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Best safety add-ons for cars

Aftermarket solutions for improving your current ride

Published: March 21, 2015 09:00 AM
Cadillac backup camera
Advanced safety features can be added to older cars.
Photo: GM

Most cars on the road today were made before cutting-edge electronic crash-avoidance technologies were introduced, but the automotive aftermarket offers a few opportunities to upgrade almost any passenger vehicle. (Read: “Cars that can save your life.”)

Below are some a la carte safety systems you might want to consider:

Forward-collision warning

Safe Drive Systems looks ahead.

Radars, cameras, or other sensors are used by forward-collision warning systems to scan the area in front of your car and then warn if they calculate that you’re closing in too fast on a car. The leading aftermarket purveyor is Mobileye. We tried the $850 Mobileye 560, a device that combines numerous functions.

Using a miniature camera installed behind the inside mirror and a small display with a built in speaker that mounts to the dash, the Mobileye 560 gives audible and visual warnings if you are following too closely, begin leaving your lane without signaling, or are approaching a pedestrian or bicyclist. It can even read speed-limit signs, monitoring your speed, and dip your high beams automatically. You can also use a smart phone as the display for its various warning functions. Professional installation is strongly recommended.

What you don’t get with typical aftermarket set ups is the automatic braking function that comes with the more advanced forward-collision systems found in more and more new cars. (See our list of new cars offering advanced safety features.)

Learn more about car safety.

Blind-spot warning

Goshers Blind Spot Detection system
Photo: Goshers System

Looking where the driver may struggle to see, blind-spot warning (BSW) systems provide alert when vehicles are lurking in the blind zones in adjacent lanes. Several aftermarket kits are available to add this useful feature, complete with sensors, electronics, and LED warning lights that are installed near the outside mirrors. When the system detects a vehicle in one of the blind zones, it lights up LEDs mounted near your side mirrors. An audible warning chirps if you start changing lanes into the path of a vehicle or some other obstruction alongside.

One we tried, the Goshers Blind Spot Detection system ($250 retail) worked well, but we found it a bit trigger-happy at times, even when we adjusted its sensitivity to the minimum setting. Installation involves boring holes in the rear bumper for the two ultrasonic sensors, as well as running wiring into the cabin and splicing into the car’s electrical system. That means professional installation is practically a must.

Backup cameras

Vision System VS55020 GPS+CAM

Backup cameras are both a safety and a convenience item. With their bumper-level view aft they can help prevent back-over accidents, and they’re also very handy for parking in tight spaces and for lining up a trailer with your hitch. Prices start at around $100, with many name-brand systems available in the $300 to $500 range. Professional installation is strongly recommended, which can add $100 to $150. Some of the same manufacturers also make backup sensors, and lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems. Some tie-in with specific portable GPS navigators, while others include their own monitor.

The easiest to install are wireless systems, which use a small transmitter to beam a signal from the rear-mounted camera to a display screen on or near the dashboard. That’s simpler to install than a wired system, which involves running concealed cable from trunk to cabin. Features to look for include a wide angle of view, night-vision capabilities, and guide lines that overlay the video image, showing the car’s path. To minimize interference from other devices, look for a system that uses a digital rather than analog signal.

Some systems use a display that clips over and substitutes for the inside mirror. It shows the camera image when you shift into Reverse and becomes a mirror again when you shift into Drive. Other designs go on the sun visor or attach to the dash or windshield like a portable navigation unit does. You may have to contend with a power cord dangling down toward a lighter socket, which isn’t very discreet, or route the cord under the windshield-surround trim.

If your car already has a built-in video screen, say for a navigation system, and there’s a video input provision available, some backup cameras can use that for their camera display.

If you’re not comfortable tinkering with a car’s wiring and removing interior panels, consider using a professional installer. They have the tools and accessories that may be necessary to complete the installation. For Mobileye, the technician should have a credential as a Mobile Electronics Certified Professional.  

Upgrade or replace? Read “Do you really need a new car?” to walk through the pros and cons.

Gordon Hard


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