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How to Upgrade Car Stereo To Apple CarPlay? A Complete Guide.

I usually drive and listen to my music from my iPhone, listening through my headphones; that is the extent to which I use my iPhone in my car. 

Needless to say, this is not the most fantastic scenario, so I upgraded my dashboard to a stereo system that can support Apple’s CarPlay and decided to write this article for any Apple enthusiast looking to do the same.

The options for upgrading your car stereo to support CarPlay are; retrofitting it (specific manufacturers upgrade it with a kit), purchasing standalone devices that can upgrade head units. Also, purchasing new aftermarket systems with head units that do support CarPlay.

As an Amazon Associate, ImproveCarAudio will receive a small commission from qualifying purchases made through the links in this article.

This article will cover precisely what Apple CarPlay is, along with an in-depth look at all its features and functionality.

We will then look at how easy it is to upgrade your stereo system to support CarPlay, not to mention we will look at the price of upgrading your car system and what the best options are in terms of purchasing aftermarket devices and systems. This article has it all, so let’s begin.

What is Apple CarPlay, and how does it work?

Apple CarPlay, released on 10 March 2014, is software designed by Apple that integrates Apple’s iOS with your car’s smart dashboard (instrument panel) and infotainment system. CarPlay allows you to use the functions of your iPhone and Apple’s iOS in conjunction with your car’s dashboard (along with some of Apple’s native apps and 3rd party apps). 

how to upgrade car stereo to carplay

CarPlay helps you make and receive calls, send and receive messages, navigate with GPS, listen to music, and much more. Did I mention it’s all wireless (for the most part)?

CarPlay, at its core, is designed to be hands-free and uses Siri’s capabilities to get this job done. When it was first introduced, there was limited functionality, and you needed to press a button now and again, taking your eyes off the road.

With Apple’s new iOS 14, you have a completely hands-free experience helping you focus where your attention is needed (on the road). Still, you can also use the dashboard’s touchscreen, knobs, dials, and buttons to navigate and perform all of CarPlay’s functions.

Even setting up CarPlay with your vehicle is now a wireless task. Since Apple’s iOS 9, it has supported wireless connectivity with in-car systems.

Before this period, almost all setups regarding CarPlay needed to be done via lightning cable. So, depending on your iOS and dashboard, you may still have to connect your iPhone with a lightning cable.

Car manufacturers have even licensed and partnered up with Apple to integrate CarPlay support into their vehicles since 2015, and there are now literally hundreds of manufacturers that have CarPlay support.

Watch the video below where William Borruat give an overview of Apple’s CarPlay

What functions and features does Apple CarPlay offer?

CarPlay accesses the stored information on your phone and gives you a wide variety of features and functions to integrate with your dashboard. These include:

  • Sending and receiving calls
  • Sending and receiving messages
  • Navigating your Contact list
  • Checking Your Calendar
  • Checking your Events
  • Maps for navigation
  • Listening to audio (music, podcasts, audiobooks, and more)

What stock, native, and 3rd party apps does Apple CarPlay offer?

When CarPlay was introduced, there were a limited number of stock apps you could use that were only available through the use of the iOS; however, today’s version of CarPlay supports a smorgasbord of native and 3rd party apps:

Stock Apple CarPlay apps.

Siri

Siri is Apple’s virtual assistant that is voice-controlled and is part of Apple’s iOS. Siri is designed to let you speak to it casually, and in turn, it helps you get things done. This can be in the form of searching queries on the net, calling a friend, sending a message, finding a navigation route to a specific location, or making dinner reservations. 

It is designed to interact with you and your Apple device (in this case, CarPlay) seamlessly being able to access all the apps you have and all with just the command of your voice.

Maps

Maps are Apple’s own navigation system that allows you to search for locations, plan navigation routes, share your ETA, and uses GPS to help you navigate your destinations.

Apple keeps increasing the capability of its Maps app. As such, you can now even plan bicycle routes, plan EV routing, get alerts for congestion and speed cameras, and plan your trips with real-time navigation info. It also includes a new feature called Guides that makes recommendations based on places to visit around the location you are in.

