Best products for 2021

  • What innovations have joined the market in 2020
  • What's been improved for 2021
  • Safety and entertainment improved, maintenance made easy

We like to wrap up the year with the innovations and helpful new gadgets that have been introduced, but to be honest, we haven't exactly been covering thousands of miles, bombarded with press events and trials, and the selection is somewhat limited.

It's been a good year for updating your car, though. Better dashcams with expanded capability, cloud storage and even Amazon voice control, Alexa in your car, cheaper diagnostics and even the ability to add CarPlay to older, more classic cars. Away from the mainstream, there are wider options for updating your car lighting for better visibility and safety.

2020's most pressing concern for many has been remaining safe and sanitised, however. So we'll start with some of the best products we've seen for keeping your car germ free.

2020 and that damned virus

Keyboard cleaning gel

Keyboard cleaning gels are good for cars too

It's a cheap little thing, but it helps clean up and anti-bacterial sanitise your car which has become rather more important in 2020. The gel has benefits over sprays and cloths in that it can flow into narrow gaps in trim and switches, picking up stickier organic matter that a vacuum might leave and leaving a cleaner surface for wiping with antibacterial spray and microfibre cloths.

Slime is fun! Cleaning your car with gel

It's also like playing with slime. And frankly, who doesn't enjoy an excuse to be childish occasionally.

Keyboard cleaning gel from £6.99 on Amazon UK

UV disinfection lamps

They do work – if used correctly – plus they're great if you want some extra Halloween décor. Seriously, though, the UV lamps for disinfecting are generally quite powerful and not filtered like 'blacklights', so please use responsibly.
UV light degrades most things, including bugs and viruses, and the technology is used in a much larger scale in hospitals.

If you share your car regularly, these lamps can be kept in the glovebox for a mess-free 'virtual wipe' over contact points for a little extra peace of mind. We can't measure how effective they are in isolation, but with the usual routines of antibacterial spray, mask and hand washing they offer another layer of treatment based on science, rather than yet more mystery sprays.

Handheld UV sanitising tools on Amazon UK, from £31

Improving your older car

Better Car Lighting

This is more of a one-stop shop for your classic or older car. Gil Keane develops and builds upgraded lighting for cars that would otherwise be lost in modern Britain's sea of LED running lights, signals and signatures, and they improve reliability, reduce load on old wiring and last longer than traditional bulbs.

Sunbeam Alpine can beam brighter with upgraded LED lights

You can get clever combination fog/reversing LEDs, hazard light kits, vastly upgraded vintage lights and LED kits to upgrade more recent halogen lights too – perfectly applicable to cars made into the early 2000s and even some vans offered now.

If you've got something specific in mind, it's worth getting in touch too – Better Car Lighting is a proper enthusiast-lead company where you're talking to the person behind the products.

Better Car Lighting - UK LED lighting upgrades for modern, classic and vintage cars

Adding Amazon Echo – Alexa in your car

Perhaps there's a space you want to get away from the now ubiquitous ever-listening machines, and that's okay, but if you've got used to barking commands at a helpful AI, switches seem so... 20th century. Echo Auto isn't quite as clever as it could be – it's essentially an Echo Dot that uses your smartphone's data and your car's audio system – but it means quick and easy entertainment controls, shopping, reminders, timers and drop-in calls.

It works best if you have a 3.5mm aux input, and keep Bluetooth for the car's connection to hands-free (if you have that), and there's still a way to go before it's as fully-featured as say, Siri and Apple CarPlay – but it's installable in any car with a 3.5mm aux input, relatively cheap, and can be moved from car to car. We expect this to evolve as time goes on – and in particular, for calling features to be improved, as it's one of the best hands-free microphones you'll find for in-car use.
In some countries, it can even offer navigation – but the UK has yet to get that feature.

Amazon Echo Auto, £49 on Amazon UK

Apple CarPlay single-DIN head units

America's most famous – and valuable – brand understands one thing above all; user experience. After decades of tape adaptors, TomToms, cables, wires and Bluetooth profiles for miles, CarPlay transformed the link between your car and your phone, bringing navigation, music, messaging, calls and personal assistant features into one small device you already own. It offers the sort of tech that once cost thousands to get in a car, and it is everywhere.

Except in your older European car, because well into the early 2000s (and even now, for some commercial vehicles) the single-DIN dashboard slot for a radio meant big screens and functions were but a dream. The prevalence of double-DIN and built-in infotainment systems in more recent cars has hit the third-party in-car entertainment industry hard; but Pioneer has been smart and taken that oh-so-2005 idea of the 'pop-out screen' and brought it bang up to date with Apple CarPlay, clean controls and of course, great sound.

Pioneer AVH-Z700DAB

This will fit most cars from the 1980s onwards without significant work – and you can add features such as DAB radio (included, but you need the antenna), reversing camera and so forth in that good old-fashioned 'installing ICE' way. The only downside is that as a pop-out display, if your radio is low or recessed you may not be able to use it.

