4 Cheaper Alternatives to a Factory Installed Car Entertainment System

When we bought our first minivan in 2013, one of the “must-haves” during our search was a built in screen and DVD player. 

The benefits of having the system already installed were many. 

For one, the system is designed to work seamlessly with your vehicle. There is no extra time or research involved and you can drive off the lot with Frozen playing in the background. 

Not to mention that there are usually driver controlled buttons found in the dash that you can access even while driving. And when you have young children who are buckled into carseats, that’s a definite plus.  

But after a car accident last summer that totaled our minivan, we found ourselves searching again for a minivan with the perfect set-up. 

Child on iPad and minivan trunk

Starting Over

We loved, I repeat, LOVED having the option to throw in a movie during a long car ride. If you’ve ever been on a road trip with kids you know how wonderful that peace and quiet can be. 

READ: 5 Reasons Traveling with Kids is Worth the Headache

But because this purchase was not a planned expense, we were on a budget. And the more we looked at our options the more we realized how much we would actually be paying for just that one feature. 

I’m talking not hundreds, but thousands of dollars extra. 

We actually found that we could buy a newer van with lower mileage if we were willing to do without it. (Darn it, I hate being practical sometimes!!)

READ: 10 Habits of People Who are Never in Debt

 

Other Options

So if you don’t buy a van with a factory installed entertainment system, what are your options?

As we did the research we found several alternatives that could work for us. 

After Market Installation

The first one, and the closest to having the real thing would be to have an after market entertainment system installed by a professional or a big box store like Best Buy. 

There are company’s out there who specialize in aftermarket automotive entertainment and a quick google search could help turn up some local options. 

Expect to pay anywhere from $1000-$2000 for this option. 

We decided this was still too expensive for us, so we continued our search.

Self Installed Systems
Picture of headrest screen

The second, and more affordable option we found, was a self installed entertainment system. 

We really considered these headrests with screens and DVD players built right in. The headphones are wireless and each screen has its own DVD player so kids can watch 2 different movies simultaneously. 

And if you have a mobile hotspot or a WiFi signal (available in some newer minivan models for a monthly subscription fee) you can even plug your Roku or Amazon fire stick into the HDMI ports. 

We really considered this option and still think it would be a great alternative for most families. Click the here to see the current price on Amazon. The installation is pretty much a plug and play. 

Another option would be something like this with a flip down monitor. 

I liked that this had the look of a factory installed system and that you don’t have to worry about matching your headrest color to your car’s interior. The sound is either heard through wireless headphones or you can transmit the sound through your FM radio. This set comes with 2 pairs of wireless headphones and a remote control.

If you have some electrical experience or a DIY streak, it’s worth a shot. All of that for less than $200 and a couple hours of work. That’s not bad when you’re talking thousands for a factory installed set-up.

Handheld Devices
IMG_0374

After an in depth search and not feeling fully satisfied by the other options, we decided to go with a multi-purpose option that could be used in and outside of the car; tablets. 

When you have multiple children that means multiple opinions which means multiple arguments. So we decided this was the smartest choice for us.

For Christmas our kids each got an Amazon Fire Tablet, a rubber case, wireless headphones, and a headrest mount (Click on the links to see the current price on Amazon). 

Our plan was that before a long trip we would download movies from Netflix or Amazon and the kids could each mount their tablets and watch movies hands free. And then when we weren’t in the car they would still have something to play games on if we were desperate (which after 9 hours in the car happened sooner than we liked to admit). 

Since most people already have a subscription to a streaming service this is a fairly easy and affordable way to keep everyone happy.  

Conclusion

So there you have it. 4 affordable and simple solutions that cost significantly less than a factory installed entertainment system. 

(By the way, is anyone else blown away by the options our kids have these days? I mean seriously, how did we even survive as children?)

So again, do you really need a factory installed entertainment system in your minivan? I guess that’s up to you and your budget. But we recently took a 9 hour road trip with our 3 boys to North Carolina with 3 handheld tablets, and I can honestly say it was one of the most pleasant driving experiences we have ever had. 

And our total cost for that peace and quiet? Less than $250. Did they way overdo it on the screen time? You better believe it. But everyone, including mom and dad were in good spirits when we arrived at Mema and Pappy’s. 

That my friends, is priceless.

Boys playing on tablets

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Child in car on iPad and children in backseat looking at map

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Little Boys asleep with mom

Hi! My name is Kim. I’m the mom of 3 boys, the wife to 1 husband, and the driver of a 2013 Toyota Sienna. I love Jesus and my family, I have an obsession with getting a good deal, and if I had it my way I’d spend every weekend at Disney World trying a new food shaped like a Disney character.

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