How to Modernize Old Cars

The average age of cars and light trucks on American roads is around 12 years. This is most likely because the average transaction price for a new vehicle exceeds $44,000. Fortunately, cars are now built to last much longer than they were just a few years ago. However, this means that most cars on the road lack a lot of the driver information, safety, and convenience features found in newer vehicles.

New Car Interior Upgrades

Several companies have recognized this and offer accessories that can be added to older vehicles. Consider them “downloadable upgrades” for your older vehicle, allowing you to have the functionality of a new car without the payments.

Large-screen radio/navigation

This is the most obvious upgrade, and it’s especially simple for older vehicles with less integrated in-car entertainment systems. Many well-known car audio companies sell head-end units that include Bluetooth connectivity as well as the ability to pair with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and other in-car apps. Many also offer fold-out or fixed large-format displays, which give dashes the “floating screen” look that’s popular among auto interior designers right now.


It may seem obvious now, but wirelessly connecting a cellphone to a car’s audio system was only a “thing” in the last ten years. That’s probably why so many drivers clutch their cellphones like slices of pizza also, don’t do that.

Luxury Car Modifications

For cars with complex integrated audio systems that lack Bluetooth connectivity, a simple stand-alone will allow safe cellphone operation while also complying with local regulations regarding the use of electronic devices while driving. To make the setup look more factory-correct, more elaborate systems can plug directly into an older car’s OEM radio.

Lights that welcome

This trend began with “puddle lamps” mounted beneath side-view mirrors to help provide light as a driver or passenger enters and exited a vehicle. Then, as automakers adopted more sophisticated LED lighting technology, those lamps evolved into elaborate logo projections and even virtual “welcome mats.” This type of “surprise and delight” feature is now available for any older vehicle. When a door is opened, wireless units project a car logo or other design onto the pavement, giving older vehicles a 21st-century signature element.


Rear-view cameras are now required safety equipment, but there are still many vehicles that lack this potentially life-saving technology. Several companies sell a camera that can be mounted above a car’s license plate and has either a wired or wireless connection to an in-dash receiver or radio or smartphone. The same kits can be used on the front of a car to project distance guidelines to help with parking.

Backup Cameras

Aside from adding a rear or front-facing camera, some companies sell cameras designed to mount under side-view mirrors and can be combined with other cameras to create a 360-degree around-view perspective.

Wrapping Your Body

Higher-end manufacturers have been displaying cars with matte-finish paint for several years. A matte paint finish, far from looking like it’s still in primer, can make a new car stand out while emphasizing decorative contours and other design features. A vinyl full-body wrap is a low-risk way for the owner of an older car to achieve this look. It costs about the same as a new paint job and also requires a solid underlying finish, but it’s less permanent and can help protect the body.


Once the domain of high-end luxury and sports cars, heated front, and even rear, seats are now available on a variety of mid-priced vehicles. For the time being, massaging inserts designed to reduce fatigue while driving is mostly available as factory options on high-end vehicles, but the aftermarket has stepped in to offer buyers add-on cushions that provide heat and massage to the user.

Car Seat Massagers

They may lack the OEM appearance of integrated heated and massaging seats, but who cares? When you’re sitting on the covers, no one can see them, right?

Tire Pressure

It’s been more than a decade since carmakers in the United States and Europe were required to install technology that monitors tire pressures and alerts the driver when a tire is low. It’s a potentially life-saving feature that many older cars don’t have. Companies are now selling the technology aftermarket, using special valve stem caps that communicate wirelessly with either a dash-mounted receiver or a 12V plug for the car’s dash-mounted power point.


Dents and dings are unavoidable when parking, especially in congested urban areas. Many newer vehicles include parking sensors that sound an alert if they are too close to an obstacle in the front or rear. Aftermarket companies now sell devices that perform the same function. It can be as complex as installing multiple sensors behind or inside the car’s bumpers, or as simple as attaching a license plate frame with sensors embedded to provide a proximity alert.


The ability of a modern car to “tell” a mechanic what’s wrong by displaying error codes on a service professional’s diagnostic tool is one of the benefits of the growth in computer control of cars. These tools connect to a standard port located beneath the dashboard. Owners of many older vehicles can now take advantage of this technology by using a small plug-in that is Bluetooth-connected to a smartphone app. Reading the codes on the app allows the owner to troubleshoot the annoying “check engine” light before paying a mechanic.


If the thought of twisting a physical key to start your older car causes your hand to cramp, the automotive aftermarket has a solution: Add-on kits that replace the ignition lock on a car with a modern push-button starter and include proximity fobs for remote starting and locking/unlocking. Adding a keyless start to an older car, unlike some of the other items on this list, is most likely not a do-it-yourself project, but it’s a good way to bring cutting-edge convenience and technology to an older ride.