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Car PC Hacks
By Damien Stolarz
July 2005
More Info

How do these hacks stand up? Comment on a hack from the book by choosing the associated "Discuss" link below. You can also view the code from any of the hacks by clicking on the "Listing" or "Code" links. A number of hacks have been selected to be featured online in their entirety; you may view those hacks by clicking on the hack titles that are linked.

You can also download all the scripts and other files for this book here.

Jump to: Car Power Basics  | Automotive Audio Entertainment  | Automotive Video Entertainment  | In-Car Computers  | Car PC Interface Options  | Wireless Connectivity and in-Car Internet  | In-Car Applications

Car Power Basics

HACK
#1

Understand Car Electrical Systems
Different electronic systems, such as those for houses, cars, and computers, use very different connectors, voltages, and power levels
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#2

Prevent Electrical Fires
Only you can prevent electrical fires (as the paraphrased saying goes), and fuses are an essential form of prevention
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#3

Gauge Your Wires
The general rule in car wiring is that the thicker the wire is, the better. However, thick wire is expensive, and financially it's worth learning how thick a wire you really need to bring power to all the devices you add to your car
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#4

Connect Your Wires
There are several ways to do in-car wiring: quick-and-dirty, functional, or professional, depending on who's going to see it and how long you want it to last
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#5

Calculate Your Car's Battery Life
To make sure you don't kill your car battery, learn how to do quick-and-dirty estimates of power drain for in-car devices
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#6

Upgrade Your Car Battery
If you want to add a lot of electrical devices to your vehicle and still be able to start it up and drive it, you may need to upgrade your car battery
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#7

Add New Power Connectors Throughout Your Car
Modern devices such as laptops, cell phones, and video cameras often have 12V power adapters so they can be used, or charged, from a car's cigarette lighter outlet. If you have more devices than outlets, you can easily add more power connectors
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#8

Use a Huge Capacitor to Sustain Power
A large capacitor is often used to maintain bass amplifier response, and can address other problems as well—including voltage sags when the car is started
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#9

Upgrade Your Car's Alternator
It's possible to install so many electronic devices in your car that the battery continues to discharge even when the engine is running. Upgrading to a high-output alternator ensures that there's enough power to feed all the devices while keeping the battery charged
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#10

Add a Second Car Battery
Adding a second car battery is a great way to get lots of standby power when the vehicle is off. You can upgrade your car so that it has the same power setup as a recreational vehicle, with one battery for starting and running the engine and another for powering devices
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#11

Put Home Power Outlets in Your Car
If you need to power a device that doesn't come with a car adapter, or if you want to run a top-of-the-line PC that consumes 300 watts, you will need to use a device called an inverter to convert your vehicle's 12V to the 120V or 220V found indoors
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Automotive Audio Entertainment

HACK
#12

Get a Headful About Your Car Audio
The centerpiece of your car's entertainment system is the car radio. You should know how it interacts with your car's speakers and other electronics before you yank it out
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#13

Install a New Head Unit
After you've pulled out your head unit, you may want a few tips on putting in a new one
[Discuss (2) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#14

Get Computer Audio into Your Head Unit
Aftermarket CD changers and DVD players have become very popular of late, as have MiniDisk players, MP3 players, and legions of other small audio devices. To use these devices in a car, however, you'll need to smuggle the audio into your (usually closed) head unit
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#15

Amp Up Your Computer Audio
Connect your PC or other audio device directly to an amplifier, bypassing the head unit altogether
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#16

Make a Very Cheap AUX-in
If your budget is highly constrained or you're out in the wilderness, there's still a way to install an auxiliary input to your tape deck
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#17

Reduce Your Audio System's Noise
There are ways to reduce or eliminate the buzzing and high-frequency noise that the engine adds to your in-car audio
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#18

Control Your iPod with Your Car Stereo Knobs
Apple's iPod can now integrate directly with a number of factory and aftermarket head units
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#19

Tune Your PC for Radio Reception
With the right receiver, your PC can take over the radio function of a car's head unit
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#20

