Is it more affordable to have a portable DVD player in your car or have the dealer install one?

Is a portable DVD player the right choice for you? See more pictures of essential gadgets.
Dan Dalton/Getty Images

Kids can drive you to distraction -- literally. While time in the car can be great for reconnecting families, hours in traffic can lead to fights, toddler meltdowns, and distracted moms and dads who need to pay attention to the road. That's why a lot of families have turned to in-car and portable DVD players to keep the peace during long road trips or simply while running errands around town. A lot of drivers are even finding that while waiting for soccer practice to end, an in-car DVD player can provide mom or dad with a few minutes of relaxation as well.

When it comes to in-car DVD players, buyers have several options. New car buyers can opt for a factory-installed system. Similar to other factory-installed options like a sunroof or air conditioning, for instance, these DVD players are installed when the car is initially built and are the manufacturers' original equipment. However, if buyers aren't in the market for a new car, they can still have the in-car small-screen experience. They simply have to have the car dealer or a car audio shop install an aftermarket DVD system in their "new" used car. Another option: Buyers can just go down to the local electronics warehouse store and pick-up a portable DVD player that requires little or no installation.


­All three options have unique advantages, but let the buyer beware; they have their disadvantages, too. Keep reading to find out which system makes the most sense for you.

Car DVD Player Benefits and Drawbacks

Factory-installed DVD systems are becoming more and more common in SUVs, minivans and other family haulers. One major benefit to these systems is that they are original equipment and covered by the car's warranty. Since they're installed by the factory, they fit precisely into the car and often these systems can be operated without any extra controls. These systems also tend to have a large screen (or screens) that can be seen by all passengers. However, these factory-installed DVD systems can be expensive, often adding thousands of dollars to the initial cost of the vehicle. Also, since they're essentially a part of the car, they have to be left in place.

A variation of the factory-installed DVD system is the dealer-installed system. Dealer-installed systems aren't original to the vehicle, but they do use the manufacturer's recommended equipment. Since the system is installed by the dealer, they usually have warranty coverage as well, and offer the same benefits and drawbacks as a factory-installed system. However, because they're installed by a dealer, they can be added to an older car, which is a great option for people who want a DVD system but don't necessarily want to purchase a new car to get one.


Somewhere between dealer-installed and portable DVD players are third-party- or aftermarket-installed players. These systems are bought from an electronics or car accessory store and installed by someone other than the dealer. While this option does allow buyers to customize their system, it also means that the system won't be covered by the vehicle's warranty. In fact, in some cases, work done on the vehicle by someone other than the dealer may even void the car's warranty. The bottom line: Do your research before you act.

Portable DVD players are a lot less expensive than factory-installed DVD players. They cost less initially and since they're completely portable, they don't need to be installed. Since these players are easily moved from place to place, they can entertain in the car as well as on a plane or anywhere else for that matter. The downside is that they tend to have small screens and most have to be hand held, so it's tough for more than one person at a time to watch them. Also, when they're visible in a parked car they can attract thieves.

With all of these choices available, what's the right one for you and your vehicle? What do you really need to consider? Is cost the only factor? Find out on the next page.


Car DVD System Costs

The DVD system that makes the most sense for you depends on what you plan to use it for. If you want to entertain a crowd in the car and only in the car, you should opt for a factory- or dealer-installed system. With soft car sales, new car buyers may be able to get a factory- or dealer-installed system at an incredible discount. In fact, for much of the fall and winter of 2008, Chrysler was offering free DVD systems on their minivans and SUVs. However, in most cases, if you want an installed system for your new car, you'll probably have to negotiate hard when you're making the initial purchase.

Sales on third-party systems and installations are becoming common as well, and some factors, like installation rates, may be negotiable there as well. When deciding how much to spend on an installed system, it's not a bad idea to keep vehicle resale value in mind. Because the system you install is likely to be out of date when you sell the car, you aren't likely to add much to the car's value.


While portable DVD players are the least expensive option, if you determine that you'll need to buy several of them to entertain the whole family at the same time, the costs may quickly add up. However, if you only want to entertain one or two kids in the car and want to have entertainment options when you get to your destination, too, portable DVD players make a great choice. Some manufacturers are now making systems that are tough enough to withstand short drops and with controls that are simple enough for a toddler to operate.

You can learn more about automotive electronics and other related topics on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • ConsumerGuide. "Car DVD Player Buying Guide." Aug. 14, 2007. (Jan. 27, 2009)
  • Katzmaier, David. "Best portable DVD players." CNET Reviews. Dec. 3, 2008. (Jan. 27, 2009)
  • U.S. News Rankings and Reviews. "Mercedes Develops Split-Screen Nav System." Dec. 11, 2008. (Jan. 27, 2009)