Replacing the factory radio, adding CarPlay + Bluetooth in a Ford Transit

At the end of this project, I had a decent sized touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, satellite radio, bluetooth, reverse camera input + 1 additional video input, 1 video output, as well as adding USB and standard 3.5mm aux port in place of the factory aux port.

I always choose the most feature-devoid vehicles that I can. My logic is that there’s less to go wrong, less money upfront, and I can add anything I want later. Anything with an infotainment system is a nightmare. For this reason, I avoided the 4.3″ display option in the Transit. This article is appropriate for anyone looking to replace the base model’s anemic AM/FM stereo and add some basic modern functionality without spending a fortune.

Difficulty: 3/5, Cost: $360+

the completed stereo in my Transit

Parts and Tools Required:

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If you’ve got steering wheel controls, you can use the same module that I used in this article to retain them. If you’ve got the 4.3″ screen instead of the bin, it’s likely that most of this won’t apply for you. Sorry 🙁

You can use crimpers and butt connectors, but I highly recommend soldering all of your connections whenever possible. It’s a better connection and not a difficult skill to learn.

Installation

I’ll go ahead and apologize in advance for the quality of my photos, as well as the lack of detail in my installation instructions. I did not realize I’d one day be piecing together this article, or I’d have done a better job with both. If you’ve installed a car stereo before, this is going to make a lot more sense, but hopefully the photos are helpful. In any case, this article will be more vague than I’d like, but overall the only reason this even garnered a 2.5/5 difficulty was the fact that you’ll be cutting plastic trim in addition to some electrical wiring work.

The original, pathetic AM/FM stereo with an aux input below (not pictured)

Remove the top “bin” piece by prying upward with a trim removal tool, credit card, or your fingernails if you’re an absolute psychopath.

There should be two hex bolts exposed above the radio now, remove these and pull outward on the entire stereo surround. Disconnect the hazard switch and airbag light cables, as well as the factory stereo harness and antenna.

The vent assemblies were secured with single torx screws. You’ll be migrating the vents and hazard switch / airbag light over to the new trim piece included in the Metra kit. This step is very straightforward.

No turning back: this section of dash comes out easily with a mini hacksaw.

The point of no return is when you cut the piece of plastic dash that the previous bezel screwed into with two hex screws. Cut this as wide as your new stereo at least, without going any wider than necessary.

Proceed with the installation by following the instructions included with the Metra kit, you’ll be attaching a bracket to either side of your stereo, migrating clips onto the new “bin” piece, and test fitting everything. Expect some gap on your new stereo, as the cutout in the Metra piece seems to be slightly taller than necessary. You may be repositioning the brackets on the stereo until the fit satisfies you. The clips for the “bin” are really, really poor. See my evaluation for details on this.

Wiring is a breeze, it was a color-for-color match. See my note re: the parking brake cable.

On the wiring side, there are no surprises here. The Metra factory interface harness was a color-for-color match to the Pioneer head unit harness. In the photo above, you’ll see that I have the head unit’s “parking brake” wire joined with the black ground. This does not work these days. The Microbypass switch that I referenced in the parts list is what you’ll need to allow functionality while the vehicle is in motion. You could wire it up to the parking brake, but what kind of madman opts for less functionality?

The bypass switch connects to the ground, +12v, and parking brake wires from the Pioneer harness.

The photo above shows my completed wiring harness, including the bypass switch that “tricks” the stereo into thinking the parking brake is always on. Without this, you’ll either have to run a wire to the parking brake, or have extremely limited functionality from the stereo. Don’t be a dick and watch movies while you drive.

WIP: I’m pulling cables from the lowest opening to the stereo for the USB and aux inputs.

I went ahead and removed the bezel surrounding the HVAC controls in addition to the spot where the factory aux port was. No fasteners, just pry them out. You can see in the above photo that I’m using a steel fishtape to pull the USB and aux extension cables from the opening above the cupholders up to the stereo.

Modifying the factory trim for USB and Aux inputs. You can see the factory aux port has been removed.

Still got your hacksaw handy? Cool. That bottom trim piece has the factory aux connection, which we won’t be using. Disconnect and unclip the aux, then use your saw to cut the surrounding plastic trim flush with the bezel. Then, cut out the appropriate size holes for the aftermarket USB and aux inputs. I superglued these into place once I was 100% sure of the fit and placement.

Aftermarket USB + aftermarket aux in place of the original aux port.

I went ahead and routed RCA cables for all available inputs/outputs to my glove compartment. This includes RCA for composite in and out, camera in, reverse camera in. I have no plans to use these, and still haven’t, but it’d be a lot easier to access them here than to get to the back of the stereo in the future.

making all connections

All that’s left is to reassemble. In this photo, I’ve connected the Pioneer harness, the aftermarket USB and Aux inputs I pulled earlier, the antenna adapter, and a single RCA for the reverse camera (which does not interface with my factory reverse camera in the rear view. Please reach out if you know of a way to do this!). To the right, my “future use” RCA cables which I eventually connected. These allow a single composite input and output, so in theory you can output the head unit to a display in your van elsewhere.

finished product

This is the finished product. I wanted to highlight the red wire on the left. This wire is connected to the stereo’s “reverse camera trigger”. My intention is to use this with a switch so that I can trigger a camera (location TBD) on demand later, rather than tying it to my reverse gear. There is also the capability to add a forward camera with this unit, but it must be triggered on the screen. This would allow me to use the “reverse camera” feature, with a 12v switch, for any type of camera I’d like– without having to be in reverse or interact with the screen to activate it. For those with parking sensors, there’s probably a way to trigger this wire using those sensors as well.

Evaluation

I’ve put 40,000 miles on the van in the 15 months since this installation. I still haven’t done anything with that reverse wire or the RCA cables in my glovebox, but I’m happy knowing that they’re there when I’m ready.

I haven’t had any issues with this configuration, and I’ve only recently decided to look for somewhere to add “rear speakers”. If I could change anything, it would have been to add a 15′ coil of speaker wire to my “future wires” bundle so that I wouldn’t have to open it back up to connect these to the Pioneer harness.

The Transit’s sound system is pretty decent, considering that it’s two tweeters and two door speakers, but I find that I’m often wishing for just a tad bit more volume. This is the first vehicle that I’ve driven in years without adding subwoofers and such. I would love to add speakers to the headliner or cab shelf, and other than running the wires, I don’t believe that this would require that much work.

The Metra kit leaves something to be desired. I’m bothered by the fact that there is a small gap below the stereo, and the “bin” never sat as firmly or securely as the original- due to the poor quality clips they provide. You may have better luck ordering the metal spring clips new from Ford. The lines of the front bezel are great, but it doesn’t secure into place quite as cleanly as the original. The lines of the bin are not straight and it’s just bad enough to bug me to this day. That said, there are no alternatives and this is still really close to factory considering how much of the dash is being replaced at once with a relatively cheap aftermarket kit.

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