7 Things to Consider Before Buying a CarPlay Receiver

CarPlay
CarPlay (Image credit: iMore)

Most new vehicles are equipped with Bluetooth technology, so you can play music and take calls off of your phone. Many manufacturers even choose to include CarPlay built right into their vehicles (or you can add it as an upgrade). If, however, you don't have a vehicle with Bluetooth built in, or you simply want more out of your current bare-bones Bluetooth system, you might consider a CarPlay receiver.

That being said, before you consider a receiver, consider these few things to make sure it's what you really need.

Cost

Off the hop, a decent CarPlay-enabled audio receiver is going to run you at least $300 to $400 — really great ones run upwards of $700. Is half the cost (or, depending on your iPhone model, the whole cost) of your phone worth having CarPlay access in the car? Or can you live with Siri's functionality on its own and live without the larger display for maps and stuff?

It's not like you just buy the receiver and go

A third-party CarPlay receiver isn't something that just hangs out in your car in tandem with your current console — it replaces your current console. So consider your warranty, whether or not you know how to remove and then install a new console. If you don't know how any of that works, then you're going to have to take your car in somewhere and get a pro to do it, and that can run your upwards of $200 for parts and labour, on top of what you've already paid for the CarPlay receiver.

So if you're not sure you're sticking with iPhone for the foreseeable future and/or you don't have $500 to $1000 to drop on it, then don't do it.

Buying a new car in the next little while?

Then you'll want a receiver you can cheaply replace. There's no sense in dropping a ton of money for the next person who owns your car. Also, consider a car with CarPlay built in for your next vehicle and you won't even have to worry about third-party receivers.

Are all drivers in the Apple ecosystem?

If you share your car and not everyone who drives it owns an iPhone, then an aftermarket CarPlay receiver probably isn't a good idea. They won't get the most out of the experience, and if you're considering it as a "family" accessory, then there will be those who are left out.

That being said, if it's your car and it's tough titties for everyone else, then go for it!

You can also grab receivers that support both CarPlay and Android Auto, and each driver can switch between to use there preferred platform.

Do you have the room?

This may seem simple, but really look into it. Yes, there are parts that can be used so that once your CarPlay receiver is installed, everything looks finished and as though it was meant to be that way all along. However, if you have limited room in your dash, things just may not work.

Make sure you're choosing a receiver that works with your vehicle. Consider asking a professional before you even start looking. Units are usually categorized into "Single DIN" (2x7 inches) or "Double DIN" (4x7 inches), and the latter is simply larger.

You'll also want to make sure you'll have a couple inches of clearance behind the unit to allow for cables and wiring. Again, if you're really not sure, consult an automotive professional.

Wired or wireless?

Some CarPlay-enabled head units provide a wired connection, so you can charge your iPhone while you drive. If your car doesn't have USB ports and/or you don't want to bother mucking about with a cigarette lighter charger, then definitely consider wired. If you don't care about charging in the car or already have a charging solution, then wireless is perfect for you. If you want wireless, consider adding a wireless charger to your vehicle or a wireless charging mount.

Anything else?

Got any questions or other considerations before diving into CarPlay? Sing out in the comments below!

Mick is a staff writer who's as frugal as they come, so he always does extensive research (much to the exhaustion of his wife) before making a purchase. If it's not worth the price, Mick ain't buying.

7 Comments
  • You’re not locked into Carplay when plugged in. I’m sitting in my car in a parking lot. Reading your article and writing a comment. I guess you don’t have CarPlay.
  • Correct, I don't — I use Android. Thanks for catching.
  • The Soundstream VRCP-65 headunit is $220-250 and packed with features (CarPlay, SiriusXM, Bluetooth, Android PhoneLink, DVD, etc).
  • Definitely higher priced, I went with the Alpine Halo 9 which plays both Android and Car Play. I also have the deal where the installer will reinstall my factory stereo included with the price if I choose to take my Halo 9 with me. With a module it will control all aspects of a newer call (ie temp control, winch, bed light, etc). Amazing.
  • I have a car now that has CarPlay support, it's so useful. I'm looking forward to trying different navigation apps in iOS 12 as well
  • It's like the fax machine or the TV remote when they came out...you soon say to yourself "How'd I do this without it before?!" CarPlay is just that...you get quickly accustomed and dependent on using it when driving. I've not manually texted in our car in 6 months, not to mention dialed a call, hand-selected a song/list to listen to.
  • Agreed, I love it. I definitely couldn't do without it now