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Lead image

The advantages of having a touchscreen stereo in your car

Assistance and convenience on display

Why are touchscreen stereos are so popular? In this article, we'll discuss the benefits, cool factor, and safety concerns of large stereo displays.

Why put a large, touchscreen stereo in your dash? Fantastic looks are a great starting point, but there’s so much more you can get from a big screen stereo. You can see all the information you need at a quick glance, letting you get your eyes back on the road faster. You’ll also have expansion options like smartphone integration, navigation, and additional cameras available to you.

Touchscreen receivers come in three styles:

  • double-sized (4" tall) in-dash receivers, the most popular style
  • space-saving, 2"-tall receivers with flip-out screens
  • the rapidly growing category of "floating" touchscreen receivers

But, it’s all about the screen real estate and what it can show you. The large display and touchscreen controls make it easier to do anything on the stereo. Let’s talk about some ways to get the most out of a touchscreen receiver.

Pioneer DMH-WT7600NEX Digital Multimedia Receiver

"Floating" touchscreen stereos, like this Pioneer DMH-WT7600NEX, are becoming more popular for their larger display area and cool looks.

Nice, big display and phone support

With a large screen acting as your receiver's display, it's a whole lot easier to read than the single-line displays of traditional car stereos. You can quickly see what’s playing, who’s calling, and where you’re going.

Many of these receivers offer the functionality of Apple CarPlay™ and Android Auto™, which emulate your smartphone experience right on the receiver’s touchscreen display – great for keeping your phone out of your hand.

113DDX9907 Kenwood DDX9907XR DVD receiver in dash with backup camera image.

Adding a rear-view camera to your touchscreen stereo provides a better, wider view of what's behind you.

Add a camera (or cameras) for safety

A rear-view or backup camera can help make your touchscreen stereo a valuable tool for staying safe while backing up and to help avoid accidents. Its wide field of view offers a whole lot more of what’s behind you than using your mirror, including areas that your vehicle's body blocks from view. Many new stereos also offer multiple camera inputs, so you can incorporate factory cameras or add aftermarket cameras for areas like your side view – all viewable on the touchscreen display.

Kenwood Excelon DNR1007XR Navigation Receiver

Imagine all your navigation data on a 10.1" "floating" display, like the Kenwood Excelon DNR1007XR receiver with built-in navigation.

Onscreen GPS navigation

Are we there yet? Touchscreen stereos with built-in GPS navigation offer incredible convenience and assistance. But if you don't want to spend the extra money for built-in navigation and future map updates, look for a touchscreen stereo that has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Both of these options get your smartphone involved to use navigation apps, such as Waze and Google Maps. They appear beautifully on the stereo's large display.

Pioneer DMH-1500NEX Digital Multimedia Receiver

Larger touchscreen displays also let you clearly see and adjust your sound settings quickly.

Customizable and informative display

In addition to the music and caller info that you can see on the display, many touchscreen receivers let you customize the background and layout. So not only can you make a personal statement on the look in your dash, but you can organize the functions that you use the most.

When you’re looking for that perfect sound, you can dive into a receiver’s tone controls and see them clearly (while parked). We also offer iDatalink Maestro interfaces for many vehicles that can show off vehicle diagnostics in your vehicle, depending on the receiver you choose. It can even include climate controls in some vehicles.

setting settings

Take some time to make adjustments on your touchscreen receiver before you hit the road.

Worried about the safety aspect of touchscreen displays?

We’ve heard comments from customers who worry that touchscreen receivers are a distracting hindrance rather than a help. And hey, we get it; we’re on the road, too. Here are some keys to using them safely (and maybe some things you didn’t know about):

  1. Adjust your screen settings before you drive. In the excitement of installing and turning on a new receiver (which we completely appreciate), some people will hit the road and try to adjust the settings on the fly. Simply put, don’t. In fact, most touchscreen stereos won't let you access the menus while the car is moving. Before you put your vehicle in gear:

    • Set the display the way you want it. That includes the contrast, backlighting, dimming, and variable color controls. Sure, you can reset them later if you need to…while you’re parked.
    • Set the functions you use the most for easy access before heading out on the road.
    • Call us with any questions you have about setting up your receiver. When you buy from Crutchfield, you get lifetime tech support, which includes helping you figure out the controls and set up.
    • Read the owner’s manual. Yeah, we know…just had to say it.
  2. Turn off the display. A busy display can beg for attention, but you can turn it off when not needed.

    display on

    display off

    Use the slider to see this Kenwood's touchscreen display on and off.

