Adding Android Auto or CarPlay to Your Car Is Easier Than You Think

Key Takeaways

  • Aftermarket head units with Android Auto and CarPlay can be complicated to install.
  • Portable head units are cheap, easy to use, and don’t require installation.
  • Portable head units may even have bonus features that built-in systems don’t have.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay have been around for a while, but not all of us drive vehicles with the technology built in. Of course, you could install an aftermarket head unit yourself, but that can be intimidating. There’s actually a much easier way to doi it—no wiring required.

Replacing a Head Unit Can Be Complicated

Android Auto head unit.
Josh Hendrickson / How-To Geek

There’s no shortage of aftermarket head units with Android Auto and CarPlay for a wide variety of vehicles. Even my ancient 2009 Chevy Silverado allegedly has compatible models. However, there are a couple of things that have always held me back, and maybe you feel the same way.

For starters, I’m an avid DIYer, but I am out of my depths when it comes to vehicles. I can read tutorials and watch videos all day, but ripping out a chunk of my vehicle’s interior is still an intimidating prospect. I’m never comfortable working with electricity and wiring.

The other problem is I could never be 100% positive that what I saw online was indeed compatible with my truck. My specific make and model were very difficult to find on compatibility lists, and I couldn’t find examples of people with my exact vehicle in the reviews. This always left me feeling uncertain, so I lived with a janky Spotify Car Thing as an alternative.

Portable Head Units Are Cheap and Easy to Use

Spotify on Android Auto.
Joe Fedewa / How-To Geek

In the last year or so, “portable” head units with Android Auto and CarPlay have exploded on Amazon. Back when I bought the Car Thing, I remember thinking a similar device with Android Auto would be awesome, and now they’re readily available.

“Portable,” in this case, simply means the device is not a permanent, built-in part of your vehicle. They’re essentially a modern-day version of a GPS that you might find on the dashboards of a car in the early 2000s. You get all the convenience of Android Auto or CarPlay in a compact package. The “installation” consists of finding the best way to mount it and plugging in the charging and aux cable.

The exact model I bought was only $45—which is much cheaper than any built-in model I found that might work with my vehicle. It has a 7-inch touch screen and comes with a number of mounting options and cables. In just a couple of minutes, I had a fully functional Android Auto display in my 15-year-old rusty truck.

You May Even Get Bonus Features

Menu screen on portable Android Auto CarPlay unit.
Joe Fedewa / How-To Geek

The interesting thing about many of these portable Android Auto/CarPlay devices is they always seem to have more features than what you get in vehicles that come with the tech built-in.

For example, my partner drives a 2019 Ford Escape with an infotainment system that has Android Auto and CarPlay built-in. However, it does not support wireless connections. You must connect your phone with a USB cable or buy a wireless dongle. Meanwhile, my $45 device supports wireless connections out of the box.

Another thing that my portable screen has is AirPlay and “Android Cast.” Technically, I could cast videos to the screen for passengers to watch. I don’t think I will ever actually use the feature, but it’s not something you’d find built into many vehicles (unless Google has something to say about it).

Portable head units are a great way to add Android Auto and CarPlay to any car, even older models. They’re easy to install and often come with bonus features not found in built-in systems. If you’re looking to upgrade your car’s infotainment system without the hassle, a portable head unit is a great option. I’m glad I did.

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