Image: Garmin nüvi 1490/1490T
If you want a stand-alone GPS unit, touchscreens are a good way to go, and another plus is having a unit with voice recognition for certain commands.
updated 3/29/2011 7:56:43 AM ET 2011-03-29T11:56:43

Getting ready to go shopping for the latest tech gadget for your car? Perhaps it's one of those hands-free phone kits, or maybe a GPS unit. But where do you start? What information is the most important when you're buying car tech? We've listed a few things we think are the most important for you to remember as you head to the store:

1. Not all vehicles are created equal. This is one of the most important things to keep in mind when buying any car accessory, especially with tech gadgets. When it comes to stereos, amplifiers, equalizers and other components, you want to make sure there is an installation kit for your vehicle. This will ensure that the wiring harnesses match up and you won't have to splice into any factory wiring.

Another thing to consider is where you will mount accessories. Take, for example, a cell phone holder or GPS holder. You want to make sure you have enough real estate on your dashboard for the device in question, or at least have an alternate site picked out where you will mount the device. Most cradles of this type that hold tech devices are fairly easy to install, especially when compared to the aforementioned stereo unit.

2. Location, location, location: It's everything. When you purchase a GPS unit, the idea is that you will be able to find out what your location is. There are several factors that affect how accurate a GPS unit is and how fast it can pull up location information. All of this is key to the decision to buy a new unit. One thing you don't want is a pretty unit with bells and whistles that fails to work fast enough or precisely enough for your needs. Keeping this in mind, here are the key features to look for when buying a new GPS unit:

  • Accuracy is determined by how many satellites the receiver can pick up. The average unit will be accurate to within 15 meters. If you need greater accuracy, you will need more satellite coverage.
  • Maps are half of the reason for getting a GPS. Make sure you're satisfied with the map software included and that it features the things you will be looking for while on the road, such as gas stations, restaurants, and hotel locations.
  • If you're considering a portable unit that can be carried out of the car, look for weather-resistant features.
  • If you plan to go hands-free, make sure your GPS has a touchscreen. This makes it much easier to use while driving. Even better is a unit with voice recognition for certain commands. What you don't want is anything that will distract you from the task of driving.

3. Accessories come in all different shapes and sizes. There is no real "one size fits all" when it comes to accessories for your tech gadgets. You will find generic items for sale that claim to be universal, but usually they don't match up as nicely as accessories made for a specific brand or model of equipment. Gadget manufacturers usually have their own line of accessories that you can purchase when you get your new device. However, just because it's made by the manufacturer doesn't mean it's the best option available.

Shop around and make sure that the accessory you want isn't available at a cheaper price somewhere else. In fact, you just might find a better quality product on the market than the one the manufacturer is offering for sale.

4. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Not everyone will want to tackle such a daunting task as car stereo installation, but it's also important that you have the right tools if you do. Some dashboards require special screwdrivers in order to get to the mounting brackets for the factory stereo unit. Check your gadget or accessory to make sure you have the proper tools for the installation job. When in doubt, visit a professional car audio shop and get some advice. After all, they are the professionals, and they do it for a living.

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