Cool car stuff for the cool-car-stuff addict

Times Staff Writer

Let me tell you a little about Jim. He's the gear-hound inside my head.

Jim longs for gizmos, electronic and otherwise. He wants me to wear camping shorts with lots of pockets and fill them with pocketknives. He made me buy a new digital camera last week and is wearing me down over a combo cellphone-PDA. "You need that," Jim says to me over and over, as I thumb through the SkyMall catalog.

Jim has taken up similar residence in the skulls of my friends and family as well, so we often invoke his name as an adjective. "Did you see that little Roomba robot that vacuums your house?" any of us might say. "That's so Jim."

Anyway, Jim took a good look at my Subaru Outback recently as I planned a summer road trip, and he had all kinds of ideas. Roof rack. Heated seats.

Then Jim met Mario. And things got a little out of hand.

Mario is Mario Naranjo, the lead technician in the mobile audio department at Best Buy — the one in West Hollywood if you too would like to test your credit-card control.

I'd been thinking about a new stereo. Satellite radio — XM or Sirius — has that commercial-free appeal. Jim wants a GPS system and DVD player.

Mario struck a compromise. Or rather, he found an all-in-one system that pleased me and Jim. Pioneer's Avic-N2 looks like an in-dash stereo, but touch a button and — insert whooshing sound effect here — out slides a 6 1/2 -inch touch screen. It would talk to me when I'm lost. It would show me movies. If I subscribed to XM's NavTraffic, it would actually tell me where there's a traffic jam and reroute me accordingly.

Such systems cost up to $2,000. Add headrests with built-in 5-inch video monitors for backseat viewing, wireless headphones so little ones can watch "Nemo" while you listen to "Moby," and maybe a PlayStation gaming system … and now you're talking real money. Money that might double the value of my 1997 wagon.

Even Jim didn't want to pay for that.

So we looked at the stand-alone GPS systems, which cost about $1,000. We went back and forth: Need? Want. Need? Want. If I were a UPS driver, I'd have caved. But for a single road trip? For that kind of cash, I could buy a $40 Brunton rally compass and a lot of nice, laminated maps.

Mario did give me one money-saving tip: I could have a cable jack wired into my existing stereo for my iPod, at a cost of about $80. With 20 gigs of tunes, who needs satellite?

Much of the appeal of road trips, to my mind, is the sense of endless possibility. Some may plan their every rest stop, but I like to leave myself open to roadside attractions such as the Corn Palace or drive-through tree.

Thus I have a desire to prepare the Suby for anything, from the tires up. My specific tire demands: something for the long haul that can handle storms, mountain climbs and desert driving. Francis Rodriguez at Just Tires recommended the Goodyear Assurance TripleTred, with an 80,000-mile warranty. They may very well outlast my car. I'm also drawn to Igloo's line of KoolMate thermoelectric coolers, which chill or warm food. At $95 to $148, they cost more than even Coleman's Ultimate Xtreme cooler (which will keep drinks cool on ice for six days, for $65), but it's the first chance I've had to use my accessory outlet.

For comfort, I've also been trying out lumbar supports for my sagging bucket seats. The most expensive seat cushion I found was the Premium Sacro-Ease ($229) that was lined with memory foam. But memory foam can get too soft when it's hot.

I think I might get what James Glancy, the assistant manager at Relax the Back in West Hollywood, says he keeps in his car: a 7-by-14-inch self-inflating lumbar pillow from Therm-a-Rest.

To finish off, I'd get a Woolrich cargo travel blanket ($39), which is fleece on one side for snuggling and water-resistant nylon on the other for picnicking. And, of course, it folds up like a little tote bag.

Jim likes that.


Gizmos and gear

Electronics: Plenty of retailers offer a variety of mobile electronics, including stereos that are satellite- or iPod-ready and auto GPS systems. I found the widest selection at Best Buy ( For information on satellite radio service, see or

Navigation: There are dozens of GPS systems, both portable and for your car. Magellan and Garmin make the best-known models, but there are others as well. There's a thorough selection at For a rally compass and other low-tech options, see

Camping gear: I found the pillows, mattress and blankets at Adventure 16 in West L.A. More information at, and

Coolers: Styrofoam is so passé. Coleman makes coolers that, with block ice, will keep cold for six days in 90-degree heat ( Igloo offers more thermoelectric models at

Car seats: If you want the Mercedes of back support, see the variety at Relax the Back ( The Therm-a-Rest self-inflating lumbar pillow cost $40 there, but I found it for $25 at other outdoors shops.

— Robin Rauzi

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