Photo by Jason Mueller/Jetspace Magazine

I am lucky enough to own a paid off vehicle. Although parking can get expensive. It’s a 2003 Pontiac Vibe AWD, a trusty little workhorse. It’s not the newest or the fastest, and doesn’t really exude sexy sportiness, but to me, it’s perfect.

As with all cars produced after 1996, it has what’s known as an OBDII port, an output connection used for diagnostics from your car’s computer to ensure your vehicle is running as well as it should be. Today, newer vehicles display a lot of this information on adaptive LED displays on your dashboard cluster to help you improve fuel efficiency, lessen distractions, and avoid many of the potential perils of driving.

Newer cars are impressive. Their integrated computers allow for greater control and output information, as well as safety and user interface. At times, as a safety precaution, the new cars take more control than the driver, which for some drivers is a necessary plus, but for me, is unneeded. But certain things I’ve been missing, like more in-depth computer information output and hands free integration have left me longing, until now.

Since my car is showing its digital age, I wanted to update some of its electronic bits. One of those is a Bluetooth OBDII reader, which pairs with both iPhone and Android devices, that I purchased for $12.99 on Amazon. This device allows me to access all of the information and controls available to the vehicle when paired with an App like AUTOMATE or DASH. It’s near identical to systems natively integrated to current car models and interactive displays. Since my dash cluster is limited to simply a fuel gauge, engine temperature, RPM and speed, this will allow me to see my vehicles voltage output, transmission temperature, estimated fuel range and fuel economy/consumption, and much more. Newer vehicle models also have the option for control though the OBDII reader for things like remote start, remote lights, emergency alarm, vehicle tracking, etc.

There are similar dedicated products from companies such as AUTOMATIC, HUM through Verizon, and VINLI through T-Mobile, that either have a price tag over $80 or require a monthly subscription on top of the initial hardware purchase. The purchase of this OBDII reader coupled with the right App gains me all the functionality of its pricier competitors for much less. Unfortunately, I see too many drivers with phone in hand, whether for “practical” use like driving directions or distractions like texting instead of focusing on driving safely. Many of those that do drive are extremely unaware that windshield phone/navigation mounts are illegal in many states, including Washington state, along with anything hanging from the rearview mirror or anything obstructing the drivers view.

One other thing clearly needed updating: my car stereo. Even though I had replaced the stock head unit for an aftermarket one, the functionality was identical. I had tried to make improvements to integrate my smartphone for streaming music and navigation, but I longed for a more permanent solution. I had mounted my device below my stereo with Velcro and a snap-on phone cover, used an FM transmitter for my audio connectivity, and my in-dash power inverter to keep my device charged. This felt antiquated, though.

I had remembered seeing an aftermarket stereo with integrated GPS dock years ago. While extremely practical, they disappeared with the introduction of the smartphone. I was hopeful that another company had developed a similar unit meant to dock a smartphone. Recently, I came across an outstanding product, the Sony XSP N1BT. They were only pos produced from 2014 to 2015 for $250, I scoured the internet (Amazon) and purchased a new-in-box unit for $150. This dock unit paired perfectly with Sony Xperia smartphones. It was also perfect for many Android and Apple devices. The unit itself has simple display and included a remote as a secondary user interface. The real gem to this stereo is the ability to dock your smartphone onto the face of the unit. Partnered up with the proprietary app, Sony’s APP REMOTE, it gives you full control via Bluetooth for tuner controls, USB music playback, streaming music, audio and visual navigation integration, and even text readout and reply. It’s modest design without a phone mounted to it does not bring attention to itself, nor invite thieves to partake in a smash and grab.

Pairing of the OBDII reader and the Sony stereo phone dock is the perfect marriage for updating an older vehicle. With these, I have added a safely feature which allows for seamless and hands free interaction with my smart device, and allows me to monitor all operations of my car’s engine and computer that my dashboard gauges do not display. Even if I decide to upgrade my smartphone, I will not lose the functionality of these great devices as I can easily reinstall the apps and pair via Bluetooth.