Messages

Messages is an app that allows you to create, read, and reply to your messages with Siri. You can have Siri either send text messages or voice notes.

Apple Music

Apple Music is Apple’s streaming service the lets you stream videos and music. Again, Siri can help you access any music you would like to listen to via voice commands.

Calendar

Calendar is also a native Apple app that lets you schedule appointments, view those appointments, and keep track of your day-to-day activity. Calendar alerts appear in the notification center on your iOS and on your dashboard when using CarPlay.

Phone

The phone allows you to make calls, receive calls, dial missed calls, check your voicemail, and view your contacts.

Podcasts

Podcasts allow you to stream and download a variety of podcasts from stations on iTunes. Furthermore, they have partnered with Buzzsprout and Libsyn to give you over 20 million podcast episodes. 

Now Playing

This app will show the audio content of what you are listening from any iPhone app, and it is similar to Apple’s iOS control Center.

3rd Party CarPlay apps

Initially, CarPlay would only use native stock apps that came with the iPhone; they have since expanded this to allow the use of 3rd party apps, which is excellent.

This gives you an array of apps that can provide you with exceptional services, functions, and features that some Apple native apps can’t give you. I have reviewed and come up with a categorized list of the top-rated apps that work well with CarPlay.

Communication apps

  • Whatsapp
  • ZOOM Cloud Meetings
  • Telegram Messenger

Music apps

  • Deezer Music
  • Dash Radio
  • Google Play Music
  • Mixcloud
  • Radio Deejay
  • Radio Disney
  • Spotify
  • Audio Boom
  • Amazon Music
  • YouTube Music

Audiobook apps

  • Audiobooks
  • Audible
  • Bookmate
  • Google Play Books
  • Kobo Books
  • Libby

Navigation Apps

  • Google Maps
  • Roads by Porsche
  • TomTom Go Navigation
  • Waze

Podcast apps

  • Downcast
  • Anchor
  • Overcast
  • Spotify
  • Stitcher
  • TuneIn Radio
  • Castro Podcast Player
  • Pandora

News and sport apps

  • CBS Radio News
  • CNBC
  • MLB At Bat
  • NBA
  • NBC Sports Scores
  • NHL
  • Newsflash

What new functions and features are in iOS 14

With the roll-out of Apple’s iOS 14, there have been some updates to CarPlay. These include a new appearance setting that allows you to change from an “always dark” mode to an “automatic mode.”

Also included in the iOS 14 are five new wallpapers. Apple has been known for keeping things plain and straightforward but recently has started to branch out (even with their iPhones), giving the user more options to choose from.

These wallpapers are identical in design but offer five different color schemes. Furthermore, there are light and dark versions of these wallpapers, and they change depending on the time of day.

Siri has had an overhaul and has been designed to be a little floating ball with animation centered at the bottom of your touchscreen compared to its previous versions. You will also see this design of Siri on the iPhone and iPad with iOS 14. Not only has its design been overhauled but so has its functionality.

Just by using your voice and asking Siri, you can make calls, return missed calls, and listen to your voicemail. Reading and writing are things of the past because Siri can now help you dictate and listen to your message. It can even send your ETA to various people in your contacts list. 

Moving onto the new features of the Maps app. One is the Map’s new EV routing, which means you can plan your route if you have an electric car for stops along the way to charge your car battery. More features include the Maps app notifying you of speed cameras and traffic congestion.

There are three new app categories that roll out with iOS 14, including one type for parking, one for EV and EV charging stations, and one for quick food ordering. These categories allow you to find parking, charge your vehicle, and order food quickly from your car.

The last feature that is not CarPlay specific and rolls out in 2021 is a feature called Car Keys. This feature allows you to unlock and start your car with your iPhone and will be available with the new BMW 5 series.

A nifty feature with this is that you can invite and share your car keys with friends and family, and you are also able to restrict them (this is great for new drivers). You are also able to disable this feature remotely if you ever need to.

What models of iPhone does Apple CarPlay work with?

