Electronics installers face headaches, high cost with some makes

Jan. 1, 2020
Recent industry survey rates Ford, Toyota as easiest vehicles to upgrade with aftermarket electronics.

Today’s technicians face a daily struggle finding access to automaker repair information. Electronics installers also face problems with these same vehicles, as they realize just how many strings, er, wires are attached to aftermarket electronics.

A recent industry survey on aftermarket electronics installation notes that extra items such as dash kits and wiring harnesses are needed for 60 percent of aftermarket electronics installation jobs, with upgrade costs that sometimes exceed the cost of the product itself.

About 1,700 electronics installers completed the Aftermarket CE Vehicle Installation survey, which ranks Toyota and Ford as the easiest vehicles to upgrade with aftermarket consumer electronics. In contrast, BMW and Volkswagen received the lowest ratings regarding ease of installation.

More than eight out of 10 installations required equipment in addition to the device being installed, notes the survey, with the most common requirements being dash kits, wiring harnesses or antenna adapters. The cost for the extra equipment, not including labor, ranged from $142 (Ford) to $209 (BMW).

Installed devices included aftermarket audio systems, satellite radio, security and video systems and remote starters.

The difficulty experienced by these installers is not some sort of grand conspiracy by OEMs, believes Harvey Wright, president of the Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA), who, along with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), wrote the research report based on the survey. Rather, it’s likely a lack of foresight on behalf of the automaker.

“I don’t think there’s some big grand plan because we’ve met with OEs,” says Wright, who also runs Autosound of Lexington. “I think it’s market dynamics.”

Often, technology moves too rapidly for the automakers to predict what gadget or entertainment device will achieve popularity, he points out.

Aside from this theory, Wright still believes the OEs pose a threat to the aftermarket, even on the electronics side of the business.

“I think the writing’s on the wall that our biggest competitor is the OEM,” he proclaims. “It’s not the guy across town that beat you by $5 on a part.”

Not all OEs represented

Wright says one of the report’s biggest surprises was the car makes not even represented. “Why didn’t they make the list?” he asks. “When you look at certain makes and models, a lot of people think they can’t be upgradeable.”

And maybe with those makes not represented, consumers feel they don’t want to mess with their current electronics systems, adds Wright.

He also believes that others are “warranty scared” — afraid to change their vehicle’s entertainment system for fear of voiding their manufacturer warranties.

Other findings

Predictably, the cost of the product has a direct relation to its ease of installation, with 74 percent of installers reporting easy installation for parts that cost $50 or less, and only 39 percent reporting easy installation with products that cost more than $200.

The top performing brands have a lower-than-average retail parts cost for integration, according to the report.

Model years 2000 through 2002 received much easier ratings than those vehicles made between 2003 and 2005, a fact perhaps attributed to the more sophisticated technology found in newer vehicles.

Though a high number of electronics installers faced what they would consider an installation challenge, nine out of 10 report they would install the same device in the same vehicle again.

Noted installation problems when setting up aftermarket equipment include integrating with or bypassing existing vehicle electronics systems and compatibility with ignition security.

The new gadgets in town

What are some of the hot electronics being installed in the aftermarket?

Wright says Bluetooth seems to be the next wave of connectivity. Additionally, many installers note iPod adapters are part of their electronics installation and video capability is another strong consumer trend.

“We now see a trend of mobile video hitting the sedans and cars,” says Wright. He adds video is the No. 1 category with mobile electronics.

The cost for retail electronic parts integration

(not including labor):

BMW    $209

GM       $164

Ford      $142

Honda   $139

VW       $118

DaimlerChrysler    $117

Nissan     $116

Toyota    $110