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The challenges and benefits of retrofitting old cars with new safety tech

5 minutes

Owning an older car doesn't mean you have to miss out on the latest safety technology, as there’s plenty of kit now available to quickly and easily retrofit to many ageing cars.

  • Exploring the costs and benefits of additional safety kit
  • A collection of the best tech currently on the market
  • Expert advice on what to look out for

If you own an older vehicle and feel that your driving experience could be made a little safer and a little easier, you’re probably right – there’s a number of gadgets you can add to your car to improve safety, make certain manoeuvres easier and even help you with car insurance claims.

We take a look at some of the most popular systems on the market and ask the experts for their advice and opinion on whether it's worth the time, effort and cash to fit them to older cars. 

Safety is the name of the game

Recent changes in the Euro NCAP safety tests, the industry standard for new car crash testing, has meant that vehicle manufacturers now must do all they can to keep occupants safe and secure.

Where once airbags, crumple zones and pedestrian safety elements were the norm, it's now become commonplace for even the most basic models to feature advanced safety tech in order to bag the coveted five-star rating.

These cutting-edge suites include autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assistance and even night vision cameras to help drivers see in the dark. However, fitting this sort of system to an older car would require a degree in engineering and some deep pockets, so you may want to look for simpler, more affordable technology.

Admittedly, some of these systems are going to be either too difficult or expensive to fit to an older vehicle, but that doesn't mean a used car has to be barren of tech.

Dash cams, parking sensors, blind spot monitors, lane departure warning systems and even front collision detection alarms can be purchased and installed for a lot less hassle and money than you might think. 

Dash-ing good looks

Arguably the simplest piece of safety technology a vehicle owner can fit is the humble dash cam and, according to Heather Yates, Halfords’ in-car technology expert, the popularity of the tech continues to grow.

‘We polled 2,000 motorists this year and 16% claimed to own a dash cam,’ Heather explains. 

‘A big leap in technology has now put them within reach of most budgets and it’s one key motoring trend that shows no sign of slowing down,’ she continued. ‘They help guard against dangerous drivers and ‘crash for cash’ scams.’

The devices don’t cost much and are relatively easy to set-up. However, more complex hard-wired systems will usually require help from a professional installer. 

All-seeing eyes

Another system that incorporates miniscule lenses and is proving a big hit with customers is the reversing camera.

Typically, this system will come as part of the more luxurious trim levels found in most new cars, but can easily be installed into most existing models with minimal fuss and mess.

‘The aftermarket kits we see typically include a camera and monitor, which are connected via interior wiring or wirelessly, and give drivers a clear picture when backing up,’ explains Heather.

The camera kits cost anywhere between £60 and £200, with image quality and reliability generally determining price, while Bluetooth-enabled head units cost as little as £100.  

A sixth sense

The rapid advancement of sensors has been the driving force behind some of the cutting-edge technology now appearing on new cars, including the rise in autonomous driving and self-parking.

Fitting this sort of system to an older car would require a degree in engineering and some deep pockets, but simpler, more affordable technology is widely available.

Affordable parking sensors can be installed into rear bumpers with relative ease and hooked up to an audible speaker that's placed somewhere discreetly inside the car.

These sensors detect the distance between an obstacle and the rear of the car, letting off handy beeps when it senses the vehicle is getting too close.

Former Used Car Editor at WhatCar? Magazine and freelance motoring journalist Alex Robbins suggests that a sprinkling of new technology can help bring an older car up to date, but suggests owners approach the subject carefully.

‘Don't forget that some modern technologies will require additional wiring or more complicated modifications, which could have an impact on budget,’ he says.

‘You should also check with your insurer before you carry out any work, as all modification must be declared to the insurance company to ensure the policy isn't affected in any way,’ he adds.

However, when it comes to safety tech, many insurers will view changes and additions in a positive light. 

The price of inflation

Properly inflated tyres are essential to safe and economical driving, but physically checking them before drives can become tiresome.

Modern vehicles often feature a tyre pressure monitoring system as standard, but older cars can also benefit from technology.

Kits costing between £30 and £60 often include four valve caps that are fitted in place of the regular plastic caps.

The caps are smart and send a signal to a smartphone app or in-car display to give a constant read-out of tyre pressure. Alerts can also be set-up to warn drivers if tyre pressure is getting too low.

But remember that not all modifications will actually add value to a used car and could potentially leave you out of pocket when it comes time to sell.

‘Don't assume that upgrading your car will make it more desirable to a used car buyer,’ explains Alex Robbins. ‘The latter particularly applies to classic cars, which are often more sought after in their original state.’ 

Even if you don’t have the latest model, with all the up-to-date safety features installed, you can still fit your car with useful, low-cost technology to improve your driving experience.

Find out more about how modern safety features could be affecting your driving ability.

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