Record Radio Shows
A variety of software programs enable your computer to make scheduled recordings of radio programs
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#21

Listen to Email, Weblogs, and RSS Feeds on the Road
Have your email, blogs, and RSS feeds read to you using computer text-to-speech voice synthesis. It's safer than reading while driving
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#22

Find Out What Was Playing on the Radio
If you know what time you were listening to the radio, you can find out what song you were listening to using a web service
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Automotive Video Entertainment

HACK
#23

Understand Video Connectors
If you can connect a VCR or game console to your television, you can connect a video screen in your car
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#24

Choose Your Screens
Choosing the right screen or screens for your vehicle depends on the available space in the vehicle and the intended applications
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#25

Install a Headrest Screen
Headrest screens are safe, inexpensive, and very easy to install without ripping your car apart
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#26

Install a VGA Touchscreen in Your Dashboard
Although it's a more challenging project, a cleanly integrated center console screen can provide you with a high-resolution touchscreen that's ideal for controlling your in-car PC
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#27

Install a Sun Visor Screen
With headrest and fold-down screens, the front-seat passenger often gets left out of the picture
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#28

Install a Motorized Fold-out Screen
Motorized fold-out screens are relatively easy and noninvasive to install
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#29

Install a Fold-Down Ceiling-Mounted Screen
While individual headrest screens give each passenger the potential for individual entertainment, to entertain everyone at once go with a big fold-down screen
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#30

Supersize Your Fold-Down LCD Screen
A lower-cost, higher-quality fold-down screen awaits you with standard ceiling- and wall-mounting approaches
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#31

Turn Your Laptop into a Fold-Down or Dashboard Screen
You may already have a nice LCD screen for your car, in the form of an old laptop
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#32

Connect a Car PC to Your Factory Screen
Almost any factory screen can be connected to your in-car computer with the right adapter
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#33

Install a Rearview Mirror Screen and Camera
Rearview monitor and camera combinations can double as a convenient display for your car PC
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#34

Boost Your Video Signal for Multiple Screens
You don't have to put up with poor-quality video when displaying your car computer's output on multiple screens
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#35

Customize Each Passenger's Video
Imagine a peaceful cross-country road trip in which you never need to endure someone else's choice of music or movies, because everyone has a personalized entertainment center
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#36

Tune in TV in the Car
With the right antenna, the TV tuner card in your PC can expand your viewing choices and entertain your passengers
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#37

Receive Satellite TV While Driving
While RVs have been tuning in satellite TV while parked for years, recent technologies allow you to tune in while your vehicle is in motion
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#38

Play DVDs with Your in-Car Computer
The most obvious reason to install video in the car is so your passengers can watch movies, and with a computer, the in-car DVD experience can be even better
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#39

Put Multi-Channel DVD Surround Sound in Your Car
If you already have four or more speakers in your car, it's a straightforward upgrade to go from stereo to multi-channel sound
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#40

Install a Video Game Console Computer in Your Car
Video games are an extremely effective way of burning time on the road, and they're an essential tool for enduring long-distance drives
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

In-Car Computers

HACK
#41

Choose an in-Car PC Hardware Platform
Speed, size, noise, power efficiency, and price are some of the trade-offs to consider when building a car PC
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#42

Power Your Car PC
While you could just use an inverter to power a normal PC AT or ATX power supply, there are several power supplies on the market designed specifically for in-car computer use
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#43

Start Up and Shut Down Your Car PC
Desktop and laptop computers both require some encouragement to power up and down smoothly in a vehicle
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#44

Reduce the Boot Time of Your in-Car Computer
There are dozens of tricks you can use to reduce the boot time of your in-car PC
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#45

Keep Your Computer on During Engine Cranking
An already booted car PC will reboot whenever you start the car, unless you install the right hardware
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#46

Turn On Your Car Computer Before You Start Your Car
Most cars today come with keyless entry systems that can be used to turn on your car PC remotely
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#47

Boot Your Car Computer on a Schedule
To get your in-car computer to do work when the car isn't on, you'll need to get it booting on a schedule
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#48