At under £600, it's also not much more than some manufacturers charge for CarPlay features

Pioneer AVH-7200DAB from £549 on Amazon UK

If you have a double-DIN space (most modern cars have adaptors which allow upgrading built-in systems too), then you can go one better and beat the premium brands to wireless Apple CarPlay. Combined with a wireless charging pad, this sub-£500 Kenwood system can deliver something you won't get in some £50,000 premium brands – yet.

Kenwood DMX2019DABS double-DIN wireless CarPlay head unit from Halfords

Not an Apple user? Don't worry – nearly all of these systems support Android Auto too.

Record every moment

Dashcams have taken off massively in recent years, insurance companies love them and so does YouTube – who can forget the airborne silver van and roundabout video or the endless stream of terrifying hilarity from Russia's roads? The market is bulging at the seams with cheap OEM-style products – the same ones you'll find on garage forecourts or Amazon Prime sales – so how can these stand out?

Nextbase 622GW

Masters of the dashcam art, NextBase have been producing high-end and affordable cams for years, and a consistent brand identity, solid research and development and readily-available installer network via Halfords ensures they're the leading recognised brand in the UK.

Nextbase GW622 Dashcam

That counts for nothing if you're making the same product for four-times the price, though, so the latest 622GW offers a lot more than just 'recording video' for £239.

Nextbase GW622 Dashcam

For starters, the video is 4K resolution and 30 frames per second – and lower resolution HD with 120 frames per second slow-motion recording is also available. Emergency and incident responses, and triggered recording, are all solid and well developed, but the most important aspect is the video quality.

With a circular polariser, large sensor and image stabilisation this is the best you'll get at this price, making it easy to read number plates in some difficult lighting conditions and see detail of road markings and signs. As long as you pair it with your phone all footage is saved and uploaded, no need to faff with the card - another saving (pun intended) grace..

The Nextbase 622GW

There's Alexa integration for voice control and skills integration, What3Words for precise location sharing, and quick footage sharing.

Perhaps the best feature, though, is the hardwiring installation. It's got a discreet magnetic mount and can be quickly installed or removed, and a decent amount of battery for movement activation when parked. It's the best dashcam we've seen all year – but if your budget is smaller, Nextbase's video expertise, mature support and software is available for much less money.

Nextbase 622GW - £239 on Amazon UK

Garmin Dash Cam Mini

If the 622GW above is the best, the Garmin Mini is by far the 'neatest'. This tiny little camera is almost invisible in your car, yet records HD video. It can be hidden behind the mirror, out of your field of view entirely, and it offers 140-degree field of view, HD recording in better quality than you'd expect for the size.

It's not as good at dealing with strong lighting conditions or poor weather, but this is all about the 'invisible' installation and software support – Garmin knows what it's doing and has been around for years, unlike those random-brand small cameras you've seen cheap on Amazon, and this camera will be working and supported for years with software that won't suddenly stop working after an OS update.

This is our recommendation for your first dashcam, or for use in cities where having some expensive electronics on show might not be the best idea. It's also small enough that you can cover inside the car, front and rear with multiple cameras without feeling cluttered, and all that footage can be linked and shared with Garmin auto-sync – ideal for private hire coverage and security.

Garmin Dash Cam Mini - £79 to £99 on Amazon UK

Listen to your car – on-board diagnostics

We're not going to single out one product here; instead, take a look at the vast array of options on Amazon and look for the best solution for your car – but 2020 has been the year that diagnosing your car got cheap. Even Mercedes got in on the act, giving away simple adaptors to link old cars to modern apps, but if you missed out or don't drive a Mercedes there are plenty of gadgets to get your attention.

Browse on-board diagnostic systems on Amazon UK

Wireless scanners are usually less than £10 and work via Bluetooth and your smartphone. These can often reset typical fault codes and provide basic diagnostic information, but they're more commonly used for extra displays in performance cars, providing engine data via apps such as TorquePro.

Do read the reviews – not all of them work first time or are well supported on all smartphones or computers – but they generally use the same chipset and methods of communication. Great for making sure you don't have any ABS, airbag or emissions faults before prepping your car for MoT.

An Autel hand-held code reader

Handheld scanners are aimed at workshop use – and these will have large buttons for quick menu navigation and shortcuts to reset airbag warnings and emissions codes. Some may be application specific, but most code readers can handle engine, braking and airbag codes.

Diagnostic systems are where 2020 really has leapt ahead. Previously 'body codes' and specific systems were the realm of computers costing thousands; now you can get diagnostic tablets with manufacturer specific profiles for common issues such as key reprogramming for less than £200, and these computers have better displays, better software and improved support compared to 2018-19.

Buy with care – these are specialised tools – but if you know what you're doing, you can save hundreds of pounds by avoiding garage time spent diagnosing an issue or constantly having fault-lights reset when the systems are otherwise functional or you've repaired them yourself.