December 5, 2021

How to install Apple CarPlay in older cars

Even if your 2004 Toyota Camry runs like a champ, you’re still stuck using Google Maps with your iPhone in a mount.

But there’s a workaround to get Apple CarPlay running in older cars that weren’t sold with the ability to mirror your phone display onto the car’s dash screen (if it even has one). You can finally have all your music, podcast, navigation, and messaging apps on one convenient screen. And you’ll even be able to use Siri for voice control.

First, you need to buy the screen.

Finding a dash screen

Third-party suppliers like Pioneer, Alpine, Kenwood, and Sony, make in-dash touchscreens that are compatible with CarPlay.

To find out if your car can be connected and work with the aftermarket screens — which are usually usually 6- to 9-inches across — check a site like Crutchfield. You can plug in your specific make, model, and year. For my 1995 Honda Odyssey, 67 results came up when I searched the keyword “CarPlay.”

Put this into your older car for today's technology.

Put this into your older car for today’s technology.
Credit: Pioneer

Most car companies don’t offer display upgrades for older cars, but Porsche is one big exception. The sports car manufacturer offers its own CarPlay upgrade in its “Porsche Classic Communication Management systems.” So now you can add a 3.5-inch screen, as seen up top, (or 7-inch display for newer models from the nineties) to your German sports car from as far back as the 1960s.

For the rest of us rocking less fancy hand-me-down rides, we’ll need to find an aftermarket screen that works with most car brands. Most CarPlay-compatible touchscreen dash units start around $250 but can reach up to $1,000, like Alpine’s 11-inch screen. At least it’s only a one-time cost.

Displays that have CarPlay will likely come with other features that may add additional cost. These include HD radio, SiriusXM radio connectivity, a back-up camera, or an HDMI connection. Connected car services from Amazon Alexa and Android Auto are also available on some units. Simpler units are usually more affordable.

Installing the screen

Once you’ve got the unit, you need to get it into the car and connected to a power source. For the typical dash screen you plug it into the space where a stereo would go. That compartment is measured by the DIN Standard, which is the size of the interchangeable audio unit for cars.

You can install it yourself, following instructions from the unit’s manual. But you’ll have to do a lot of prep (like disconnecting the car’s battery) and bring supplies to connect wires and cables — and safely. It’s essential to have experience with auto electronics. Again, a site like Crutchfield can help with an equipment list and car-specific installation instructions if you decide to DIY it.

Everything you need from your iPhone on the touchscreen.

Everything you need from your iPhone on the touchscreen.
Credit: Pioneer

There’s an easier, but more expensive option: Hire an installation pro to do this for you, like your local auto mechanic or car electronics service from a national chain like Best Buy. Installations for dashboard screens are usually around $100.

Connecting the screen to your iPhone

So once the display is in the car, you’ll want it to show directions, and play your music and audio books. Not so fast. You need to get connected first.

Like CarPlay that comes built into cars, different aftermarket displays will connect with your iPhone differently. Some units will require a USB connector cable, while others can connect wirelessly through Bluetooth.

Once you’ve figured out the cord situation, you can pair up your iPhone like you would in a car with built-in CarPlay. From here on out whenever the car is on, you can put Google Maps or Waze (or even Apple Maps) on the bigger screen. It’ll feel like you’re in a 2021 Toyota Camry, almost.