Only versions of the iPhone that start from the iPhone 5 can use CarPlay as a service. The models include the iPhone SE first and second generation. 

What brands of Cars does Apple CarPlay work with?

March 2014 saw the release of Apple CarPlay, and among the manufacturers of motor vehicles that supported it at its launch were Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, and Ferrari. 

However, Apple has now partnered with every major automobile manufacturer bringing CarPlay to over 600 models. These manufacturers include Datsun, Ford, Chevy, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Land Rover, Nissan, RAM, MG, Peugeot, and many more. 

View the complete list of makes and models of cars that support CarPlay.

Do I need Apple Carplay in my car?

Apple CarPlay is quite a unique feature that can add another dimension to your car. If you have to think about and look at models of vehicles that come out with smart dashboards and infotainment systems, you will notice a couple of things that separates CarPlay from them. 

Most dashboards that are stock standard from manufacturers are alright, but some features and aspects are not that great and can be improved. 

We can start by looking at the UI of most dashboards. Some of them are complicated and difficult to see, understand, and use. 

When you launch CarPlay, the UI turns into a familiar UI representing a basic version of your iPhone that most people who use Apple love and can navigate without any hassles. 

Then you have the features which come with a standard dashboard. They don’t offer anything in terms of variety. You may be able to connect your phone and play your music from the car’s media player, but CarPlay takes it to a whole other level where you can download apps that let you stream music, listen to podcasts and audiobooks, and even the news.

Looking at the standard GPS that comes with a car, it sometimes has limited features, only allowing you to navigate to your destination. CarPlay allows you to load 3rd party navigation apps if you like, and it uses its Map app that gives you a ton of features right off the bat that some dashboards just don’t offer.

One thing that is critical and makes CarPlay a must-have is that it uses Siri for a completely hands-free experience

Most dashboards need you to control it via knobs, and buttons, which is not safe when driving a car. You need to focus on the road for a secure driving experience that helps you achieve this flawlessly. Some vehicles do have a voice assistant, but the AI is not at the level at which Siri is at, and it can sometimes be frustrating trying to call your contacts or navigate to a destination.

All in all, CarPlay is definitely worth having and investing in if you are buying a new car or putting in an aftermarket system. Let’s take an in-depth look at CarPlay and how we can upgrade your vehicle with heads, complete stereo systems, and other devices to support CarPlay.

Watch Nikias Molina’s comments about why you need Apple Carplay.

Can I install Apple Carplay in any car?

If you think that CarPlay is a feature you can only enjoy in a new car and partnered up with Apple, you are wrong.

Luckily, you can purchase aftermarket systems made by many manufacturers (which we will list and go over in detail) that allow you to run CarPlay in pretty much any car. Even cars from 20 years ago. Yes, that’s correct. 

Manufacturers have made different models and variations of aftermarket systems that allow you to install some variant of an infotainment system into your car that will allow you to have various features, including CarPlay support.

Which car stereos are compatible with Apple CarPlay?

Perhaps you are looking only to purchase a head unit (the unit that controls the audio, navigation, climate, etc.) and not an entire car stereo (the complete sound system including the speaker system and head) unit that supports CarPlay.

Or perhaps you don’t think that your stereo system will support CarPlay, and you can’t find any information on the net, and you think you will have to shell out hundreds of dollars to get this great feature.

Well, This is a tricky question to answer because the research I’ve done shows different brands and models have some stereo systems that work with and without CarPlay the list is quite long but don’t fear!

If you don’t know if your stereo system will be compatible with CarPlay, then don’t worry because there is a device that allows you to hook up ANY stereo system to enable CarPlay support. Yes, that is correct, ANY stereo system, or so they claim, and the research I’ve done supports it.

Cartizan CP-11

This device allows you to add CarPlay to any aftermarket stereo system, and all you need is a display. It supports Plug & Play, features RCS AV outputs and an HDMI output, and can connect to any display with these connections. This is great if you already have a display unit that does not support CarPlay. All you do is connect up the cables, and you are good to go.

