Even though it doesn’t have a ton of apps and feels pretty limited, I’m still a huge fan of CarPlay in my vehicles because it makes driving a lot safer. You can get Google Maps with live data instead of whatever weird navigation system came with your car at the time it was built. You can take calls and send a text with your voice. You can play any album by any artist without taking your hands off the wheel. And thanks to aftermarket stereos, you can do this all in older vehicles that never supported it.
When I recently bought a used 2012 Sprinter cargo van for camping, I liked the aftermarket stereo, the subwoofer, and backup camera the previous owner had all installed, but sadly the head unit pre-dated CarPlay’s arrival. So my very first van upgrade was safety and convenience minded: I had to get a new CarPlay deck into it.
Normally I have a lot of criteria when picking a new car stereo head unit, including having a physical volume knob, a large display that is easy to read, and a fast boot time to get into CarPlay. But when I spotted a ginormous top-of-the-line Alpine stereo in a BestBuy a few months ago, I was hooked. With a 9-inch screen, it’s almost like having an iPad sitting in your dash and it has ingenious mounting options that make it work in a lot of cars. They look incredible in person, and I knew this had to be the stereo for my Sprinter.
Sidenote: it’s a bummer car companies are bundling A/C controls and vehicle settings into their entertainment systems, because for the most part, whatever stereo is in your dash in a modern car is the only one you can use and can’t be replaced easily by modern aftermarket stereo systems. This sucks because your say, 2017 Subaru will be stuck forever with whatever came from the factory while aftermarket companies can innovate and update faster. One perk of buying my particular old Sprinter van was I knew it came with almost no fancy options, making it easy to replace the stereo.
Save some money on Alpine’s cheaper option
Alpine currently makes a couple versions of the Halo 9: the $599 iLX-F259 and the $999 iLX-F309. Looking at their specs, they both offer the same amount of amplifier power and and identical screens. The more expensive option supports more accessories and integrations with car computer systems, but in my stripped down Sprinter, I couldn’t take advantage of any of them, so I saved $400 and got the cheaper F529 model and don’t regret it one bit.
Crutchfield makes it easy
I’ve been a big fan of Crutchfield for years. They have good prices and their website is well thought out. Their What Fits in My Car? feature is hands-down the best online research tool for figuring out your stereo and speaker options. But this was my first Crutchfield purchase where I wanted to do it all myself, and their installation instructions, wiring diagrams, and suggested parts with installation accessories were all spot-on and made everything go smoothly.
My favorite discovery from this project was the Posi-Products Wiring Harness Connectors. They’re ingenious small plastic couplers that make splicing wires together quick and easy, with no soldering. It made the hardest part of the process (tackling the wiring) quite easy.
Break down monster problems into doable chunks
I started by removing the carpets and disconnecting the battery beneath the plate below the driver’s seat. Taking the dash apart was easy with Crutchfield’s interior pry tools, and with their instructions and four simple Torx bits, the old stereo was out of the dash. But then I saw a spaghetti mess. Here’s what the wiring looked like about halfway through my making sense of it.
Once the dash was open and the old radio was out, there were something like 40 unknown wires. But armed with a diagram from Alpine’s manuals and Crutchfield’s docs, I spotted the front left speaker wires, then the rights, then more speakers, until suddenly I had identified half the wires. Then I kept going and kept splicing wires into the Alpine harness.
Eventually I just had two wires I couldn’t figure out where to connect, but some quick googling turned up that parking brake wires are sometimes green and reverse wires are sometimes orange and suddenly the huge pile of wires were all accounted for and made sense and the wiring harness was complete. My brother-in-law and I used a multimeter to check all the connections before we put it back in the dash.
The last snag was forgetting to put an included small protector plate behind the screen attachment, which prevented the head unit from powering up until I installed it. But then everything worked, even the existing backup camera!
It was a lot like solving a jigsaw puzzle. You start with overwhelming chaos, but then you find the corner pieces, then the edge pieces, then you make out objects and connect parts until suddenly you have a tiny pile of pieces left to fit in and then it’s completely solved.
The Halo 9 in action
After having CarPlay in my Honda Ridgeline truck for a few years, I’ve grown to like and rely on it and this Alpine is no different. I put the microphone up in the the center of the headliner and ran the wires along the windshield down to the unit, and Siri is great at sending and reading texts. My biggest win was getting Google Maps directions on a large screen. Without CarPlay, the first couple trips I took in this van required that I turn on Google’s audio directions and hoped for the best when driving, but with Google Maps in your dash you can see what turns you’ll need to take ahead of time and which lanes you should be in, which is handy in a large van that’s not easy to maneuver in traffic. It sure beats a “turn right in 200 feet” audio cue that comes on too late.
The unit looks good in the dash, like it was always there, and the 9″ screen is about right considering how much space there is between the vents in the center console of a Sprinter. Heck, you could probably fit the upcoming 11″ Halo from Alpine and still not block your vents.
Here’s a before and after:
I bought a SUV today to tow the camper I’m buying in next couple of weeks. Meet you in the middle of country!
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