How to Build Your Own Custom Car Entertainment System

Car Receivers

An aftermarket stereo receiver is a great way to add new audio features to your vehicle.
Niels Laan/iStockphoto

When it comes to being entertained in your car, there have never been more options available as there are today. So what exactly do you want to do? Look at maps, listen to your MP3 collection, or watch a movie on DVD? If you've got the cash, you can do all of the above.

A good place to start when you want to bring your audio dreams to life is a car receiver -- also known as the stereo or head unit. A new receiver can have as many features as you're willing to pay for. Basic receivers provide you with CD playback and often feature colorful graphics. But for a little more, you can get one that plays MP3/WMA files or has an auxiliary input for your music player. In addition, you might also consider a satellite radio receiver for your car. This gives you a lot more audio options, but be mindful of what it costs to subscribe.


If you're always getting lost on the road, it may make sense to get a receiver with a built-in navigation system. On newer cars, these are optional and sometimes even standard car equipment, but really any car can be retrofitted with one. A typical in-dash navigation system is made up of a car stereo with a small built-in car monitor, a connection unit with audio and video inputs and outputs and an external GPS antenna [source: Crutchfield]. These can cost more than $1,000 in many cases, but they have that great "from the factory" look and boast a number of other features, like being able to locate ATMs or restaurants in your area. A more portable unit is a less-expensive option.

So what's the ultimate in-car receiver? For now, it may be the DVD receiver. These have extra-large LCD screens and when you aren't playing DVD movies with them, they have impressive displays to control your car's audio and other features. Bluetooth, iPod connectivity and satellite radio can all be controlled from such a receiver and some also include GPS navigation. If you really want to get high-tech, some even include a rear-mounted camera to make backing up much easier. You can also connect a rear monitor (or monitors) to entertain your passengers in the backseat.

One thing to keep in mind is the cost, because a DVD receiver can be a big investment. You can expect to pay several hundred dollars for a good one, not to mention the cost of installation and extra monitors. Be careful, as it can all add up quick.

Up next, we'll discuss amplifiers -- because all this equipment is no good if it's not getting enough power.