Inputs include two USB connections, a video input, a camera input, a microphone input, and a remote-control knob input.

Other features include Bluetooth hands-free calling and music streaming, USB thumb drive playback for music, built-in steering wheel control keys, the video input to control an outside source, and the camera input that allows compatibility with NTSC cameras.

The unit includes a Control box, Power Harness, Touchscreen Harness, Knob Remote Controller, Bluetooth Microphone, Touchscreen chip, and Adhesive mount.

If you are wondering if you should purchase a separate speaker system, head, or a complete car stereo system or just don’t know what to do, then check out this device for your existing car stereo system before you look any further.

Watch Quality Mobile Video review the Cartizan CP-11 and how you can connect it to any aftermarket stereo system and even give you ideas on building a custom car stereo system.

What aftermarket car systems are compatible with Apple CarPlay?

Looking to purchase an aftermarket system that is compatible with CarPlay? Then we have you covered as well.

These manufacturers offer aftermarket car systems that allow the support of CarPlay.

  • Sony
  • Alpine
  • Pioneer
  • Kenwood
  • JVC

All these manufacturers have various models of aftermarket systems that support CarPlay, and they vary in price and features depending on the model that you wish to purchase. What is remarkable is that all these manufacturers offer entry-level models through to models with the latest and greatest features.

How to add Apple Carplay to the factory stereo?

If your car stereo system supports CarPlay, then it could not be simpler. All you need to do is connect your iPhone via the lightning cable to your factory stereo or via wireless or Bluetooth . It’s that simple. CarPlay will automatically load and integrate with your dashboard’s interface.

Otherwise, if your factory stereo does not support CarPlay, then I would suggest looking at the Cartizan CP-11 that allows you to enable the support of CarPlay on any stereo system. The only catch here is that your factory stereo would need a built-in video input that supports the Cartizan CP-11. If it does, then this would be your best bet.

Also, this device is so easy to use and so easy to set up that it would take a miracle for you to mess it up. That means you would not have to take it to any automotive shop and shell out your hard-earned money for labor costs.

If your car stereo system does not have a video input, you will have to purchase an aftermarket system (just the head if you like) supporting CarPlay. You could also buy a head unit that does not but then you would need to purchase the Cartizan CP-11 so your head unit would then be able to support CarPlay.

How much does it cost to upgrade to Apple CarPlay?

There are a few options to look at when considering the cost of upgrading your vehicle to support CarPlay. Here are your options and the variations in price.

Retrofitting

If you’re lucky enough to own a Mazda from 2014 or a newer model equipped with the MZD Connect system, you are looking at $500 to upgrade your car. Hyundai also supports retrofitting but only for specific models. 

Hyundai’s line of SUVs such as the Santa FE and Tuscon Highlander are not able to be retrofitted due to their onboard GPS interfering with the installation. However, the model that can be retrofitted is their i30’s from 2015. Prices would vary from dealer to dealer, but you are also looking at around the $500 mark.

Purchasing aftermarket head units only.

If you are looking to purchase only an aftermarket head that supports CarPlay, then the cost can vary depending on the dimensions (single or double din), make, model, and features it comes with. The price can range starting in the low hundreds to $1500 for just a head unit.

Best budget double din stereo

Sony XAV-AX100

This double din budget option offers voice control with Apple Car Play and Android Auto. You can control and view everything with the 6.4″ touch screen, and the tuner features a preset of FM18/AM12. You get powerful sound with the 4 x 55 W Dynamic Reality Amp, and the audio level adjustment is from -8 dB to +18 dB. 

Other features include creating virtual speakers on your dashboard with the Dynamic Stage Organizer and an Ergonomic rotary dial for distraction-free operation. 

Sony XAV-AX100 is an excellent double din head unit for a reasonable price that you can check on Amazon by clicking this link now.

Best budget single din stereo

JENSEN CMM10

The Jensen comes with a large 10.1inch LED multimedia high-resolution touch screen display that provides a comfortable viewing experience while keeping all your favorite content within your fingers’ reach.

