$800 to install an iPad mini in your car?  Um, no – it’s a lot more than that.

This week in the shop, I had a customer inquire about having an iPad installed in his 2007 Nissan Altima.  I’m sure you’ve seen videos of Soundman on YouTube installing iPads in vehicle dashes and I’m sure you’ve wondered how much it would really cost to have that done in your own vehicle.  A quick google search brings up some questionable results.

The number one result is an article from Geek.com declaring it costs $800 to have an iPad mini installed in your dash. The article is actually quite misleading. The $800 price tag is really only for the customized dash kit. It’s clearly stated it doesn’t include the iPad, but it also doesn’t include any of the electronics or installation labor required to accomplish this. Read on to find out the true cost of an iPad car installation.

“I want an iPad installed in my car.”

I went out to the vehicle with the customer to see what kind of equipment he had, factory stereo or otherwise, so I could put together a quote for him.  He confidently informed me, “I want this (holding his iPad) installed here (holding it in front of his factory car stereo).  And I don’t care what it costs, I just want it done.”   

I took a quick look at the vehicle and noticed it was all stock except for an amplifier and subwoofer in the trunk wired in to the stock stereo system.  After assessing the situation, we ventured back into the shop.  I was somewhat concerned I was wasting my time.  Usually when someone says they don’t care what it costs they have no idea what it costs.  However, I kept an open mind and responded:

“It’s all totally doable, we’ve done this in a couple cars.  My own Honda Element has an iPad mini installed for the car stereo.  There’s a few things you’ll need in order to do it and there’s a couple different ways we can accomplish this.  The main thing is you’ll need an external amplifier and some type of external volume control.  We can either use a processor like an Alpine PXA-H800 with dedicated controller or we can go the more simplified route and just use a 5 channel amplifier with a dedicated volume knob. Either way you need an amplifier and a digital to analog convertor.  Also – I don’t really recommend amplifying stock speakers, so I’ll also include new speakers in the estimate as well.

iPad Mini installed in our Honda Element
iPad Mini installed in our Honda Element with Alpine PXA-H800 processor

The customer didn’t flinch as I rattled off the long list of equipment he would need and he was obviously really excited about the whole process and couldn’t wait to get the estimate.  I asked him to give me a couple days so I could go over it with an installer.

I let him know I would email him the estimate and call to confirm he received it.  If it all looked good, he should come back in so we could dial in the details.  At that point, I’d demo a few different speakers and amplifiers and then I’d show him the Alpine processor vs going the amplifier/volume knob route.  In the end, I’d give him a few variations on the original estimate to choose from and if it all looked good to him we would just need a 25% deposit to book it and get him on the schedule.  The customer anxiously called at the end of each day following our meeting to see if I had put the estimate together yet – he was really interested in getting this done!

What’s it going to take to get that iPad installed in your car?

Two days after meeting with the customer I had his estimate ready.  It included a long list of materials, parts and labor:

  • Dash kit for modification in 2007 Nissan Altima
  • Wire harness so we don’t have to hack up the stock harness – in case he wants to put the stock stereo back in at some point
  • iPad mini bezel from Soundman to be used in custom dash kit for car
  • JL Audio XD700/5 5 channel amplifier to power front and rear speakers and the customer’s existing subwoofer
  • JL Audio HD-RLC level control knob to be used as a volume knob for the new stereo
  • iStreamer outboard DAC for iPad mini (to get analog audio out of iPad mini into external amplifier)
  • Lightning to USB cable to connect iPad mini to iStreamer
  • One Quality RCA cable to go from iStreamer to XD 700/5 amplifier
  • 4 Gauge Stinger Amp Kit to wire up XD 700/5 amplifier
  • Morel Maximo Front Component Speakers
  • Morel Maximo Rear Coaxial Speakers
  • 8 hours custom installation labor to fabricate custom dash bezel to accommodate iPad mini in dash kit ($125 an hour)
  • Materials for fabrication such as fiberglass, bondo, filler, paint, etc.
  • 11 hours regular installation labor ($82.50 an hour plus 5% shop parts fee) to install Front Component Speakers, Rear Coax Speakers, 5 Channel Amplifier, iStreamer DAC, Volume Knob, iPad Dash Kit, Final Tuning and Set Up

So what’s the total cost of an iPad car installation?

Just a little over $4k – not including iPad mini.  I emailed the estimate over to the customer along with the above picture of our iPad mini in our Honda Element and invited him back to the shop for a proper demonstration.  I also called to follow up with the customer and confirm he received the estimate I had emailed him.  There was no answer, so I left a message.

Keep in mind, there are a few different ways to accomplish an iPad car installation.  Our shop is focused on sound quality, so we prefer a hardwired method vs a Bluetooth method.  In our own vehicle, we wanted to have a reliable processor that allowed for multiple amplifiers and advanced equalization, so we chose the Alpine PXA-H800 processor over a simple 5 channel amp and volume knob (or Audison Bit One).

I never did hear back from him.  I guess he did care what it costs.  Either way, I thought this was a great opportunity for me to share details and educate others curious about the process.  At least now you know what the true cost of an iPad car installation is.

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  1. For iDevice integration, consider also one method I’m doing. AirPlay via Airport Express no-less. When using an outboard DSP with an optical input and remote control, as many do now, you can use the AE to feed directly from the iPhone or iPad digitally CD loss-less quality. It works phenomenally, and essentially from the music media perspective renders a conventional head unit unnecessary.

    It’s only drawback might be how to integrate phone for speakerphone. I’m still working on that one. Trick is, you have to have some skills to “hack” the Airport Express to accept DC power. It can be done directly from 12vdc or from “USB” power 5vdc. I tested one into a Helix DSP just using wall A/C power and it had better sound output, less noise and better sound quality, to be expected.

    It bypasses the head unit’s D/A conversion and DSP’s A/D conversion. It’s essentially the equivalent of running a home CD player for example, via SP/DIF (optical) verses RCA’s into a receiver. Optical wins out.

    So as kits are starting to emerge for iPad dash builds, it’s becoming capable for the DIY-savvy.

  2. Why would anybody go to the trouble of an Ipad in the car….especially at that price point!!

    • I think it has a certain cool factor and some find it quite convenient to access all the apps they use on their dash. However, as Apple CarPlay becomes more popular and more and more apps are made compatible, I think we will see fewer iPad installations out there. I hope. I can’t tell you how many people have no idea how much it really takes to do. I wrote this post because I was sick of quoting people and jaws dropping. With CarPlay, people have a safer and cheaper way to access the apps and features they use.

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