Installing Aftermarket Radios in New Cars Isn’t a Good Idea Anymore

Car radios used to be just that — a radio. Sometimes they offered BlueTooth, CD players, or AUX cables, but at their most intricate points, they were simply designed to play music. In older vehicles, especially in the early 2000s, it wasn’t uncommon to install aftermarket radios in cars. Today’s cars have much more advanced radio systems, more commonly referred to as infotainment systems, and there are several reasons why switching to an aftermarket radio is no longer a good idea, nor does it upgrade the technology in your vehicle.

The infotainment system now controls more than the radio

The cockpit of a an Audi Q8 prototype with an infotainment system - which runs on the Android operating system
The cockpit of a an Audi Q8 prototype with an infotainment system – which runs on the Android operating system | Andrej Sokolow, picture alliance, Getty Images

Older car radio systems were relatively basic, controlling music from different inputs and, in the early 2000s changing colors and sometimes giving a display of what song was playing. Today, infotainment systems do more than control the music, many control various functions around the vehicle. This can include basic functions, such as the air conditioning and other climate controls, to the more advanced, such as turning on seat heaters, using your vehicle’s built-in navigation, and in some vehicles, like the fun Easter eggs provided by Tesla, playing games or unlocking hidden bonus features. If you were to change out this infotainment system for a more general touchscreen, you wouldn’t be able to control these features, as most aftermarket radios aren’t designed to control these features and also don’t provide the proper wiring to do so.

Infotainment systems often offer information about the vehicle

The infotainment screen of a 2021 Honda Ridgeline pickup truck displaying the backup camera function
2021 Honda Ridgeline camera display | American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Besides controlling the radio and various functions around the car, many newer cars offer informational screens about the vehicles, which can either be inactive or active. Active informational systems can tell you various things about your vehicle, such as tire pressure, engine oil level, and coolant temperature. This screen can also sometimes update you on the vehicle’s maintenance schedule and alert you when it’s time for general maintenance, such as oil changes. In some newer vehicles, the user’s guide and owner’s manuals have become digital and can be accessed through the infotainment system, working as a quick guide that allows drivers to navigate to the information they need quickly and easily. Again, replacing the infotainment system with an aftermarket radio would remove these features as well.

Most new infotainment systems come with the features we had to upgrade for anyways

The basic purpose of upgrading our radios in older cars was to gain new features that our car didn’t provide. Sometimes this was as basic as having AUX ability, and in more recent years, you could even install a smartphone-compatible touch screen that gave your car many features it might have been missing. These aftermarket touch screen radios often offered the features that, even though we used to have to upgrade trim packages or pay extra for in the past, are now pretty standard in most cars. This includes BlueTooth calling and music, backup camera systems which have become federally mandated in all new vehicles, and even navigation. Because almost every new car offers these features, there isn’t as much of a need to upgrade the radio in the first place.

RELATED: How to Add Apple Carplay to an Older Car