5 cheap car hacks for road warriors

Get ready to get smarter behind the wheel; these handy tools range from free to just $44. Plus: Your chance to win an Amazon Echo Plus!

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Please stop doing this. Mount your phone on your dash instead.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto
magnetic-car-mount.jpg
WizGear

Do you have a long commute? Do you make sales calls all day? Are you an Uber or Lyft driver? Does your car literally double as your office?

Let's hack that sucker. There are lots of ways to save money, stay safer and even improve your productivity when you're putting rubber to the road.

Mount your phone at eye level

I'm not going to warn you of the incredible dangers -- both to yourself and other drivers -- of using your phone while driving.

I am going to beg you to get the phone out of your lap and up near eye level, where you can glance at it and even tap it without taking your eyes too far off the road. And that means mounting it on your dashboard.

My favorite option: a magnet mount. Stick a small magnetic disc to your dash (or clip it to an air vent), then attach a metal plate to the back of your phone (or inside the case). Presto: Every time you get in the car, just plunk the phone onto the mount. It's magnet-magic at its finest.

And hacks don't come much cheaper: You can get a WizGear stick-on mount for $8.99 or a 2-pack of the air-vent variety for the same price. Trust me when I say once you start using one of these, you'll never want to drive without it.

Track your mileage for free

If you get reimbursed for mileage, whether by your company or the IRS, you know the importance of keeping accurate mileage records. You also know what a hassle it can be.

Enter Hurdlr, a free app (Android and iOS) that can automatically track trips for you. You literally don't have to do anything; the app detects when you're driving, records the distance, then lets you classify each trip as work or not-work with just one swipe.

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Hurdlr automates mileage tracking -- for free.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

The trade-off: There's a battery hit because it needs to keep your phone's GPS active. But you usually plug in your charger when you're driving anyway, right?

Other mileage trackers, notably Everlance and MileIQ, can do the same thing, but they'll cost you about $60 per year. For now, Hurdlr is completely free. And as an added benefit, it can track and categorize business expenses as well.

Feed your brain

Successful people don't listen to angry talk-radio all day; they listen to books and podcasts designed to give them a business and/or productivity edge.

On the book front, dust off your library card and check out Hoopla, which lets you check out unlimited audiobooks on your phone -- including plenty of business titles. My library, for example, offers Dave Ramsey's "The Total Money Makeover" and Tim Ferriss' "The 4-Hour Workweek."

On the podcast front, you might enjoy The Art of Manliness, which offers interviews with some high-profile authors, many on the subject of business and productivity, and The James Altucher Show, hosted by a guy who eats, sleeps and breathes business, money, and marketing.

Install a desk

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Table for one?

Cutequeen

Ever tried to eat lunch behind the wheel? Or bang out notes on your laptop? It's darn near impossible -- especially when you're doing 75 on the interstate! (I kid, I kid -- for the love of god, don't do either unless you're parked!)

What you need is a flat surface, a place to let you type at a comfortable angle and eat without risking ketchup-drips. What you need is a steering-wheel desk.

It's a thing! And a surprisingly cheap thing at that: Amazon sells this Cutequeen steering-wheel desk for $11.99. It hooks onto the bottom of just about any wheel (though you should measure yours first) and provides a reversible surface: one side for food, the other for a reasonably compact laptop.

Pack a jump-starter

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This ultra-compact jump-starter can get you out of a jam.

Gooloo

There's no good time to discover you've got a dead battery. But if it happens when you're leaving for work in the morning or headed to an important meeting, that's especially bad.

Forget jumper cables, forget good Samaritans, forget AAA; you don't have time for any them. Instead, just pull out your own jump-starter and get back on the road.

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For example, the Gooloo GP03B can deliver up to 450 amps -- enough to jump most small and mid-size vehicles. Its 10,000mAh rechargeable battery can also power your phone or tablet. But the thing is small enough to fit in a glove box, and it currently sells for just $43.99. (There are countless other models in the same ballpark, and if you have a larger vehicle, expect to pay closer to $60 for a 600-amp-or-better jumper.)

So those are my favorite car hacks; hit the comments and share yours, especially if they're cheap!

Side deal: Amazon's hotly anticipated new Echo Plus smart speaker arrives at the end of the month. Before you pre-order one, though, why not see if you can win one instead? ZDNet is giving away an Echo Plus to five lucky winners, and all you have to do to enter is answer a simple question about smart tech.

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