How to Update Your Older Car With Today's Tech

Old cars don't have to go without new features, thanks to these affordable upgrades.

Person sitting in driver side seat of car operating center console controls and smilingShutterstock

Article QuickTakes:

Whether you're looking for additional safety gear, improved in-car communication and entertainment, or simply groovier vibes from your stereo, you may be able to skip buying a brand-new automobile and still benefit from some of the latest and greatest technologies.

With a little bit of DIY and a reasonable cash outlay, it can be possible to equip your older vehicle with safety, infotainment, and device-related features that are similar to those found in new vehicles.

How to Add Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to a Car

There are a number of ways to add Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability to your vehicle. Some automakers can activate this feature in a relatively recent vehicle by way of a software update, or by installing a newer factory head unit (the interface in your car that lets you choose the audio input, adjust volume, and control the stereo) into the dashboard. But even if your car or truck is too old for either of those solutions, there are still options out there.

The simplest is to go for a portable infotainment system. These can be attached to your dashboard or windshield, and they add a touchscreen interface to your vehicle that can be either hard-wired into your existing stereo system or connected via Bluetooth. Once installed, you can usually link your phone wirelessly to the device and access Android Auto or Apple CarPlay on its screen.

How to Improve Car Audio

The easiest method to give the audio quality in your car a boost is to seek out a better set of speakers. Higher-quality units that are a good fit for your vehicle are often an affordable purchase, and installation can be a DIY process achievable for most people comfortable with using a screwdriver.

Next on the list is adding an amplifier to your sound system in order to better drive those speakers. Additional power being sent to the speakers will boost volume and also help preserve sound quality when you're listening at higher intensities. If you're a bass fan, the easiest way to improve the low end of your car or truck's audio is to install (or have installed by a professional) a subwoofer and an amplifier to power it. This will increase the intensity and volume of the bass frequencies in your music.

Finally, a new stereo head unit can help you get the most out of new speakers, subwoofers, and amplifiers. If you're familiar with audio installation, you may be able to tackle this yourself, but it might also be a good idea to consult professionals. Once your vehicle has been equipped with a new head unit, it's possible to get not only cleaner stereo sound but also access to features like navigation and satellite radio.

How to Add Bluetooth to a Car

Adding Bluetooth to an older car can take you down several paths. The cheapest and simplest method is generally to plug a Bluetooth radio transmitter into your vehicle's 12-volt power outlet. Once paired with your phone, the device broadcasts the sound stream on the FM radio band, which you can likely pick up with your stock setup. Another option is a Bluetooth receiver that wires directly into your head unit using the auxiliary port, AV ports, CD-changer input, or satellite radio band, depending on the design of your stereo. If you're looking to add hands-free calling to your Bluetooth setup, the adapters you use to connect to your head unit should come with a small clip-in microphone that wires in alongside the receiver.

It's also possible to add Bluetooth music streaming and hands-free calling by replacing your factory stereo with an aftermarket head unit that offers these features. In some cases, you may be able to step up to a newer factory stereo system that will get the job done and maintain a factory look on your dashboard. If you're not comfortable doing this on your own, some electronics stores offer professional installation services.

How to Add Wireless Charging to a Car

Wireless charging is a feature that's more often found on modern vehicles, but it's possible to install it on an older model, too. The easiest method is to pick up a phone mount that incorporates the same Qi wireless charging technology used by your phone (Qi is the standard interface for wireless charging of certain small personal devices, like mobile phones). These mounts plug into the 12-volt or USB power outlets in your vehicle. If you have enough flat space on your center console, you can also opt for a plug-in charging pad.

How to Add a Backup Camera to a Car

Backup cameras have been federally mandated on new vehicles since 2018. Adding this safety gear to an older automobile is relatively affordable, ranging in price from $100 to $500. The price depends on factors such as the resolution of the camera and whether the display integrates into a rearview mirror, makes use of the vehicle's existing screen, or comes with its own miniature display.

These backup kits include a small camera that mounts at the rear of the vehicle and transmits a video image to the display inside the cabin. The camera may come with a mounting bracket, be incorporated into a license plate frame, or integrate into the bodywork of the vehicle itself to help make it less noticeable. It's possible to install a backup camera yourself using simple tools.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.