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Old Cars Safer

Shane Coulter wants his 16-year-old daughter’s car to be as safe as possible when she takes to the road. But like many older vehicles, the 2008 Jeep Wrangler that he bought for her lacked many high-tech safety features, like a rearview camera, that are increasingly found in newer cars.

But that didn’t mean he had to be left out of the technological revolution. Audiovox makes a rearview camera that can be added on.

“I actually put it on my daughter’s Jeep,” said Mr. Coulter, who lives in Warner Robins, Ga.

The rearview camera is one of the most popular of a growing list of add-on devices and services that promise to bring modern features to aging jalopies.

“Lane departure and collision warning, pedestrian warnings, high-beam control and traffic sign recognition — all of those can be retrofitted in a customer’s car,” said Elad Serfaty, a vice president at Mobileye, whose technology is built into a variety of vehicles from BMW, Volvo and other carmakers that offer collision detection and prevention.

Consequently, many car accessory companies are joining the driver assistance trend. Garmin, hoping to resuscitate flagging sales of portable navigation devices, has incorporated such technology in its $400 nüviCam LMTHD. The navigation device has a built-in video camera that scans the road ahead, offering not only directions but also chimes and yellow icon warnings whenever a driver drifts out of the lane or starts tailgating.

Usually cited as a major distraction to drivers, smartphones are also being enlisted to create alert systems. One of the earliest and most extensive driver assistance apps was iOnRoad, now owned by Harman International. Using a smartphone’s built-in camera, the app monitors the car’s speed and distance from the vehicle ahead, sounding a loud alarm if the distance shrinks too quickly or the driver fails to brake sufficiently.

Using the app can feel like having a digital back-seat driver that chides you every time you drift too close to the fog line. But iOnRoad’s constant pings can work to adjust driving habits, like improving driver alertness and increasing the following distance between cars.

“If you have a teenage driver, the app will allow you to analyze driving habits,” said Alon Atsmon, vice president for technology strategy at Harman. “It can log events, such as tailgating and lane departure warnings, then score his driving compared to other drivers around the world.” The basic app is free; a premium $5 version adds dashcamlike video recording and speed limit sign recognition.

Many customers decide to upgrade the older family car when it gets handed down to a new teenage driver, according to Keith Imbriglio, the manager at Long Radio, an installation firm in Hadley, Mass.

Among the most popular add-ons, he said, are rearview cameras like the one Mr. Coulter installed on his daughter’s Wrangler. They all but eliminate blind spots behind vehicles.

The Audiovox ACA900, which Mr. Coulter purchased, is a $129 wide-angle backup video camera with an ultrasonic sensor. It mounts in a rear license plate bracket and sounds proximity warnings and displays a picture in a dashboard LCD screen or replacement rearview mirror.

When the car is put into reverse, the rearview picture appears, including distance and parking guidelines. If the driver gets too close to a pedestrian or nearby obstruction, the system beeps loudly and powerfully and shows a red “STOP” alert on the video monitor.

The biggest problem with the systems, Mr. Imbroglio said, is that they take a lot of time to install. Labor can add $70 to $100 to the price for consumers, many of whom may balk at sinking more money into an aging vehicle with tens of thousands of miles on it.

So some drivers opt for do-it-yourself tracking and car monitoring devices that simply plug into the onboard diagnostic or OBD-II port under the dashboard of cars built from 1996 onward. The proliferation of OBD II devices include models like those pitched by insurance companies promising to lower rates for good driving habits or those from Silicon Valley start-ups looking to capitalize on the connected car trend.