If you're old enough, you can probably remember when upgrading your car's head unit was just about the easiest part of any automotive audio upgrade. Older vehicles typically used a standard known as DIN (Deutsche Industrie Norm) for their head units, with factory head units coming in single DIN or double DIN sizes. Upgrading was usually a simple matter of swapping in an equivalently-sized aftermarket unit.
However, manufacturers have started using more custom solutions over the last few decades. These units no longer conform to DIN standards, and many cars now have fully-integrated infotainment systems with large, non-standardized displays. While you can still add an aftermarket head unit to these vehicles, it's important to understand some of the differences.
What Makes Replacing a Factory Head Unit Tricky?
The simple fact is that even identifying the head unit in a modern car isn't always easy. If your car uses a touchscreen or a single-screen unit with integrated controls, replacing it may affect your vehicle in other ways. For example, that screen may display diagnostic data or provide inputs for your climate control system or other vehicle functions.
The non-standardized size of these displays can also often be a problem. While aftermarket units typically come in single or double DIN sizes, you may not have an appropriate location to install the new unit in your dash. Fortunately, this problem is often relatively easy to overcome by looking for a vehicle-specific adapter.
Can You Still Install a New Head Unit?
The best option is to work with an experienced car audio shop or supplier to determine the options available for your vehicle. In many cases, replacing a factory infotainment system with an aftermarket alternative is possible. Still, it may be necessary to purchase vehicle-specific adapters, and you may lose some added functionality.
In general, the older your vehicle, the more likely you can install a drop-in replacement for your factory stereo system. Older vehicles, even those with touchscreen controls, typically have less integration between the factory infotainment system and the rest of the car. As a result, installing a new stereo is unlikely to impact other aspects of the vehicle's operations.
Are Other Options Available?
The good news is that you can often upgrade your car's stereo, even if replacing the factory infotainment is impossible or inadvisable. For example, many aftermarket manufacturers build modules that can add modern features such as Android Auto or Apple CarPlay to older infotainment systems. These upgrades can give your car's audio system a huge boost.
And, of course, you can save money from buying a head unit replacement in order to add other audio features, such as new speakers or upgraded subwoofers. It's typically possible to add these upgrades to any vehicle, making them a great choice even if you want to keep your car's infotainment stock and fully functional.
For more information about car audio systems, reach out to a local service.