First there was the self-starter in the 1910s, then came the car radio in 1929 and air conditioning in 1940. As time has passed, technological advances have turned cars from merely modes of transportation into breezy, four-wheeled computer and entertainment centers.

Electric windows and locks, T-tops, moonroofs, 8-track players, cassette players, CD players, digital speedometers, anti-lock brakes, heated seats and air bags are just some of the technological advances in the automobile industry in the past century.

And there’s no end in sight.

Manufacturers continue to come up with high-tech devices that might make James Bond envious. Car gadgets these days include DVD players, hidden bumper cameras, satellite navigation systems, satellite radios, keyless ignitions and side curtain air bags. Each high-tech option adds another level of customer interest and ultimately becomes another weapon in an auto dealer’s arsenal of selling tools.

“Anything we can provide a customer that makes them safer or more entertained when they’re driving gives us an advantage over other (dealers),” said Jeff Schmitt, president of the Fairborn-based Jeff Schmitt Auto Group, with three area dealerships.

At his GMC dealership, Schmitt said OnStar is the most revolutionary new option.

OnStar is an on-board cellular service that allows the driver to speak with an OnStar representative at the press of a button. For example, if the driver has a flat tire, gets locked out or is involved in an accident, the OnStar rep can send for help. OnStar also can track the location of the car if it’s stolen or the driver is lost, and representatives can unlock a car door with the flip of a button. The system costs $695, Schmitt said.

Another new auto “must-have” is XM Radio, a digital radio service with 150 stations and no commercials. XM Radio is broadcast from a satellite, offering static-free listening and a station that is never out of range. A driver can sing along with classic showtunes or 1970’s rock ‘n’ roll all the way across the country.

More here.