on-road than off-road compared to most of its competitors. The FX, despite being smaller and not capable of tackling off-road trails, became a sales success for Infiniti.

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By on April 17, 2015

UIS-CroppedSome might tell you that Cheech & Chong’s 1978 movie, Up In Smoke, was about Malaise Era drug culture, or Los Angeles, or California punk rock, but in fact it is one of the greatest car movies in cinematic history. For this reason, I have used my Svengali-like powers to convince the management of the Denver Alamo Drafthouse theater to include this fine automotive film as part of the Murilee Martin Presents series. Yes, on Monday, which just happens to be April 20, we’ll roll Up In Smoke starting at 7:30 PM. Read More >

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