Most luxury cars nowadays come with plenty of bells and whistles, such as hands-free calling for your cell phone and GPS navigation systems. But if your car doesn't have the exact option you need or want, don't worry. You can get most of these gizmos from chain retailers, and the aftermarket versions often leave their factory-installed cousins in the dust. Better yet, most of these systems work on any car, cost less than you think, and often don't require complicated or expensive installation. They can go a long way to make you more comfortable and maybe even safe.
PARROT CK3200 LS-COLOR BLUETOOTH CAR KIT
About $250 at Amazon.com, Fry's, and PCMall.com
Parrot's newest hands-free car phone kit, which will appear early next year, is installed in your dashboard to work with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones. The color LCD shows the caller ID of incoming and outgoing calls, and the system automatically mutes the car's radio or CD player and pipes the calls through the speakers. Voice recognition lets you make calls from a 150-name address book just by saying, for example, "Call John."
DAVIS INSTRUMENTS CARCHIP E/X WITH ALARM, MODEL 8225
$199 at Sears and specialty retailers
Wonder why the "check engine" light is on? The CarChip E/X, which typically plugs into a connector by the steering wheel, is designed to retrieve engine diagnostic trouble codes from your car's computer. They can help you decide whether you need to see a mechanic, or merely tighten the gas cap. In addition, it can store up to 300 hours of driving data, such as the time and date of each trip, its distance, and your speed. In the event of an accident, it will generate a log showing your speed and braking in the 20 seconds before the impact, handy if your fender bender ends up in court.
DIRECTED ELECTRONICS TWO-WAY RESPONDER SECURITY SYSTEMS REMOTE
$419 for security systems that include the two-way remote at authorized retailers, listed at viper.com
These security systems don't just beep an alarm when a vandal is trying to get into your car -- they tell you about it. The remote control, which also serves as a key fob, has a tiny liquid-crystal display that shows you what's going on whenever your car alarm goes off. You need to be within a quarter of a mile from your car for the paging function to work. You can use the remote to turn the alarm off, or to lock or unlock the doors. The remote comes with Viper, Clifford, Matrix, and Python brands of security systems.
GARMIN STREETPILOT I5 GPS NAVIGATION SYSTEM
$499 at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Circuit City
This baseball-size global positioning system comes preloaded with the latest maps of North America and can give you turn-by-turn directions to where you need to go. It attaches to your windshield with a suction cup and operates on AA batteries or an adapter that plugs into your cigarette lighter. It comes with more than 6 million points of interest, such as gas stations, ATMs, and restaurants, and you can load your own customized points by plugging the GPS unit into your computer.
By Olga Kharif