Best products for 2021

  • Which new gadgets joined the market in 2021
  • What's been improved for 2022
  • Cleaning and dashcam tech leaps forward

We like to wrap up the year with the innovations and helpful new gadgets that have been introduced, and this year we’ve had a dedicated products testing team. They’ve been blinded by lights, sprayed with jet washers, and had to get grubby restoring our test cars to showroom freshness – but they’ve also had time for toys and games, too.

Despite chip shortages and logistics issues, the new technology keeps flowing. Battery capacity for cordless hardware has improved dramatically while falling in price, so cordless cleaning has moved on considerably.

Dashcams with expanded capability, cloud storage and even Amazon voice control, sophisticated paint protection you can apply at home, and tiny jump-starting packs with big power have all improved in 2021 as well, meaning you can keep your car sparkling even if it’s being used less, and have all the right gear to compensate for neglected batteries and emergencies.

Show you’re in the right with a dashcam…

The popularity of the dashcam continues to rise. 2021’s crop includes more affordable options with connected features, such as cloud storage and live updates on vehicle location, and even streaming video. Some of these need more gadgets, like in-car hotspots, to work effectively but even the protection of getting an alert on your smartphone when your car is at home and in range of your WiFi gives peace of mind.

New Highway Code means changed priorities, and extra risk

2022 marks the introduction of new rights of way for cyclists and pedestrians on the road; people behind you are going to have to accept you’re doing the right thing by waiting, and if they don’t – you’ll have the evidence to prove it.

Insurance companies are taking dashcams more seriously, with many now offering ‘driving scores’ to help reduce premiums (Nextbase includes links to insurers in the app, for example), and Police forces around the UK are taking reports of dangerous driving further, inviting submissions from drivers and acting on the evidence provided.

It’s a double-edged sword, as your own mistakes are up for scrutiny, but you needn’t feel quite so powerless when someone puts you and your family in danger through their driving or vehicle condition.

Read more: Best affordable dashcams:

Nextbase 622GW

This was last year’s favourite and it remains unbeaten. Solid connectivity, excellent picture quality and an intelligent approach to mounting and power supply – and you can buy them anywhere. Read the full review here.

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..

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.

Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2

Garmin’s Mini form factor is aptly named, and it’s been updated for the Mini 2. 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.

Car wash closed? Cordless cleaning at home

During 2021, there were extended periods where the usual friendly car wash wasn’t available – and we commuted less, too, so were less likely to be passing. As such, cleaning the car at home has moved on from a garden hose, one bucket for soap and another bucket to splash over the roof.

Read more: Parkers cordless pressure washer triple-test

The clear winner in our triple-test of cordless pressure washers is the Ryobi ONE+ 18V. For one of the most affordable options, it delivers impressive results. We particularly like the balance of the handle and battery combination, but ultimately it’s the low cost that makes it so appealing; you’ll end up paying the same as ten typical car washes or sessions at the local jetwash, but can take all the time you need to get your car spotless.

Ryobi 18V cordless pressure washer

Dust, busted – Worx WX020 Cubevac

There are loads of battery-powered gadgets that until recently, were best when corded or petrol-powered – things like hedge trimmers and lawn mowers are now switching to electric power without being compromised or ridiculously expensive.

Although the Cubevac is not the most powerful, it’s very affordable and clever. We think it’s the best compromise for cleaning a little, often, rather than trying to resurrect a neglected interior.

Worx WX030 Cubevac review

If your memory of a battery car vacuum cleaner is the white plastic dustbuster that made a lot of noise and could possibly dislodge a crumb or two from the upholstery, you’re in for a treat.

Of the compact cordless options, the Cubevac is one of the more unusual designs. It uses standard Worx batteries that can be shared with other tools, and it’s easy to pick up and put in convenient places in the car, using a hose for vacuuming. It’s powerful enough for most fabric, though needs a few passes for ingrained dirt on looped carpets.

For more options, check out our guide to the best car vacuum cleaners.

Showroom shine: polish and protection

We tested a lot of paintwork products in 2021, and the main innovation is better ceramic coating and longer-lasting finishes, previously the preserve of specialist car cleaning such as the durable coatings you get offered at the dealer.

Read more: paintwork protection guide

As a one-stop shop for giving your car a thorough refresh, we were impressed with 26JPN’s range. Conveniently, one of the Parkers test cars was a bit grubbier than normal…

A dirty Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

With a full range of solutions, from wheel cleaner and brake dust remover to ceramic coatings, the complementary set of 26JPN products work well together for a professional finish that is easy enough to apply outdoors – at least in summer weather.

A clean Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Buying a used electric car? Get a home charger

This is a relatively new category of product, but it’s one that it’s going to be more important in the future. New car buyers get grants and allowances, and new homes will be legally required to provide charging points – but the requirement is little more than ‘there has to be a 13A socket accessible on the driveway’. You’ll want something more potent if you’re using the car daily or for longer drives.

Read more: the Parkers guide to home EV chargers

Several companies offer home charging solutions to suit the variety of electric cars offered in the UK since the mid-2000s.

Charging points - quick identification

Charging points need professional installation, but are otherwise simple and self-contained. Consumer brands are getting in on the act, too – including Hive, who can manage your electric car charging with the same degree of sophistication as its home heating and lighting controls. Smart schedules, tracking of energy usage and even different styles of box, lighting and cable length are all available to suit your property, though there’s nothing yet to solve the problem of on-street charging – you’ll want a driveway or private car park for these charging points.

Improving your older car

Better Car Lighting

A perennial favourite for classics, upgrading the lights becomes more important every year as your feeble six-volt and tungsten setups get lost in the glare of adaptive LEDs.

Gil Keane develops and builds upgraded lighting for cars. Unlike the LED bulbs marketed for modern cars, which are often illegal, solutions for classic cars are allowed and will pass the MOT. Improved reliability, reduced load on old wiring and longer life than traditional bulbs are the main benefits, but they can look pretty good too.

Sunbeam Alpine can beam brighter with upgraded LED lights

Combination fog/reversing LEDs allow the addition of modern lighting without adding clutter, hazard light kits provide essential safety, vastly upgraded vintage lights improve visibility in 1930s-’50s cars, and you can get LED kits to upgrade more recent halogen lights too – suitable for cars made up to around 1987 for legally-required lights and all types of auxilliary off-road lighting.

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.

 

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.