Car gadgets that shaped motoring

The automotive industry has always been at the forefront of technology. Motorsport, consumer safety and motorists' inherent laziness has driven designers to invent gadgets and gizmos to fill voids in our motoring worlds we never even knew were there.

seat belt

Some have made driving safer, some just plain easier, but which of them have made a real difference? Here, Autoblog takes a look at five inventions that have shaped motoring.


Who would have thought that placing an explosive device in front of driver's face would be one of the most important safety advances ever made in motoring? Getting that one past the health and safety gurus must have taken some doing, but boy are we glad they did! They first appeared on Fords and Chevrolets in the 70s, but rapidly became more common. Now it's not if your car's got an airbag that's important, but how many!

Satellite navigation

It started life as the US Army's most potent weapon of war, but it was satellite navigation's application in the motoring world that made a real difference. With portable devices utilising GPS technology now available from as little as £50, getting lost has largely become a thing of the past. Not everyone loves them though – motorists blindly following the units have ended up getting stuck in fields and have even driven into lakes!


It's hard to imagine climbing into a car without 'clunk-clicking' these days, but there was a time when the seatbelt was treated with disdain. The three-point harness that's standard fit in cars these days was the brain child of Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin and was first installed in the maker's cars in 1959. Research says wearing a seatbelt can increase the chance of surviving an accident by 50 per cent – making it the most important car safety gadget ever invented.


As long as the car has been around, there's been a problem with drivers getting behind the wheel after a few too many. Laws banning driving while drunk were quickly introduced but it wasn't until the advent of the Breathalyzer that authorities had an easy way of detecting intoxicated drivers. Indiana state police scientist Professor Robert F Brokenstein came up with the handheld device in 1954 and ever since it's been keeping our roads safer by analysing tiny levels of alcohol excreted in our breath.

Humble cup holder

A strange inclusion it may be, but if ever there was a gadget that epitomises drivers' consumerism it's the humble cup holder. Famously the Jaguar XJ lost sales in the US because it failed to have one – and that's because in the States a cup holder, or plethora there of, is of paramount importance. Car makers offer them in a range of sizes to hold a variety of drinks and designing them can take more effort than the car itself. All a little strange really, considering its prime objective is to stop hot coffee spilling on your lap!

So you've read our picks for the gadgets and inventions that shaped motoring - what are yours? Post your suggestions below to let us know.
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