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How To Upgrade Car Radio To Touch Screen?

The world has changed. When I show things to my nieces and nephews on my laptop, they always try to touch the screen. I don’t think they even know what a trackpad is.

Touch screens are now everywhere, and it now seems almost counter-intuitive to press buttons and turn knobs. All things that we used to think were perfectly natural.

Well, if you want to upgrade a car stereo to include a touch screen, it’s not as difficult as you might have thought. This operation can be performed in a couple of hours with the right know-how. So, let’s take an in-depth look at how to upgrade car radio to touch screen and find out how easy it really is.

How To Upgrade Car Radio To Touch Screen?

What Are the Benefits of a Touch Screen Car Stereo?

Are you wondering, “Is it worth it to upgrade your car stereo to a touch screen interface?” Well, I have two words for you. It is.

Your current stereo could be anything from an antique tape deck to a CD player to a more modern radio with a USB port. But a touch screen can take you far beyond just standard audio playback. This is because a touch screen stereo is a digital device with a computer brain inside.

It’s pretty much a phone or a tablet that’s built into your car. And one that can communicate with your other devices via cable connections or Bluetooth.

So, just what can a touch screen car stereo do?

Glad you asked. A touch screen car stereo can:

  • Use GPS (including Google Maps) to help you navigate.
  • Play all kinds of media, including music, podcasts, radio, and audiobooks.
  • Allow you to take calls hands-free while behind the wheel.
  • Pick up your messages.
  • Connect to cameras and sensors on your car, like a rearview/reversing camera, for example.
  • And tons more.

By upgrading a car radio to a touch screen, you will be brought into the 21st century. Even if the car you’re driving is from 1986, you can still have all the convenience and capacity of a modern car stereo at your fingertips.

Type of Touch Screen Car Stereos

Now that your interest is piqued, you’re probably wondering, “Will a touch screen stereo fit in my car?” The answer is a resounding “Probably!” But, it’s more of a “Yes, of course.” Unless you’re driving something incredibly old or unusual.

I think you might have trouble with a 1930s Ford truck or a 1955 Triumph TR2. And, if you have a classic1963 Lamborghini 350 GTV, you might want to let the professionals install it. But for the rest of us, it’s good news.

Automobile manufacturers are some pretty clever folks…

They do their best to make many different parts of their cars standardized for many reasons. Easier sourcing of parts for the manufacturer and the consumer is probably the main reason, and safety standards are another.

The good news for car stereos is that nearly every car manufacturer in the world has been using the same standard sizes since 1984.

Single DIN Car Stereos

The International Standards Organization (ISO) adopted the ISO 7736 standard size for car stereos in 1984. This was a size developed and standardized by the DIN, which is the Deutsches Institut für Normung, the German National Organization for Standardization. Sounds like a heck of a fun place!

The DIN set the standard size for a car stereo head unit slot to be 7.09″ × 1.97″ (180mm × 50mm), which creates the well-known wide, short profile of a car stereo interface.

So, any car produced from 1984 onwards should have a single DIN slot of this size. That means any replacement of a single DIN size stereo will fit right on in there. “But wait!” you say, “Who wants a touchscreen that’s only 2 inches tall?”

Ah, well, here’s the thing…

Just because the butt of the head unit has to fit in that slot size doesn’t mean that a much larger screen can’t protrude out from it, now does it?

This single DIN unit BVCP9700A-CFL from Boss Audio features a 7-inch touch screen and also comes with a rearview camera that you can easily install yourself.

The more expensive BCPA9 Boss Audio touch screen stereo has a floating 9-inch screen that’s great for people who need a bigger, clearer display. Both of these units will fit easily into a single DIN stereo slot.

Double DIN Car Stereos

Double DIN Car Stereos

It’s no surprise that a double Din (also seen as 2 DIN) car stereo is twice the size of a single DIN. This standardized measure was adopted to accommodate larger units that had more bells and whistles.

And manufacturers still use this standard on the newest cars, which come factory ready with touch screen stereos. If you have an older car without a touch screen but you have a larger double DIN slot, you’ll be happy to know that you have even more choices than with a single DIN.

This slot should measure 7.09″ × 3.94″ (180mm × 100mm), so it’s the same width but twice as tall. And because this is the standard size for all touch screen stereos anyway, there are tons to choose from.

