A few gadgets and DIY tricks to improve the quality of your drive time.
USB Power Multiplied
Tablet computer and smartphones are replacing paper maps and directories, which is great, except that iPads and iPhones gulp down battery power on a long trip. Most cars have just one USB power point for recharging your gizmos, and that’s not going to be enough for a 12-hour road trip, or if you have a carload of people playing Angry Birds.
You can, however, add two additional (and more powerful) USB points to a cigarette lighter socket. Sporty’s Pilot Shop sells a plug-in unit with two 2.1-amp USB outlets, enough to charge even Apple’s power-hungry iPad. Cigarette lighter sockets can handle more than 10 amps, so this is a convenient way to make sure your camera, video game, MP3 player, and tablet computer stay charged during hours on the road.
Homemade Electronics Dock
Bean-bag-style dashboard electronics holders don’t work well in the corners. And the suction windshield mounts that come with most GPS navigators can block your view of the road (in some places you can even get ticketed for this). So we thought up a better way.
Buy a small sheet of dark gray or black plastic at a hobby shop and cut out about a 6-inch square. Then on one side stick self-adhesive strips of hook-and-loop fasteners (Velcro), hook side only. On your dashboard stick the loop (softer) side of smaller strips to hold the plastic square in place. Finally, on the side of the plastic that faces the driver, stick on small pieces of hook-and-loop to hold your iPod, smartphone, or other gadgets in place.
Pro RAM Ball Mounts
Here’s another way to get rid of those suction-cup mounts that fall off the windshield on hot days. A more sturdy way to mount electronics in the driver’s view is to use the RAM-type ball-and-clamp mounts, which use a fixed ball that is permanently mounted. The fixed ball is discreet when the mounting bracket is removed, and study when the whole unit is installed.
A Coat Rack That’s Not Terrible
Car coat hooks are lousy, especially if you have rear seat passengers who don’t want your bomber jacket in their faces. Our solution is to use a mesh bungee that you can find at a motorcycle shop. These 18-inch-square stretchy nets are intended to hold a spare helmet onto the rear seat or fender of a motorcycle. We attached their four corners to the four grab handles on the ceilings of cars with wire ties, stretching the bungees until they are taut. The result is a sort of hammock to hold coats, hats, gloves, and whatever else you want to keep off the car’s floor. Most vehicles have enough of a curved ceiling that your stuff will remain higher than a person’s line of sight out the rear window.
Floating Phone Holder
If you use your phone’s controls often while driving (and you live somewhere where this is legal), then keep the phone within reach to limit the time your eyes are off the road. The best way we’ve found is to use a dedicated phone mount on a gooseneck, similar to the placement of a console shifter. Some of these mounts use flexible hydraulic tubing, but the ones we like use true gooseneck tubing. Some of them even have plastic conduit that can cover wires.
Better Cup Holders
Back in 1993, now-defunct Pontiac offered 15 cup holders in its Trans Sport minivan. Most cars these days can’t host quite so big of a party, and the cup holders they have are annoying: Center-console-located cup holders block your arm during shifting, and door-pocket cup holders are too low to reach.
Boating and marine stores have gimbaled drink holders that you can mount high on the door panels of your car, which we find is the most convenient place while you’re driving. Just be careful not to slam the door with a Starbucks Trenta there.
Enhanced Door Pocket
If you’re carrying an assortment of stuff such as pens, notepads, or small cameras, keep it all organized with cordura toolbelt pouches, which you can buy at big box stores. Screwdriver sleeves are perfect for tire pressure gauges, and larger tool pouches can hold sunglasses and flashlights.
You can use hook-and-loop adhesive fasteners to attach them by their top sleeves to the door panels, although during off-road and pre-runner truck trips we’ve actually riveted the pouches to the doors with fender washers.
Remote CB and Radar Detector
There was a time in the late 1970s when no self-respecting driving enthusiast got behind the wheel without a radar detector and a CB radio. These days, due to the outlawing of radar detectors in large trucks, the good ‘ol CB radio is still a valuable source of information passed on by commercial truckers, typically including traffic delays, accident locations, and, yes, the locations of speed traps. Truckers depend upon large radios, but we’ve found that discreet handheld units can be mounted almost out of sight and still provide clear sound and the ability to transmit. In addition, these days you can get remotely mounted radar detectors from companies like Escort that can be placed in other parts of the car, away from the eyes of law enforcement.
No matter how large and flexible the visors in your car or truck may be, there always seems to be that gap somewhere, during sunset or sunrise, where light can temporarily blind you and you just can’t block it. Pilots use a windshield’s surface static to hold tinted plastic sheets to areas where the sun is shining in. You can place these small, moveable sheets on the windshield or side windows to knock down the intensity of sunlight and save your eyes some strain.
Cockpit Cargo Carriers
There can never be too many bins and cubbies to hold all the gadgets, snacks, notepads, and other miscellany you want at the ready during a road trip. One handy area for keeping extra stuff accessible is just under your knees; trunk cargo bins are too big for this space, but the kind of covered cargo carriers meant for the tiny cockpits of small airplanes fit perfectly here. We like the Sporty’s Pilot Shop’s Covered Floor Organizer, which is designed to fit between the narrow seat rails of a Cessna 172. You can bungee it to the front of your car’s seat to keep it in place.