    There’s usually a one or two button sequence that can disable the display completely and quickly. The audio still works, so your music will keep playing, and navigation apps can still tell you where to go. And it'll automatically turn back on when you touch it.

  3. Get used to the controls. Many folks have mentioned that there are no “muscle memory” buttons and knobs on touchscreen receivers that can be reached without looking, which is a great point. But many models actually do have handy knobs or easy-to-find toggle buttons for volume control or other important adjustments. Some of the knobs are multi-functional for a variety of settings, not just the volume.

    JVC Gesture Control

    JVC incorporates a feature called "Gesture Control" for simple, quick controls for less distraction.

    • Some receiver makers provide for some simple “no-look” controls on the display itself. For example, JVC’s "Gesture Control" lets you swipe the touchscreen display to the right for track forward, left for track back, and a circular motion to adjust the volume – all with your eyes still on the road.
  4. Keep your steering wheel controls in play. Since you’re probably already familiar with these factory controls, why not use them with a new receiver? We offer steering wheel control (SWC) adapters for a wide variety of vehicles and receivers. In many cases, you can actually program more functions you’d use more often into your controls.

    Steering wheel control adapter

    With my factory steering wheel controls linked to my touchscreen stereo, I keep my hands on the wheel when pausing a song or turning up the volume.

    Example: I programmed a “Pause” on my steering wheel controls to simply stop the music without reaching for the screen. It’s great for keeping my eyes on narrow drive-thru lanes.

  5. Take advantage of voice controls like Siri and Google Assistant. While talking to your stereo can seem a little weird at first, they really do help in finding you info on the fly without a lot of distraction. Read more about voice control in the car.

  6. Add a compatible remote control. Many touchscreen receivers work with a trusty handheld remote control. Sometimes it's included, sometimes it's optional. For example, once he learned the remote button layout, my Dad loved using the remote to control his stereo without looking at or touching the stereo. This from a person who asked “Why do I need a remote control for a car stereo?”

  7. Know the driving laws in your state. It’s a good idea to reach out to your local governments to see what the rules are governing smartphone and touchscreen display use. Read our article about phone safety in the car.

Definitely worth a look

Regardless of which one you choose, the elegance of a touchscreen receiver makes them fun to use and incredibly handy. Use our handy vehicle selector tool to see which stereos will fit your vehicle. And our Advisors are available by phone or chat to help you choose the right touchscreen receiver for you.

Last updated 11/13/2020
  • Patrick Taylor from Sheridan

    Posted on 6/27/2021

    My mistake not Sony 8 series, 5 series

  • Patrick Taylor from Sheridan

    Posted on 6/27/2021

    I have used touch screens since 2004 in my civic Alpine flip up. Last year it gave up the horse and finally died. I change to the Sony 8 series and it is friendlier all around. As to the distraction I guess I have grown to it, once you got the two main buttons(a big plus) and Google assist i dont have to be hands on radio. So much I changed out factory on my 2002 Jeep, and 2002 Solaris to Sony 8 series, wife and son love them in the vehicles. I live in Wyoming so the drive between cities is quite the journey.

  • Barrie from Carmel

    Posted on 2/9/2021

    Very informative article, thank you. What I find disturbing and annoying is that there are very few home receivers with HD radio. Yes, we listen to HD in our Subarus and wish we could listen at home. There's seems to be a disconnect between the home-based electronics group, which is shunning HD radio, and the auto market which seems to be thriving on it. Any idea why this disconnect and/or if may ever change?

  • Dale Bowman from Wise

    Posted on 12/1/2020

    I for one hate the touchscreens , I don't like the greasy smudges all over it plus there's times when driving that you DO have to use it and the tiny letters on the display makes it impossible to use unless you keep a magnifying glass in your car , I have controls on my steering wheel but you still have to use the touch screen and now the automotive companies have removed CD players in place of high tech ! I liked listening to my cd's while I could still talk on the phone but now all music goes off when your phone is activated grrrrrr and most new radio displays look like the old Etch-A-Sketch bolted to the top of the dash !! Remember those ? I don't know why they still call them radios they're nothing more than a big distracting computer that shouldn't be there .