You can mirror the screen of your smartphone onto the car stereo screen via a USB cable connection, and you can enjoy high-quality pictures and accurate mirroring thanks to the built-in digital-to-digital USB converter.

With the touch of a button, you have the power to summon Siri and verbally speak your commands such as play music, podcasts, navigation, etc. The USB port also charges your device and sports an MP3/WMA Player and an AM/FM tuner with 30 Station presets.

Lastly, this head unit comes equipped with a front RCA input (video only) and a backup RCA input with mic (video and sound). If you are on a budget and looking for a single din stereo to support CarPlay, check the Jensen’s latest price on Amazon now.

Best single din head unit for Apple CarPlay.

After scouring the net and reading tons of reviews, this is the best option I found if you are in the market to purchase a single din head unit that supports Apple CarPlay.

Pioneer AVH-3500NEX 1-Din 7-Inch Flip Out AV Receiver with Carplay

This fantastic unit from Pioneer has a whopping 7inch display that supports an 800X400 display. It offers a dual phone connection and Secure Simple Pairing. Furthermore, it provides a dimmer setting and is LED backlight. 

It features a hands-free Profile (HFP), an audio/video remote control profile (AVRCP), and an advanced audio distribution profile (A2DP).

The integrations include voice control, Pandora, WebLink, and Amazon Alexa. It can play audio and video files, which are MP3, AAC, FLAC, MPEG-1, MPEG-4, WMV, AVI, WAV, WMA, and MPEG-2.

It has 3 RCA pre-outs, a customizable graphic equalizer, and a 3-way audio network mode. The list of features goes on and on, with it having a built-in amplifier, D/A converter, subwoofer control, auto, and easy EQ.

The device’s expandability includes one USB port, a wired remote, and USB direct control for your iPhone. Inputs also include Aux minijacks and HDMI.

This is the best single din head unit that I could find purely because of its features, which never seem to end. Truly an ample product if you are looking in the single din range, so why don’t you check the latest price on Amazon now?

Best double din head unit for Apple CarPlay.

If money is no object to you, then this next review is for you. This head unit offers Apple CarPlay support and a ton of other features. Here they are.

Kenwood Excelon DNX997XR

This is the best head unit Kenwood has to offer and could coast their reputation on this unit alone. 

  • It turns your dashboard into an infotainment system powerhouse. It supports wireless Apple CarPlay compatibility and sports a 6.75inch touchscreen display, which is motorized with reverse tilt.
  • It has a 720p high-definition display, a built-in Garmin navigation system, and plays media files such as MP3, WMA, AAC, and then high-res WAV and FLAC files.
  • It has built-in Bluetooth for hands-free calling and music streaming, a built-in HD Radio tuner, and an AM/FM tuner.

Some more features include wired screen mirroring for your iPhone, pandora control for your iPhone, Siri Eyes Free control for selected iPhones, and is compatible with the Kenwood Remote S smartphone app.

The navigation features include three years of Garmin map updates, maps of the U.S, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the U.S Virgin Islands. Did I mention it has over 6 million points of interest?

More features include text-to-speech voice prompts that announce actual road names with added lane assistance and junction view.

If money is no object and you are looking for a double din head unit, then look no further, and click this link to check the latest price on Amazon now.

Conclusion

We have precisely looked at what Apple CarPlay is in terms of what it can offer you as an added feature that you can get from your iPhone. We broke down all its apps and functionalities and derived a must-have conclusion if you want a truly hands-free experience when driving.

No doubt that its pro’s out way any of its minor con’s and even if you do not have a car stereo system that supports it you are still in luck and can upgrade your car with aftermarket systems and devices which allow you to get all the benefits of Apple CarPlay.

Lastly, we covered all you need to know for aftermarket systems and how you would go about upgrading some or all of your stereo to support Apple CarPlay, even giving you an in-depth review of budget-friendly and the cream of the crop aftermarket head units.

If you are thinking about upgrading to Apple CarPlay, you definitely should, and I hope this article ironed out any questions, fears, and doubts you may have had.