Apple CarPlay is hands-down the safest way to interact with your iPhone in the car. That’s because you never actually touch your iPhone while driving, something you should never ever do anyway. Instead you control navigation, communication, and entertainment with Siri and a simplified interface on your car’s screen.
But what if your car doesn’t have a built-in display or the one it has doesn’t work with Apple CarPlay? The good news is you don’t necessarily have to go out and buy a brand new car. In most cases, you can buy and have a really good in-dash system installed for $200 to $1,000. However, picking the right solution before you make the investment is important. Here are a few tips:
Updated January 1, 2020 with new options and accessories.
Apple CarPlay + Android Auto
The first thing to consider is system compatibility. Similar to smart home technology that works with Amazon and Apple platforms, infotainment systems can work with both Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto.
With that being said, there are still new units being introduced that only support one system. Watch for that if dual compatibility is a factor.
My family only uses Apple CarPlay, but Android Auto could be useful if a passenger uses Android. Support for both systems should also help your vehicle’s resale value and appeal.
- Pioneer AVH-2300NEX – CarPlay + Android Auto
- Kenwood DDX9703S – CarPlay + Android Auto
- Alpine iLX-F309 HALO9 – CarPlay + Android Auto
Apple CarPlay launched with extremely limited availability in 2014 on select new cars and aftermarket head units, but today you can find CarPlay support from nearly every brand. That’s true for wired CarPlay at least, but wireless CarPlay is only available on a few options.
For that reason, you can safely assume that any version of CarPlay you find today will require connecting to the system with a Lightning cable. There are some exceptions, however:
- Alpine iLX-107 (reviewed)
- Kenwood DMX9706S
- Kenwood Excelon DDX8906S
- Pioneer AVIC-W8400NEX (reviewed)
- 2017 Series 5 BMWs, 2018 and newer BMWs
- 2020 Ford models with SYNC4
In the case of aftermarket units, wireless CarPlay isn’t necessarily more expensive either. You can find models for under $500. It’s absolutely worth your consideration if you’re buying a new system today.
As for installation, it can be a do-it-yourself job if you have experience changing car stereos, but you can usually pay $100-$500 in parts and service to have CarPlay screens installed properly. Prices often depend on the complexity of the install job, so shop around local businesses to know for sure.
Factors to consider include losing access to built-in cameras, needing to replace cameras, and possibly losing access to system controls only available in the default infotainment system.
What if your car already comes with CarPlay, but it’s not wireless? Great question. This is not an area we’ve tested yet, but several vendors offer adapters that claim to convert wired CarPlay systems into wireless versions.
- CPLAY2air wireless adapter for factory CarPlay
- Carlinkit CarPlay dongle Wireless Upgrade Box
- Carlinkit 2.0 CarPlay dongle Wired to Wireless activator Adapter
Again, these have not been tested by us and there are no guarantees these adapters will work with future software versions. Do your research before purchasing.
Display type is another major factor. There are two types with dramatically different quality: capacitive which is preferred, and resistive which you will likely want to avoid.
There are decent resistive touch screens that offer an okay experience on a budget, but investing in a capacitive system will ultimately offer a much better experience; in some cases, you can pay more for a worse experience! The difference in screen types is like comparing an iPhone screen to that of an old ATM.
These options are examples of what you will find on the market:
- Pioneer AppRadio 4 – 6.4-inch good capacitive touchscreen
- Sony XAV-AX100 (reviewed) – 6.4-inch decent resistive touchscreen
- Pioneer AVIC-7100NEX – 7-inch poor resistive touchscreen
CarPlay built-in or aftermarket?
Finally, there’s the decision to make over whether to buy new with CarPlay or rely on an aftermarket system instead. New cars with CarPlay support generally offer better integrations with backup/side cameras and steering wheel controls, but not all new cars come with CarPlay yet even if they have built-in screens.
In some cases, you may have a better experience buying a new car without CarPlay, then having an aftermarket unit like the Alpine iLX-107 with Wireless CarPlay installed.
Aftermarket CarPlay systems come from several companies:
CarPlay Wrap up:
If you decide to buy a new car that offers CarPlay, look for factors like display size and screen resolution to compare. As more car makers start to adopt Wireless CarPlay, be sure to research current options before buying. Many dealers won’t know the difference between CarPlay and Wireless CarPlay so rely on your own information.
- Follow our CarPlay guide for the latest news on model availability
- You can find Apple’s list of CarPlay cars here
- Best CarPlay apps for iPhone
I prefer the tight integration of a new car with built-in CarPlay if possible, but I recommend Alpine iLX-107 as the go-to aftermarket choice for its display size, screen type, and Wireless CarPlay support. Just note that there is no Android Auto support if that is a factor for you — Pioneer AVIC-W8400NEX with Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto is worth a look for that purpose.
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