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  How to accessorize your car  

I'm having an 80's flashback. In college, the accessories on my car consisted of a yellow diamond sign, fastened with a suction cup, sporting the proud statement "Dancer on Board" (tap dance, for the curious). The bottom of my rear window, on a see-through sticker, proclaimed my university name "William and Mary," in the traditional green and gold colors. And the side rear window showed off my original home town, "I [heart] Ulm" (in Germany). And wait - while parked, don't forget the cardboard windshield "glasses" that were advertised to reduce the humid heat build-up in the interior, common on the East Coast, depicting Mickey and Minnie.in leg warmers. Minnie, in her classic polka-dotted dress, was in the midst of a high kick. Oh, and I can't forget the yellow and neon pink Hawaiian leis wrapped tightly around the rear view mirror so they would not dangle.

Almost two decades later, I consider the first of my accessories while purchasing my car. The most obvious way to personalize a car is simply by choosing the color. For my convertible, it absolutely had to be dark red, with a black top. For the sedan, I was more flexible . . . with the exception of the silver-green mix that I dismissed outright. A woman has to have her standards. For some models, there are even external, sporty decals that can be applied, such as racing stripes along the side of the car, either at purchase time, or later using more creative motifs for more personal expressions.

Next I look at the options available for the car. Of course, there are many operational and safety features which I consider core to the car, not in the category of accessories, such as the transmission type (manual, automatic, or tiptronic) or ABS (anti-lock brakes). That being said, there are still countless other options to accessorize a car.

First, there is the internal comfort, starting with the seat color and material, leather or fabric. In some models, it's not just the material, but the entire seat construction is higher-end and more comfortable with leather seats. In addition, almost every surface can be covered, from the steering wheel to an additional seat cover to the stick shift handle, with leather from the dealer, or with countless other materials from auto specialty stores. As for me, I stuck to only the floor mats. And heated seats.

Then there are the electronics. A built-in stereo, with a CD player or changer, is an absolute must for me. These days, there are also MP3 players and iPod adapters, as well as satellite radio. Upgraded speakers are also critical for driving either with the top down, or with all windows open. GPS (Global Positioning Systems) are often already built into the car, but for anyone with two cars, a portable device that can be easily moved between cars is the more practical solution.

The ability to communicate is critical to all of us. Gone are the days of the bulky, built-in car phones. Now we have on-board electronic systems which, for a monthly fee, can call for assistance in an emergency. Even more prevalent are cell phones, so either a hands-free or a Bluetooth system is the safest way to chat. And don't forget the charger to plug the cell phone into the cigarette lighter!

There are countless ways to send a personal message through a car's exterior. One obvious way is by personalizing the actual license plate, with a name or message, such as ACAR4ME. Many states even have themed logos of organizations, colleges, and events such as the Olympics. Other plates feature colorful backgrounds, such as California's Lake Tahoe Conservancy plate, depicting the deep blue lake. Of course, a license plate frame is another option. And we've all seen window and bumper stickers with myriads of messages ranging from recognition of an honor student to politics to just plain fun.

I think I lived out my extreme car accessorizing phase back in those 80's. Before I'm accused of being too practical, I'd like to defend myself: I like to drive my convertible with the top down, and anything thrown on the back seat, or dangling anywhere, would quickly be blown out of the car. But I do have the personalized license plates, stereo, CD player, souped-up speakers . . .

Inside the car, there are the practical tools that should always be along for the ride, such as flares, jumper cables and the like. A jacket or sweatshirt for unexpected cold weather never hurts, either. Then there are storage items such as trash containers, clips for sunglasses, and containers for loose change, which can range from plain and practical to colorful and funky. Other accessories can range from stuffed animals to pillows, graduation tassels on the rear view mirror, to anywhere your imagination takes you.