Here are a couple of examples…

AboutBit offers a very cheap, very basic double DIN touch screen stereo for under $100. It can play music files of all kinds and even movies with 1080p high definition (not recommended while you’re driving, though!).

Pioneer’s Alphasonik Touchscreen Double DIN Stereo gives you a 6.8-inch screen compatible with Apple and Android devices and apps.

For a bit over $300, Kenwood’s DMX4707S Digital Media Touchscreen Receiver is a higher-end choice that has a 6.8” screen and incorporates both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to help you connect your car to your other devices seamlessly.

How Much Does it Cost to Upgrade Car Radio to Touch Screen?

As we’ve just seen, there are a lot of options for both single and double DIN size stereos. There are hundreds of brands and models to choose from, and all of them will fit neatly into your single or double DIN slot.

These units can cost anywhere from $100 for the ultra-cheap ones to over $1000 for the highest-end gear. Just look at this 10” Jeep Wrangler Stinger replacement stereo priced around $1300! Obviously, you have to make some decisions on the screen size, quality, and features you want.

You’ll also have to think about installation costs…

If you bring your car to a mechanic, they’ll charge you at least $100 for the labor on the installation. A car stereo place might charge you up to $300 for the same job, with some better guarantees. Or, you could do it yourself and save yourself some money while having a little DIY adventure.

Sounds a little tricky, but it’s not…

The procedure for how to upgrade car radio to touch screen can be done in a few hours with the right tools and equipment. And all it takes is to follow four straightforward steps:

  • Remove the dashboard.
  • Remove the old stereo head unit.
  • Connect the new wiring harness.
  • Install the new head unit and replace the dashboard.

So, if you’re here because you’re going to attack this installation yourself, then read on. Next, I’ll take a look at how to install a touchscreen car stereo on your own.

How to Install a Touch Screen Stereo in Your Car

Installing your touch screen car stereo isn’t nearly as complicated and intimidating as you’d think. There are four main steps to the installation. Furthermore, you only need a few simple tools and know-how to get the job done.

Of course, every make and model of car is a bit different. So, it’s worth it to look up your specific car’s specs and even look for YouTube videos that show you how to remove the old stereo.

Here’s What You’ll Need

You’ll probably have most of the tools you need for this job in your toolkit already. But, in case you don’t, I’ve included links to some of the less common ones. Especially non-scratch pry tools for removing your dash without damaging it.

You’ll also need to have bought your touch screen stereo already. Almost all stereos come with a wiring harness adapter, but in case yours doesn’t, you can also buy one separately. You just need to make sure it matches the model of your car. 

Tools needed to install a touch screen car stereo:

Materials needed to install a touch screen car stereo:

If you have everything all ready to go, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

Step 0 – Disconnect the Battery

Although this isn’t part of the installation, you’re going to want to make sure to disconnect the battery before you even get started. Also, make sure your car is not running.

You’re going to be playing around with wiring, and you want to be sure there is no electrical power running through the system before you do. For most cars, this is a simple matter of popping open the hood and disconnecting the negative battery terminal using a wrench.

Now it’s safe for you to start the installation process.

Step 1 – Remove the Dashboard

Remove the Dashboard

NOTE: If your stereo uses DIN tools/release keys, then you may not have to remove any panels at all. Look for two or four holes or slots near the sides or corners of your stereo. Additionally, you can consult the owner’s manual first, and you may be able to save yourself time and trouble.

Here’s what to do…

If you’ve never removed a car dashboard panel before, it’s a relatively easy thing to do. However, you do want to take care that you don’t do any damage to the panel as this is part of the finishing of your car, and scratches are permanent.

You’ll want to have a screwdriver ready, typically a Phillips (X-shaped head), but you never know. And you’ll also want those pry tools, which should be plastic so they can’t gouge or scratch your panel.

Also, it’s a great idea here to look at YouTube for a specific “How-To” video for your car’s make and model.

Alright, so far?

Typically, dashboard panels are set into slots at the top and screwed in place from the bottom where the screws can’t be seen. So you may need a flashlight as well here. Get down and look for screws.

By the way, if you’re lucky, your dash may be split up into sections, and you’ll only have to remove the panel that contains the stereo unit and not the whole thing. Screws can be sneakily hidden under hinges and knobs, so keep looking until you can easily pry the panel off.