  • Gene Bostwick from Houston

    Posted on 10/18/2020

    Interesting comments. Apparently the majority of people leaving comments are under the mistaken impression that we (potential consumers) are more interested in having our behaviours dictated by those that feel they know best what's good for the rest of us. News flash ... not true. I'm MUCH more interested in first hand knowledge as to how the various head units work, the pluses and the minuses, NOT whether I should coose to install one.

  • Ricardo Molina from TOBYHANNA

    Posted on 4/14/2020

    Most of the negative commentary is a complete fail. People fail to realize that in most states it is illegal to be operating the radio while driving. Both hands must be on the steering wheel at all times.

  • James W from Helen, GA

    Posted on 3/1/2020

    I cannot stand touchscreen head units. They require far too much attention to be safe. The menus must be navigated through if you need to change anything or make a call as for some reason the voice commands seem to not work well or are more frustrating than pushing the flat screen menu. Muscle memory cannot be used. With steering controls, it is much better but still I find myself spending too much time at 70 MPH messing with the screen. Btw, I am a highly experienced driver with racing training so I'm not some lame guy going from A to B. I drive tons of rentals for work so I have experienced several factory units. Maybe the aftermarket units are better but I find the flashiness of them more distracting. And bring back volume knobs!

  • Rich from So San Francisco

    Posted on 7/16/2019

    I recently retrofitted my old Civic with a modern touchscreen with Carplay and Android Auto but the lack of steering wheel controls continued to bug me, it was too distracting to constantly look to the touchscreen to have to change the volume or answer a call. Since my car never originally came with SWC retrofitting was a chore. New steering wheel, repinning the harness, wiring up and programming the SWC module, programming the head unit and making the whole thing come together and work was a complete hassle, one that my professional installer wanted no part of. But now that I've installed it and it all works I can say it's a necessity. No more constantly looking and fiddling with the touchscreen. Even Siri and Google Assistant are a button press away. Need to find a gas station or restaurant? Directions to the hotel? Change playlists? Make a phone call? Need to know what the capital of Bolivia is while driving? Just hit the steering wheel button and ask away. It's great! A touchscreen is better than all the idiots I still see on the road with their heads buried in their laps fiddling with their phones while driving. But if you go the touchscreen route then you really need to have steering wheel controls and better yet access to Siri or Google.

  • MarlinB

    Posted on 6/11/2019

    Wondering why nobody from Crutchfield seems to be taking seriously all these posts about how dangerous touch screens are. They only seem interested in responding to questions from people looking to BUY something. CRUTCHFIELD, what are you doing to address these concerns? Are you letting manufacturers know that people want more options with SAFETY in mind (NO TOUCHSCREENS)?

    Commenter image

    Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    on 6/12/2019

    Thanks for pointing that out, MarlinB. Our goal when responding to comments is indeed to help people solve problems, whether that's figuring out which product is right for them or how to best use the gear they already have. We don't typically engage in the other conversations that take place. As much as we'd love to, we just don't have the time.

    Driver safety is a major concern for everyone on the road today. Between smartphones, more complex vehicle controls and interfaces, and yes, fancy car stereos, it's just too easy to become distracted while behind the wheel.

    Here at Crutchfield, we have always taken driver safety seriously. We promote products to help keep the driver's hands on the wheel. We refuse to provide tech support that would result in an unsafe installation, say by defeating a stereo's safety features. And we strive to educate our customers about the dangers of distracted driving.

    As for your question about communicating with the manufacturers, we definitely do. A big benefit of our relationships with our vendors is that they rely on us for that direct customer feedback. And luckily, if you don't want a touchscreen in your dash, there are still tons of great stereos out there without them, so we as consumers, do have that option.

  • lone* from Atlanta

    Posted on 4/29/2019

    Touch screen really should be consider the distraction that should be ban from use in car. Also, it is duplicate with your phone and it not operable without eye aide at cost of road safety. Plus for most aftermarket car radio, they be installed at the location that not easier to view. For car with oem touch screen, which most of time would have bigger size and easier to view without to lower your head too much. I strongly agree with many who already point out this to us. Put a music art displayed at 7" and at knee level really a bad practice. I would rather hook up my phone while driving. The speaker, mic, and control is all we can share while driving but not the additional views that for entertainment purpose. Glance of small degree is ok but not at 30 degree, which is way too much off.