Work on Wheels: Deals to Create a Mobile Office in Your Car

By Dan Leadbetter, dealnews staff writer

In the 80s, Gary Numan released a #1 single called "Cars" that goes, "Here in my car, I feel safest of all, I can lock all my doors, it's the only way to live, in cars." The song has remained relevant through the years, as nowadays people spend large portions of their day in cars, commuting back and forth to work.

We've explored how to bring your car into the aughts and the best upgrades for your car stereo system. Now, what about those people who actually use their vehicle for work, as a mobile office? With more and more businesses seeing the value of having employees mobile, there's a growing need for cars to be outfitted with the same equipment and gadgets to get the job done as you would find in cubicles at an office. Plus, it's just cool — and you might as well make good use of that time you're stuck in traffic.

So read on for our tips and deals to turn your car into a mobile office! (And if you'd like that Gary Numan tune to supplement your reading, it's available for 99 cents at Amazon.)

Laying the Mobile Groundwork

Since your car is now going to be powering a plethora of equipment, it only makes sense to ensure that the electrical system can handle the extra load. Let's take a tip from the car audio fanatics: get a bigger, better, deeper cell battery. Even the most extravagant mobile office won't need the power handling capabilities that a 15,000 watt car audio system would, but having all the power you'll need is in one place is great. The Optima D27M BlueTop Deep Cell Marine Battery ($200.88 with free shipping, price low by $9) or the pictured Optima Batteries 8002-002 34 RedTop Battery ($157 with free shipping, price low by $7) should handle any type of mobile office equipment you can throw at it, in addition to your standard (or souped-up) stereo, security, or convenience upgrades. I've personally used the RedTop battery in just about every car I've ever put a sound system into, but before upgrading your system, it's a good idea to have your car checked out to make sure the alternator, wires, and rest of the electrical system are in top working order.

A lot of the mobile office equipment you'll need operates on a standard 110-volt house current. So in your mobile office, you'll need a device to change the 12-volt system to 110. That's where a good power converter comes in handy. If you are on a budget, the Peak PKC0BM Portable Power Cup Inverter ($25.99 with free shipping, price low by $5) will do the trick. What I love about this unit is that it features two 3-prong outlets (to handle your notebook, portable printer, or scanner), two USB ports (to charge your phone or MP3 player), and fits in your cup holder, which plugs into the cigarette lighter outlet! It also boasts an in-line fuse so if there ever is a problem, the fuse will go before anything else. The pictured USB Powered Beverage Coffee Warmer with 4 Port USB Hub ($3.76 + $0.50 s&h, price low by $8) is also quite nifty, as it'll keep your beverage warm via USB power, while you work!

Look Ma, No Hands!

Unless you've been under a rock for the last five years, chances are pretty good you've already got a smartphone. But to really stay in communication at all times, you're going to need a hands-free headset to use while you drive. Bluetooth is the way to go here people.

One of my favorite Bluetooth hands-free devices is the Parrot MKi9200 Advanced Color Display Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Kit ($190 with free shipping, price low by $53). This kit incorporates a 2.4" color screen that'll show you who's calling before you answer. Of course, there are even cheaper options available too, like this Samsung WEP480 Bluetooth Headset ($15.99 with free shipping, a low by $6) or the refurbished version of the above Parrot unit ($149.99 with free shipping, a low by $40).

Set Up Your Desktop and Computer

While your smartphone is pretty smart, it's no match for having a personal computer at the ready. You could add a complete desktop system with three monitors in the back of your mini-van, but what about those days when you really just want grab some free WiFi at Starbucks or Chick-Fil-A, drink a Frappachino or chow down on a Spicy Chicken Biscuit, and play some Angry Birds get some work done?

