One of the best things about the Android OS is that its reach isn’t just limited to our smartphones and tablets. While we’ve seen some unique devices that use the operating system, its capabilities are finding a more mainstream application over the past year or so on our wrists, with Android Wear, and in our cars, courtesy of Android Auto. While the latter is making its way to a growing number of vehicles by 2016, you of course, have to be in the market for a new car. You also have the option to manually install a third-party in-dash unit, but those can prove to be quite expensive.
A relatively cheaper way to enjoy Android Auto-like features in your vehicle is possible however, as long as you have Nexus 7, or any other 7-inch to 8-inch tablet, handy, and apart from the tablet itself, the remaining tools and requirements will set you back at most $150. The entire installation doesn’t take a whole lot of time either, and you can have the setup up and running in just a few hours. Curious to find out how this is possible? Here is our quick guide on how to install a tablet in your car dashboard!
Tools and items required
The first thing you’ll need is a small head unit amplifier. My choice was the Alpine KTP-455U 4-channel power pack, because it is relatively cheap, and is also perfect for the job, being compact enough to fit inside the dash without any problems. You’ll also need a 12V socket, a two-port USB car charger, and a fuse tap with a 10A fuse. As you can see, these are already connected because I had performed this installation on my previous vehicle as well, and you can find the details on how to do so here. Also required is an RCA to 3.5 mm adapter, a Bluetooth adapter, a wireless charger, a handful of zip ties, and a wiring harness that is compatible with your car. Several cable splicers are also needed, and any option, such as using wire nuts, soldering, or the crimp method, will all do.
The Bluetooth adapter is technically optional, but is something I used to be able to connect to multiple devices without needing to open up the dashboard every time to plug it in.
Finding the appropriate wiring harness for your car can be either extremely easy or very cumbersome, and I was unfortunately in the latter group. Of course, there will be some differences between your car and the one seen in this video, the Ford F150, and some research and planning of your own is not only recommended, but will actually definitely be required. For the most part though, this is a very easily adaptable tablet installation process.
As far as the tools you’ll need is concerned, remember to keep handy a pair of scissors, a small screw driver, wire cutters and strippers, a crimping tool if you already have one, needle nose pliers, and potentially some wrenches and a multimeter, depending on the make and model of your vehicle. Once you’ve got everything you need, you are ready to begin the installation process.
The installation process
For starters, you’ll want to find the proper wiring map for you car, and this information can be found from several great resources, including Wilson Auto Electric, Wiring 4 Cars, and The 12 Volt. Before you do anything however, it’s definitely a good idea to open up the dash, unhook the currently installed radio, and familiarize yourself with what you are dealing with. First and foremost, make sure that wiring harness you’ve purchased matches up with the connections inside your dash, and if they don’t match, you have the wrong wiring harness. As mentioned, I had quite a bit of trouble in this regard, and with very little documentation available on the exact configuration I had, I ended up having to install an factory amp and splice the factory wires to make it work. That said, there is a very good chance that you won’t have to do this, but there is a workaround if needed as well.
If everything is a match, you are ready to start splicing. Use the color codes on the wiring harness packaging to match the wires from the head unit, and it is very likely that they are all the same colors. For example, yellow to yellow for power, green for left rear speaker positive, green with black for left rear negative, and so on. Once all the wires are connected together, remove the pins and wires from the plastic connectors, which can be done pretty easily with a small screw driver. Then take the wiring from your car that you found and re-pin your wiring harness to match up with the wires inside the vehicle, with left front speaker positive to left front speaker positive, and so on and so forth. This task does require your full attention and can be pretty daunting at first, but will get easier as you go along. A useful tip here is to cross-reference the color codes with a picture you can take of the wires in the dash. Of course, this will result in a complete mess of wires coming out of the amp, and this where some of the zip ties, to keep things clean and tangle free, come in handy.
Now will be a good time to check whether you’ve succeeded in your wiring attempts. Remove the stereo for the car dashboard, disconnect all the hookups, and attach your new wiring harness and amp. Connect the RCA to 3.5 mm adapter to the amp input, and plug in the Bluetooth adapter into this as well. Connect a phone or tablet to the Bluetooth adapter and play some music. If you’re now hearing that music through your car speakers, you are on the right track.
Next up is wiring the new 12V socket into the internal fuse box of the car, which usually resides underneath the steering wheel. Remove the cover, and using the owner’s manual as a reference, find a 10A fuse that is only powered when the key is turned. This is required, as your tablet and Bluetooth adapter will otherwise constantly be a drain on your car battery, even when the car isn’t running. To do this, first ground the negative wire from the 12V socket, by using any exposed frame. Then remove a 10A fuse from the fuse box, insert it into one of the empty slots on your fuse tap, insert an additional 10A fuse into the fuse tap, plug the fuse tap into the empty slot, and plug in the car charger. Now turn the key in the ignition and look for any signs of life. If the car charger continues to work even with the ignition off, look for another fuse to tap.
After you’ve found the right fuse, permanently ground the 12V socket’s negative lead by screwing it into the frame, and then find a nice, convenient, and hidden location to attach the new power source. Luckily, I have a covered panel in the floorboard that was close enough to the head unit to just leave it there. Drop the two USB cables for the wireless charger and the Bluetooth adapter through the hole in the dash, down to the car charger, and plug them in. It has to be mentioned here that I was able to use a wireless charger because the Nexus 7 allows for it, but if you are using another tablet, you can directly plug its charging cable into the car charger as well. Finally, find a place to semi-permanently attach the Bluetooth adapter. I was able to do so by drilling a hole in the side of a small unused compartment under the steering wheel, and using velcro to attach the adapter.
Secure the amp inside the dash with some zip ties, and attach the wireless charger to the Nexus 7. While I originally planned to use velcro to do this, it proved to be too thick and not allow for charging through both sides, and so I ended up using some foam mounting tape instead.
The final step is to mount the tablet inside the dash panel. I am using Sugru to do so, and while it isn’t the most polished option, it is a nice temporary solution until a more permanent fix is available. This does also let me remove the tablet easily when required to do any upgrades or changes overnight. Remove the dash and apply Sugru to either side of the tablet and near the bottom, let it sit, and re-install the dash, now with the tablet inside. The concern that the Sugru isn’t going to be firm enough proved to be somewhat true, as the tablet does move slightly when tapping on it, and a more permanent fix will certainly be necessary. That said, it does work well enough for now, and the whole setup does look fantastic.
Finally, to be able to enjoy the Android Auto experience on the tablet, I used AutoMate beta, which emulates the Android car system perfectly, without sacrificing the true nature of the tablet. AutoMate also keeps the screen on when the tablet is charging and automatically turns it off when it is not, so with the current setup, if the truck is running, so is the screen.
So there you have it for this closer look at how to install a tablet in your car! The process can be a bit time consuming and does require your full attention, but the final result more than makes up for it, allowing you to enjoy the Android Auto experience in your vehicle, without needing to spend on a far more expensive third party Android Auto head unit, or having to buy a new car.