Ask men what automotive accessories women want and you'll get answers like cup holders, vanity mirrors and safety enhancements. Ask women, more specifically, mothers, what accessories they're considering for their daily drive and you'll get something a little more interesting. That's what the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) did, recognizing the impact of women on vehicle and accessory purchases.
Mom's priority may be safety, but she's also interested in comfort and styling as she tools, stereotypically, from soccer field to ballet classes-clichés almost as offensive as that vanity mirror. While women may cringe at the soccer-mom label, the reality is that many mothers spend a lot of time in their vehicles, carpooling kids to activities, running errands and going to and from work. Safety, fuel economy and roominess are the three major concerns when purchasing a vehicle. And the following items are what Mom wants to gild her vehicular lily, along with a few tips on selecting them.
CD Player/Changer: Whether it's Barney or The Boss who soothes your savage beasts, CD technology makes it possible to enjoy "home-stereo" quality music on the road. Units start at $130 and can run over $1,000 for features that a traveling Mom probably wouldn't be able to appreciate, given the nature of her cargo. One consideration is a changer that can hold up to 12 discs and be mounted anywhere (including a car trunk) and wired into the head unit. This eliminates the distraction of changing CDs and also keeps fragile discs and their packaging away from sticky fingers.
Window Tinting: This clear polyester film embedded with tinting agents provides more than just a cool stealth appearance. It cuts down on glare, keeps the interior up to 60 percent cooler and blocks UV rays that can parch interior vinyl. Federal regulations dictate no more than a 70 percent VLT (visible light transmission) on tints, but each state sets and enforces its own standards. To be safe, check with your state Highway Patrol or DMV to find out what percentage of tinting is allowed. Tinting doesn't impair night driving; in fact it reduces glare from oncoming headlights. Costs vary: $100 on the low end to $400 or more, depending on the pitch and area of glass.
Floormats: You can go practical with durable rubberized mats, custom fitted to your specific vehicle with a lip to keep spills from seeping underneath. Or, if your kids are past the spilling stage, you may be ready for carpet-like mats with rubber backing and a fastening system so they stay put. These luxury mats still protect your factory carpeting, they just don't look so industrial. The model-specific rubber mats cost roughly $40 apiece; the synthetic fiber mats start in that range and go up.
Alarm System. This topic could easily be an entire article on its own. If this is on your list, do your homework and take into consideration where the vehicle is parked. You may not want motion sensors tripping the alarm if you live in an active neighborhood and the car is left in the driveway. An alarm that has to be actively armed may work better for Moms than the passive version that arms itself. Lights flashing and horns blaring can deter a thief but can also annoy neighbors if the alarm proves to be overly sensitive. A really effective deterrent is a system that disconnects the ignition/starter when the alarm is armed.
Stereo Speakers: If you really want to tune out back seat squabbling, component speakers will do the trick. High-end audio systems include pairs of speakers to provide high frequency accuracy (tweeters), medium frequency (midrange) or low frequency (woofer). If you're a true bass freak, add a set of sub-woofers that send the music right up through your seat. Component speakers start around $100 a pair. Unless you're a sophisticated audiophile, have the speakers professionally installed.
Center Consoles: Okay, here's your cup holder, but for today's Mom they can also include compartments to handle cell phones, iPods, and a beverage cooler. Prices go up with the list of features and materials. Look for one that requires simple installation, as opposed to the models that straddle the center armrest. The more these consoles hold, the bigger the mess if they get tipped over.
Fog Lights: True fog lights have a vertically narrow beam that focuses a bright light directly on the roadway. The fog is still there, but you've got a better view of road obstacles ahead. Conventional factory headlight high beams only bounce light off the fog back into the driver's eyes. While high-end vehicles offer standard headlights that rival the quality and visibility of auxiliary systems, older vehicles generally don't. If you drive in rural areas without the help of streetlights, consider auxiliary driving lights that have a broad horizontal beam that illuminates the shoulder of the road. With auxiliary lighting, you get what you pay for, so be ready to pay at least $100 a set.
Seatbelts: This is a combo safety/cosmetic/comfort upgrade. Factory seatbelts are lap and sash belts with an inertial reel that self-adjusts and retracts the belt when not in use. Since the 1980s, this type of belt replaced those rear-seat lap belts that can cause injury, especially in children. Upgrades can include tension adjusters, shoulder strap pads (sheepskin versions are so lush they could function as little pillows for passengers). Or, you might want to consider a five-point racing harness that acts like a torso straight jacket for your overactive passengers.