Soup Up Your Car With Cheaper Add-Ons

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Are you happy with your 10-year-old computer? How about your vintage 90s cell phone with the monochrome four-line screen?

Nobody but a collector would keep such antiques, and even collectors wouldn’t rely on them for day-to-day use. But millions of car buyers condemn themselves to years of electronic obsolescence by loading up on navigation systems and other options that will be out of date long before their vehicles are ready for the scrap heap.

With so many options out there, from heated steering wheels to satellite radio and MP3 inputs, it pays for car buyers ask if there’s a better (and cheaper) alternative that will be easier to upgrade down the road.

Both cars and electronics are getting better, but at their own pace. Cars are last longer than they used to, while electronic gadgets’ useful life gets shorter and shorter; many are out of date almost as soon as you get them.

In all fairness, the hottest vehicle electronics - navigation systems - can generally be upgraded. In many systems, for example, the user can purchase a DVD with the latest maps, then follow a series of steps to get the data into the device. But other features may not change with these data updates; a few months after you buy your car, newer navigation systems may offer touch screens or voice commands, and they’re sure to be better at finding the nearest gas station, motel or Vietnamese restaurant.

The best route is to forgo the expensive nav system and get a smartphone, like an iPhone or BlackBerry, with a dashboard mount. The latest smartphones, like those that use Google's Android software, provide free, voice-activated navigation. The maps are constantly and automatically updated, so when your phone becomes obsolete in a couple years, you can upgrade to the latest and greatest for far less than you’d spend replacing a built-in navigation system.