The best automobile aftermarket gadgets are more than neat-o gizmos that wow friends. They're elegant solutions to real-world problems. Seat warmers are unnecessary, if you ask me. But the ability to find a hotel in a snowstorm, to avoid backing over your snow shovel or to know when there's a speed trap up ahead-these are problems that warrant solutions. In the quest to make the journey to the hill safe, comfortable and entertaining, we've assembled the best of the bunch and put them to the test.
Click the slideshow below for pictures of these gizmos.
Lost and Found>Garmin StreetPilot 2620, $1,750 A factory navigation systems isn't cheap, and often when you need it most, it's parked in your garage, and you're lost in Denver, driving a rental car. The solution: a portable system. Last season Garmin helped me escape some snowed-in Wyoming backcountry, so I tried out its plug-and-play GPS, Street-Pilot, this year. You don't need instructions to operate it. Just plunk the beanbag dock on your dashboard (no suction cups, no drilling), fit the small GPS unit on top, plug it into the cigarette lighter, and you're up and running. Gas stations, restaurants and airports are preloaded, and satellites track your location, providing a map scaled anywhere between 900 feet and 6,100 miles. The touch-screen adjusts for available light, and the system allows for roadblocks and detours. I've got a five-hill ski trip coming up this season, and for once, the only reason I'll need to stop at a gas station will be for gas.
Radar Love>Passport 8500 X50, $300-$340 Pennsylvania hates me. I can't get through without a ticket, and I don't even drive that fast (most of the time). I've gone through four detectors in five years, and the 8500 X50 is unequaled. It wins shootout after shootout in the magazines, courtesy of an increased sensitivity in the range of K- and Ka-band radar-the kind troopers fancy. On a recent trip through Colorado, as I was traveling one of those long, barren roads, it went off for minutes and minutes until I began to doubt its accuracy. But there he was, behind a billboard. Sorry, officer. I'm on to your radar ways.
Back to the Future>Audiovox Rear View Observation Package (RVMPKG3), $600 Not long ago I had to back a Chevy Suburban down a mountain road blocked by a fallen tree. I kept waiting for the crunch of back bumper against some unseen obstacle, like a tree or a small, terrified animal. Most SUVs have dangerous blind spots, and I would have relished Audiovox's rear-observation package. A camera in the rear bumper connects to an LCD panel in the left side of the rearview mirror. When you shift into reverse, the system kicks on, giving you the full picture. Genius.
Musicology>Rio Carbon MP3, $249I hate toting CDs in my car. They get scratched and lost. A portable MP3 player is the answer. Rio Audio has just released the five-gigabyte Carbon, which I brought on a long road trip. It patches in through my FM radio via a small adapter that costs around $30 (the one by Belkin is good). Not once did I hear a song repeated or a DJ's chatter. The Carbon is business-card tiny, and it's cheaper than Apple's iPod. It also carries 80 hours of MP3 music. Even better, it goes where you go. At Jackson Hole, I disconnected it, popped it into an arm band and rocketed down blacks to the Rolling Stones.