Choose an in-Car PC Software Platform
You can use any major operating system for your in-car PC. Here are a few pointers to help you decide
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#49

Install Windows on a CompactFlash Card
Microsoft's XP Embedded OS can help you do what XP normally can't—boot off a CompactFlash card
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#50

Power Your Portable Devices in the Car
Almost any small consumer device can be run on car power, and if you can't find the right adapter you can usually make one
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#51

Install USB Ports in Your Car
Installing USB ports in the front-seat area will give you the ability to easily add peripherals to your in-car PC
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#52

Build an in-Car PC
Having covered all the basics, let's look at how a U.K.-based IT manager put together his car PC
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#53

Build an in-Car Macintosh
Check out how one programmer used OS X and a PowerMac G4 to meet his in-car computing needs
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#54

Install a Mac Mini in Your Car
Apple's new Mac Mini has the perfect price, performance, size, and shape for in-car computer installations
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Car PC Interface Options

HACK
#55

Control Your Car PC with a Keyboard and Mouse
If you're a passenger, a compact mouse and keyboard are the most familiar way to control the in-car computer
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#56

Control Your Car PC with a Handheld Remote
Handheld remote controls are a familiar and easy way to control media playback and other applications in the car
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#57

Control Your Car PC with a Touchscreen
Touchscreens are the primary way to control most of the in-car applications being developed today
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#58

Car-Enable Clunky Applications
You can use a scripting program to provide single-press access to application features that normally require complex menu navigation
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#59

Listen to What Your Car Computer Is Saying
Your computer may be talking, but is it really saying anything? With the right application, it could be
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#60

Control Your Car PC with Voice Recognition
You can use software to make your car PC's navigation system and other functions voice-operated, just like the cool cars in the commercials
[Discuss (1) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#61

Find More Ways to Control Your in-Car Computer
On the horizon are several new integrated control methods that will make in-car PC control even easier
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

Wireless Connectivity and in-Car Internet

HACK
#62

Get Online in Your Car
You have several options for how to rig your car PC for wireless Internet connectivity so you can surf the Web, download email, or transfer files while on the go
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#63

Make Your Mobile Phone Hands-Free with Your Car PC
Your car PC and car speakers can act as a hands-free unit for your mobile phone, using Bluetooth wireless networking
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#64

Transfer Data to and from Your Car PC
USB flash drives, portable USB/FireWire hard drives, and WiFi are a few of the ways to get data onto and off of your car PC
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#65

View Real-Time Traffic Data on the Road
If you have a wireless Internet connection for your car PC, even a slow one, you can get real-time traffic information for any major U.S. city
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#66

Videoconference from Your Car
With mobile broadband Internet connections, car PCs will soon achieve James Bond–style videoconferencing
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#67

Use GPS on Your Car PC
With GPS, your car PC can always know where on Earth it is, and with wireless Internet, it can also tell the world
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#68

Find WiFi Hotspots on the Road
WiFi is the best friend of the well-connected commuter and traveler
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

In-Car Applications

HACK
#69

Plug into Your Car's Built-in Computer
If your car is less than a decade old, you can hook into a wealth of real-time information through its on-board diagnostic port
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#70

Put a Video Jukebox in Your Car Theater
Use home theater software to provide a great multimedia experience in your car
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#71

Choose Your in-Car Navigation Software
With a car PC you have access to cutting-edge navigation features, and you aren't locked into using the expensive and limited system that came with your car
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#72

Play Thousands of Games by Emulating Video Game Consoles
Here's a creative way you can get inexpensive, interactive in-car entertainment
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#73

Use CENTRAFUSE as Your Car PC Frontend
CENTRAFUSE integrates media playback, navigation, and hands-free mobile phone control in a clean, sharp-looking interface
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#74

Use Neocar Media Center as Your Car PC Frontend
Neocar Media Center is a very popular, highly customizable car PC frontend with a large European following
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

HACK
#75

Use FrodoPlayer as Your Car PC Frontend
FrodoPlayer is one of the most popular car PC applications, because it integrates almost every conceivable feature (and has a cool name)
[Discuss (2) | Link to this hack]


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