From high-end vehicles such as BMW’s ’5 Series’ and the Mercedes Benz ‘S Class’ to inexpensive entry-level cars, touch screen car radios are quickly becoming the hottest, most powerful addition for any vehicle’s dashboard. Built to incorporate the same set of features seen in normal car radios alongside the usability of a touch screen, they’ve quickly become the hottest ‘must have’ feature.
Today, a wide range of vehicles ship with an integrated touch screen car radio, either as an optional extra or as part of the vehicle’s standard interior. Manufacturers such as BMW and Alfa Romeo have started to use screen-based entertainment and navigation units as standard in their cars, although in this case most of the consoles are controlled using a small rotational wheel or driver control pad.
Others, such as Toyota and its luxury brand Lexus, have opted to offer touch and button-based car screens as an optional extra, particularly in mid-range models such as the Camry. These units give drivers a mix of navigational help and entertainment controls. As with many other manufacturers, the screens used by Toyota seem to be split fairly evenly into ‘touch’ and ‘non-touch’ categories.
If your vehicle is slightly too old to include a touch screen car radio as standard, or, in fact, just not a model that’s supported from the factory, a variety of options are available. Third-party vehicle and radio accessory manufacturers have created a wide selection of all-purpose touch screen navigation and radio units, many of which can be paired with specific software for optimal in-car performance.
These units are, for the most part, built to extend from a storage unit the same size as a standard car stereo. This allows for simple installation and a relatively small size footprint, allowing the screens to be installed in vehicles that lack a dual-layer radio or accessory storage port. In most cases, a thin screen is capable of extending from the unit during use, and retracting when unused for storage.
While these touch screen car radios offer a variety of space-saving benefits, it’s important to keep in mind that they may be less durable than their single-piece counterparts. Check the hinge strength of these retractable units before committing to a purchase, as a powerful push on the screen could lead to loose connections. In most cases, reputable brands such as Pioneer and Kenwood are reliable.
For vehicles with larger radio and accessory installation bays, particularly luxury or town cars that use a significantly larger center console layout, a variety of full-size touch screens are available. A general guide to what’s most appropriate for your car rests in both the size of the screen itself and a rough approximation of how well it will fit in with your vehicle’s interior and other radio units.
Vehicles with a darker plastic interior will generally prefer a darker, plastic unit, a range of which are produce by Clarion and Pioneer. Vehicles that are outfitted with a carbon fiber interior trim – this would include many modern sports cars – may instead opt for a brushed metal look. The trim type of a head unit can be a big deal, so make sure that yours matches the rest of your vehicle.
Alongside this is the importance of picking the right type of touch screen car radio. For the most part, touch screen units can be customized to suit your vehicle through the use of software. In an older vehicle, for example, that lacks its own internal touch screen radio software, an all-purpose platform can be installed to allow users to control their entertainment system with relative ease.
Brand-specific software is also available, albeit often at a slightly higher price. Specific makes and models of vehicle – BMW’s 3 Series or the Toyota Camry, for example – tend to include an internal software system, although it may not be installed in all vehicles. In this case, a variety of purpose or make-based platforms will be available either through the car manufacturer or the radio company.
As always with any vehicle entertainment modifications, it’s important to ensure that your radio is compatible with the controls that may already be laid out within your vehicle. Check that the head unit itself can be paired with steering wheel volume controls, for example, and be sure to ask about its ability to work as a navigational system, DVD playback screen, and all-round control platform.
While installing a touch screen car radio into your vehicle may seem like an arduous task, it’s really quite simple with the right unit and the right software. Take the time to examine your car’s need in a fairly high level of detail. This way, you’ll be more informed about which touch screen models suit your vehicle, more aware of their abilities, and more educated about the installation process.