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Not all cars came with fancy parking sensors or remote starting capabilities, and adding them as options can be expensive. But with a little DIY knowledge, and enough YouTube tutorials, you can make all these nifty features yourself. The key is to pick up an Arduino, a low-cost microcontroller that’s easy to program and build simple systems out of. While that may sound daunting, Arduinos are fairly entry-level into the world of programming.

What is an Arduino?

An Arduino is a microcontroller capable of running small, simple programs and software. Essentially, they’re very tiny computers capable of doing things like turning on and on lights or sending data around. They’re small, require little energy, and are fast enough for performing basic commands.

Arduino has made all their hardware open source, meaning that these little gizmos are everywhere. That makes it a cost-effective way to build whatever you need, from switches to sensors. There are more applications than just automotive, so we’ll start with something simple: lights.

Make color changing LED strip lights for your car’s interior

The best projects to start with are the simple ones, and this LED light strip tutorial is about as basic as it gets. So long as you purchase all the necessities, it’ll be like putting legos together. Although, this project is a little complicated, requiring you to build your own circuit. And it’ll only work if you have an up-to-date Android phone.

After you’re all finished, you can plug your phone in and change the color whenever you please. But with enough Googling, you can also find ways to make this Arduino system wireless, adding a transmitter and a different power source (likely a battery separate from your car). It’s all about finding the right tutorials for you.

But while those interior lights are cool, they’re not exactly practical. Here’s a lighting project that’ll make your blinkers better.

Burnt out blinkers? Just build new ones

Your blinkers don’t even have to be burnt out in order for this DIY project to be useful. These animated blinkers and brake lights can be used to simply spruce up your ride. The level of complexity is similar to that of the LED interior lights, only this time you’re connecting the Arduino setup to your car. Though, if you’re happy with how your taillights work, then maybe this isn’t the project for you.

Now, let’s segway into something a bit more complex. Parking sensors and cameras are incredibly useful and are becoming standard options in a lot of cars. But maybe your car didn’t come with any, and because of this, there wouldn’t really be a place to install them (unless you got brand new mirrors). Rather than making a sensor that’s built into your car, you can build one on the outside.

Build a parking sensor for your garage

If you park your car in a small garage, or it’s just jam-packed with stuff, then this is the perfect solution. Rather than a typical backup camera, this Arduino-based sensor detects when there’s no car in the garage, when you’re getting too close, and when you’re about to crash. Just mount it to the garage wall once it’s built.

This project is a step up from the previous one in that it requires soldering, which is a somewhat complex process and can be dangerous. You’re dealing with rapidly heated, then cooled metal in order to conduct a current, so don’t take these projects lightly. There will be a learning curve, but there are ways to overcome it.

Now, for what might be the most complex Arduino project on the list. If you’re technical enough and are willing to rewire the internals of your car, you can add a remote startup process.

Add remote starting to any car using Arduino

While this “tutorial” isn’t really a tutorial, it demonstrates all the things a simple Arduino is capable of. It’s rudimentary and homemade for sure, and probably voids the car’s warranty, but how cool would it be to remote start a car without a remote starter?

The main takeaway is that Arduino computers have a lot of potentials. DIY tinkerers can have a field day, and if you’re just learning about all this, you can too. Consider if you want to modify your car at all, and do lots of research to make sure the job is done right. But these little Arduino microcontrollers are an excellent starting point for automotive modifications, or just coding in general.