Don’t force it! If it doesn’t come off easily, there’s almost certainly a screw you’ve missed. And, of course, keep those screws in a safe place.

Step 2 – Remove the Old Stereo Head Unit

Car stereo head units are held in using one of two standard methods. The first is using screws or bolts, which you will be able to see once you remove the panel or trim surrounding the stereo. Simply remove these using a screwdriver or nut driver, and once again, keep them in a safe place.

Some cars use a spring clip system to easily remove the stereo. However, you need the right DIN tools, also known as release keys. These can look like two U-shaped wires that slide into four holes, two on either side. Or they can look more like actual keys.

Your stereo might need two or four keys, so again, check the model information. Either way, you insert the tools at the same time, and that releases the spring clips and allows you to slide the head unit out. Next, disconnect the wiring from the old head unit and put it aside.

Step 3 – Connect the New Wiring Harness Adapter

If your old stereo head unit was a factory standard, it should have been connected by a wiring harness. That’s a bunch of connecting wires, all terminating in a plastic clip that can be plugged directly into a stereo head.

With your new stereo head unit, simply plug one end of the wiring harness adapter into the unit and connect the other end to the clip on your car’s wiring harness, and you’re done.

BUT if you are removing an after-market stereo, things might be a bit trickier…

It’s possible that an after-market stereo was installed (by you or at a shop) with loose wiring and not a wire harness. If this is the case, the good news is that stereo wires are color-coded to a standard that will let you easily connect your new head unit.

In general, red is stereo power, black is ground, and yellow or blue is constant 12V power. These all connect to the same colors on your stereo head. The other wire colors are for the car’s different speakers, so you’ll need to look at your car model’s stereo wiring diagram to connect these properly.

To make wire connections, you can use a few different methods. The method you choose will dictate which tools and materials you need for this part of how to upgrade car radio to touch screen.

  • Twist bare wires together, solder them to make them permanent, and then cover the connections with heat shrink tubing.
  • Crimp the wires together with a crimper and cover the connections with heat shrink tubing.
  • Crimp wires directly into butt end connectors.

Before you move on to the last step…

Check that everything is safe, and then re-connect the negative terminal on your battery. Turn on the car and check to see that the stereo is working correctly. If not, disconnect the battery and check your wiring. If it is, it’s time to close up.

Step 4 – Install the New Head Unit and Replace the Dashboard

Install the New Head Unit

Now you just have to work in reverse. Push the wiring down into the stereo slot and slide your head unit into place.

If you have a spring lock system, it should simply slide in a lock without having to use the DIN tools that you used for the removal. If you used screws or bolts, simply drive them back in to lock your head unit in place.

Next, you can replace the dashboard panels if you had to remove any. The tops of the panels should slide into clips, and the bottoms will get screwed back into place with the same old screws you removed earlier. And you’re done – you’re now the proud owner of a car with a touch screen stereo.

Need More Help with our Car Stereo and Audio?

If so, take a look at our detailed articles on How to Install Aux Input in Car StereoHow to Reset Kenwood Car StereoHow Much Does It Cost To Install A Car StereoHow to Remove Car Stereo Without Keys, and How Do I Get Sirius Radio In My Car for more tips and tricks.

You might also enjoy our in-depth reviews of the Best Car Amplifiers, the Best Monoblock Car Amplifiers, the Best 6.5 Speakers, and the Best 6×8 Speakers currently on the market.

And, don’t miss our comprehensive reviews of the Best Car Subwoofers, the Best Under Seat Subwoofers, the Best Subwoofers for Single Cab Truck, the Best 15-inch Subwoofers, and the Best 12-Inch Subwoofers you can buy in 2023.

How to Upgrade Car Radio to Touch Screen by Yourself

As you can see from the 4-step procedure I just described, connecting a new car stereo isn’t as hard as you might have imagined. Even if you’re trying to install a car radio with a touch screen, the steps are simple.

You can perform this operation on your car in a couple of hours with all the right tools and equipment prepared, plus a little confidence and know-how. And then, you’ll find that your old car stereo is now replaced by a new, modern, convenient touch screen stereo.

You can use the screen to communicate with your phone or other devices to play music, to use as a GPS unit, and as a whole infotainment system. And, having done it yourself, you can save a bit of money and feel a bit proud every time you use it.

Until next time, good luck, and happy listening. 

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