Clark Howard: New car gadgets come at a premium

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

ClarkHowardI have an easy way for you to save money on your next car. Think aftermarket when it comes to car technology.

My wife only buys used cars and her last one came with a built-in GPS unit. The vehicle was a little more than two years old when she got it and even by then the GPS unit was obsolete and hard to use by today’s standards. If you buy a dash-mounted GPS when you get your car, you’ll pay up to 10 times what a portable one costs — and that portable one will run circles around it.

Smart Money magazine recently ran a story about what a rip it is to buy car electronics from auto manufacturers. The GPS is the most obvious example. The technology in GPS units goes through a revolution almost every six months. But there’s no way you buy a new car every six months, so you’re always behind the curve.

Another example is all the technology for showing video in cars — we’re on the cusp of watching Internet video in cars.

In fact, in my family we’re already watching Netflix in our car. My wife has an iPad and I have a built-in hotspot in my phone. So our kids can go down the highway watching Netflix in the car. This set-up costs nothing compared to an installed manufacturer-based entertainment system in the car that will be obsolete soon and costs a zillion dollars. Well, $1,600 is the usual price, but you could buy three iPads for that money!

Finally, backup cameras from the manufacturers can be a fortune. On the other hand, Smart Money says aftermarket ones are around $180, even with night vision capability.

You can insert any of a number of electronics devices in this discussion. So think portable. Think flexible. Think aftermarket and ca-ching because you’ll save thousands of dollars.

-by Clark Howard, Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs

Find more answers to your consumer questions at You can also listen to his radio show live Monday through Friday 1-4 p.m. on AM 750 and NOW 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB.

21 comments Add your comment

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February 24th, 2011
6:30 am

Another even better way to save on GPS, is to not buy one at all. There is something called a map that works better, if you know how to read one.
Back up cameras? Give me a break. Try paying attention when you drive, and not letting anything distract you from that task.

Now, that’s saving money, and I fail to see any advantages of letting the kiddies watch netflix while riding. That can distract the driver. Try a little discipline, and stop being such a pushover.

Bill Johnson

February 24th, 2011
7:03 am

Well, shaggy, I like maps and all, but I just can’t find the ‘you are here’ dot on mine.

But the real reason not to buy the auto GPS is as Clark says – it’s instantly out of date. Well, so is my GPS – they sell maps yearly. But my smartphone, with GPS and googlemaps? It’s got the dot, it’s got nav directions…I’m thinking the snandalone GPS may be going away…


February 24th, 2011
7:44 am

Bill Johnson,

I travel extensively, mostly for pleasure, and I have never needed a “you are here” dot. I have seen and laughed at them on mall directories. I laughed because of the mystified reaction by the reader and their need to carefully look around to see if they are really there.
I guess i just know where I am at any given time.


February 24th, 2011
7:47 am

Oh, as for the “smart phone”. I skip those too. I just want to talk on a phone, I think texting is obnoxious, and have no need to surf the net on an itty bitty screen, while trekking.


February 24th, 2011
8:12 am

shaggy – if you’re driving down the road looking at your map, then I don’t want my family anywhere near you!


February 24th, 2011
8:44 am

shaggy uses a horse and buggy to get around town. Shaggy also still has a black and white tv b/c the color is just too much. Shaggy uses candles to light his house b/c light bulbs are too costly…I think im surprised shaggy has a computer…that might seem too advanced..


February 24th, 2011
9:00 am

Whatever & DC,

I look with my eyes, process with my brain’s memory of the map, and go the right direction. I know that is a kind of thinking that takes some work, especially for gadget people whose brains have atrophied, due to lack of use. However, it seldom fails me, so I will keep doing it and save my money. I would suggest you try it, but these days, it’s not for everyone.

Oh, whatever – I don’t look at a map and drive. I look at the map before I drive. Big difference. If I need it again, I pull over…simple as that. I guess that makes whatever’s world a little safer.


February 24th, 2011
9:06 am

you do know how much a gps costs correct?…and as much as you travel for leisure..i have a feeling you can easily afford it..some cost 50 bucks…just say its 1 day of your leisure driving..


February 24th, 2011
9:07 am

Hey DC,

You forgot, shaggy makes his own arrowheads. Yes, that is true, and they are indistinguishable from those made by our ancestors. I just got finished knapping a Clovis spear point that turned out to be a beauty. It will sell for hundreds of dollars, after I finish the mount.
I guess you are pretty good with on and off switches, huh?


February 24th, 2011
9:43 am

I think shaggy needs to get over himself…


February 24th, 2011
10:37 am

Shaggy is right about one thing. Texting and surfing the internet on a cell phone is a distraction I don’t want and anything you have to look at while driving down the road is dangerous no matter who you are. I know people who are so addicted to their smart phone they have it glued to the hand most of the time. It’s annoying when you’re trying to have a normal conversation with someone who has to keep holding their phone and caressing it like a friggin’ security blanket! My wife bought me a GPS, but I find myself referring to the old reliable Rand McNally map because Garmin always wants to take me to some out-of-the-way route that doesn’t make sense! IMO they’re not always 100% reliable. I guess people feel it’s cool to have all of this neat technology, but to me the cost adds up with all of this expensive stuff like your iPhones, iPads, back-up cameras and blue-ray-in-car video players. And is it really worth having this stand alone technology that quickly becomes obsolete where you end up having to replace it every couple of years or you’re locked into a high monthly fee or you have no choice but to pay for annual upgrades so the GPS recognizes where your dot is?


February 24th, 2011
12:55 pm

My Android phone with free navigation made my $200 TomTom obsolete in about a minute.


February 24th, 2011
1:00 pm

Shaggy you are the mightest of all trolls.


February 24th, 2011
1:00 pm


February 24th, 2011
2:28 pm

I’m with you Shaggy. People are so consumed with gadgets, it’s sickening.We have lost all of our ability to do just about anything, unless there’s a gadget attached, and it’s just really sad.


February 24th, 2011
2:48 pm

I’m a Rand McNally kinda girl – GPS is a waste of money IMO


February 24th, 2011
4:48 pm

Going to have to side with Shaggy myself. My maps work just fine. TV in a car, not mine. Back up camera? If you need one, you don’t need to be driving.


February 26th, 2011
5:26 pm

I thinks it’s funny how the old farts like Shaggy are afraid of technology. God forbid we do anything to make our lives easier.


February 27th, 2011
7:33 am

Navigating by map is great and can get you just about everywhere you want to go. But if you are traveling through a strange city with bad traffic, my GPS will route me around that wreck up ahead that is blocking all four lanes. Even in Atlanta I am not familiar with all the side streets, so I can use the feature built into the GPS, or wait in traffic until I can pull over, spend time routing out a detour through strange streets and then navigate my way. I think I will go with technology on this one.


February 28th, 2011
8:28 am

While I do think Clark rightly points out items that are huge profit margins for car dealers, you cannot under estimate the value of having devices properly integrated into the vehicle. A tacked on DVD screen or a GPS mount screwed into the dash on a used vehicle is a no sale for me. If you are going to go the aftermarket route and want some return on you investment, have a professional do it.

I do appreciate what manufactures like Ford is doing with their Sync system. It allows you to bring your own smartphone and have it interface with the head unit. Kia/Hyundai is rolling out their version and other manufactures are catching up. Some of these systems will let you plug in a USB 3G/4G adapter that turns you vehicle into a rolling hot spot.

Each avenue has pro’s and con’s. But in the end, there is no substitute for an educated consumer.