This is where a powerful laptop computer becomes a smart choice. You'll want one that doesn't cost a million bucks, but has plenty of CPU power, a good amount of RAM, and a decent hard drive. A personal favorite is the pictured Lenovo B570 Intel Dual Core 2.1GHz Laptop ($299.99 plus $14.99 s&h, a price low by $50) from Best Buy. This laptop has an Intel Pentium 2.1GHz Sandy Bridge dual-core processor, 3GB RAM, 320GB hard drive, 802.11n wireless, Gigabit Ethernet, webcam, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.

So you've got your laptop, but where are you going to put it? Your lap in the front seat? Instead, try a steering wheel desktop. The Autoexec 13000 Automobile Steering Wheel Attachable Work Surface ($24.42 plus free shipping, a price low by $2) hangs on your steering wheel and is a secure yet adjustable foundation on which your laptop can rest.

Where's the WiFi?

So let's say you've overstayed your welcome at Starbucks, but you still have work to do (damn Angry Birds!). While you could comb the neighborhood with a WiFi Network Scanner T-Shirt ($14.99 plus $5.99 s&h, lowest price we could find) for an unsecured wireless network to "borrow" bandwidth from, we have a better idea.

Put your Verizon smartphone to work by getting this used Samsung 4GLTE hotspot ($19.99 with 2-year contract and free shipping, lowest price we could find), which turns your smartphone into a mobile hotspot for your PC, and allows you to connect up to five devices. You've become your own WiFi Hotspot.

Organize Your Desktop

Beyond finding a WiFi network and adjusting the angle of your steering wheel–mounted laptop, the major hurdle of mobile working is organization. Where do you put everything? You've got chords here and there, post-its on the ceiling, etc. The easy solution is to stuff all of your receipts, notes, and business cards into the glove box (along with all of those unpaid parking tickets), or in the armrest compartment.

But a better mobile office organizer is the AutoExec 10005 Gripmaster Auto Desk ($128.84 with $10.95 s&h, a price low by $19), which has a non-skid rubber top surface that ensures your laptop, PDA, or cell phone won't slide while you drive. Its pull-out surface with built-in clipboard provides a convenient area for doing paperwork and writing. And, in addition to side storage areas, the large area under the desk is great for keeping valuables out of view. Plus, this auto efficiency desk is portable, so it can go wherever you do.

Office Ambiance, Mobile Style

Despite common complaints people have regarding mundane office life, there are certain social perks you'll lose when working "from home" (in your car).

First, you miss out on water cooler talk (and often talking in general). You can encourage social interaction by setting this Penguin Mini Water Cooler ($19.99 with free shipping, a low by $18) on the trunk of your car. Lean on it with one arm and try chatting up passersby with commentary about last night's episode of The Walking Dead or Community. If you prove unnsuccessful at befriending complete strangers with calls to come closer to your car, then at the very least it'll be a refreshing treat for those times when the car overheats.

You know what's really good at luring people you don't know to your car? Candy! You can be just like that friendly secretary who always keeps a dish out for the staff by swiping this Master Foods Fun Size Halloween Candy Variety Pack ($15.99 with $11.23 s&h, price low by $1). Or try setting up an "Honor System" snack box in the backseat of your car. When you've actually eaten all the candy yourself, you can blame it on "those freeloaders" at work with who didn't pay their share. Just like a real office!

These are just a few of the ideas to make your "office on wheels" feel like the real deal. Got more ideas for your mobile office? Leave us your comments and let us know how you do business out of your car.

Front page photo credit:

Dan Leadbetter is a staff writer for dealnews. He's also been an automotive and mobile electronics journalist for more than 25 years, and one of the panel members on the dealnews podcast. He is also completely prepared for the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse, and really likes sushi. You can follow his misadventures on Twitter @danleadbetter.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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Went to the trouble to log in here to chime in with a second "please don't." This is more blatantly ignorant than some of the articles on gizmodo. Heed wiser counsel and have as FEW DISTRACTIONS AS POSSIBLE in your car, and use it for driving, nothing else.
i would like to know if theres any hands-free laptop or ipad holder. i really dont like the idea of a lapdesk.