Tired of your vehicle’s basic entertainment system? We investigate the aftermarket options...

Few things date a vehicle like a clunky infotainment system (or not having one at all). We’ve become so used to the seamless operation of our smartphones that having to use a button-and-dial-operated infotainment system is an exercise in frustration.

Fortunately, as Maurice van Heerden, director of Planet Electronics in Pretoria points out, there is a solution other than buying a new car. You can get plug-and-play aftermarket systems that, in many cases, surpass the functionality offered by the standard systems fitted to luxury vehicles. We paid a visit to its Cape Town offices to learn more.

Reasons to change

Driving an older vehicle is not the sole reason to change to an aftermarket unit, says Van Heerden. In many cases, OEM systems with all the bells and whistles are available only in a range’s top-end models (or as a very expensive factory option) and are outside the budget of most buyers.

Another reason may be that a vehicle’s standard touchscreen system lacks functionality and is difficult to operate. The Toyota Fortuner’s setup (which, incidentally, has just been updated) is an example of this and has resulted in a fair amount of business for Planet Electronics.

Universal vs. vehicle-specific systems

A universal infotainment system requires a bespoke facia plate and adaptor harness to be integrated neatly into the dash. Vehicle-specific units, on the other hand, are completely plug-and-play and require only the standard system to be removed and the aftermarket unit to be slotted in its place.

Both system options are compatible with existing vehicle functionality – such as controls on the steering wheel – while still providing many additional functions, including Bluetooth, voice control and satellite navigation.

Installation process

As mentioned above, vehicle-specific systems are easy to install and the process takes less than an hour. The universal systems may need up to two hours to fit depending on if the vehicle has a single DIN (German standard for radio head sizes; 50x180 mm) or double DIN slot.

Most aftermarket systems are double DIN and therefore require a change in the dash of an older vehicle. This may be as simple as removing a storage-space placeholder to replace the section of dash with a new facia plate. The result is a factory finish and the process is fully reversible.

Be wary of these pitfalls

  • Stick to known brand names. The you-get-what-you-pay-for statement rings true.
  • Ensure the product is backed by a warranty (Planet Electronics offers a three-year one).
  • If sat-nav is fitted, ensure the maps are legitimate, licensed maps. This can be determined by looking at the SD card on which they are loaded. It should be branded by the sat-nav company (TomTom, T4A, Garmin, etc.) and have a digital licence code. A blank card may point to a copied item that could stop working, with no option to update.
  • Find out beforehand if the fitment centre does quality work. Ask for references. Workmanship can result in either a factory-standard look or a shoddy car-park effort.
  • Any cutting of harness wires will void the vehicle’s warranty, so ensure the installer uses a plug-and-play adaptor harness.
  • Do not sell or discard your old infotainment system. When it’s time to sell the vehicle, retrofit the old unit (many buyers prefer the original system) and consider selling the aftermarket system (or reuse it).

Aftermarket infotainmentAuthor: Nicol Louw