Installing the aftermarket Rostra cruise control kit in a Ford Transit van

Difficulty: 2/5, Cost: $300

Cruise control is one of those things that we take for granted, so much so that I didn’t even consider the possibility that it wouldn’t be included in my base model Transit van. No auto headlights, that’s annoying but tolerable. No cruise control, how is this even a thing? Luckily, a company named Rostra makes an aftermarket kit that makes adding cruise control a minor project.

Parts and Tools Required:

Rostra 250-9636 Cruise Control Kit ($299.95)
Soldering Iron, Heat Shrink, Lighter, Wire Stripper, T25 Torx bit, Flathead Screwdriver, Zip Ties, 3/8″ Drill Bit, Drill

Installation

You’ll need to remove the lower dash panel, which is only secured with clips — you’ll literally grab it and pull outward. The other trim piece that you’ll want to remove is the lower ignition column cover. This one was trickier, there are two T25 screws to remove, and then I wedged a screwdriver in between the upper and lower covers and pried it apart.

Completely disregard the installation instructions included with this kit. They make it seem more complicated than it is, even telling you to cut two wires on the OBDII harness, which is no longer necessary!

I recommend wrapping the harnesses in electrical tape. There are two pass-through type connectors to deal with. You’ll want to pop the OBDII connector from its place (push tabs), then connect to the Rostra harness, then put the Rostra OBDII connector in the original’s place.

Carefully route the accelerator pedal connector to the pedal, keeping in mind the movement of the steering column. I kept my harness tight to the plastic trim, using zip ties where appropriate. Disconnect the accelerator pedal connector, connect to the harness, then connect the Rostra connector in its place, much like you did with the OBDII connector.

Now, the only hard part. The red power wire — will need to tap into the brown/yellow ignition wire. Per Rostra, this must be a solder joint — any other will void warranty. Soldering is very easy to learn, affordable to get into, and a worthwhile skill to have! That said, there is no reason that a tap connector would not work here, it’s just a matter of longevity, and solder joints cannot be beat.

I stripped back some of the black wrap and cut the brown/yellow wire in half, then stripped both ends (plus the red Rostra wire), and soldered the joint together, then used heat shrink over it. Be very cautious routing this red wire (with 1 amp fuse) down the steering column. It’s a thin gauge wire, and there are moving parts and snap-together pieces to snag it. I did my best to route the fuse holder near the fuse panel for future access.

The next step is to drill a 3/8″ hole through the lower steering column cover. You’ll run the un-pinned harness from the cruise control handle through this hole, then push the connectors into the included Molex connectors. This is the one part that I referred to the installation instructions for (getting the correct pinout).

I simply tucked the controller into the dash, as it seemed secure enough. Another option would be to adhere it to the removable panel, but I felt confident enough with the placement that I chose. The kit includes zip ties, which I used on the harness where appropriate to avoid moving parts and potential snags.

Evaluation

I bought the Transit that I selected due to its steeply discounted price, and while the Cruise Control option from the factory is affordable, it was a feature that was not included in my base model. The Rostra kit adds functionality that I quickly found myself wishing for on my drive home. It’s not incredibly intelligent – for instance, it will not downshift to maintain a speed down a steep grade, however — it will hold your speed on flat or moderate grades (uphill). My only complaint is that at certain speeds, it seems overzealous in regards to downshifting. This is the only aftermarket kit that I am aware of, and I’m more than satisfied at the $300 price point. My official recommendation would be to select a van with factory cruise control, and if that’s not an option, this is a viable alternative.

Head Unit Replacement in a 2008 BMW X3 3.0SI

When I’m hunting for vehicles, one of my main evaluations is: what will I change and how difficult will it be to do it? Modern vehicles with integrated systems, diagnostic tools, and “infotainment” systems spell larger expenses and more complexity for even once simple things like replacing head units.

2008 was the last year that BMW offered the X3 without the X-Drive system, which made replacing the factory stereo incredibly straightforward. I left the factory amp in place, just as I did with the head unit in my 1998 328i and my 2006 Z4 Roadster.

From my reading, if you have the factory unit with navigation, you’re going to have a much tougher time going aftermarket. Tough enough that “no nav” was one of my criteria when I was hunting for the right X3 to purchase.

The head unit installation is pretty standard. The only further consideration required in the X3 was retention of the steering wheel controls, which I accomplished by utilizing the ASWC-1 module I’ve used in the past. It’s cheap, reliable, and simple to setup.

parts list

Single DIN Head Unit, I chose the Pioneer MVH-S501BS.
Scosche BW2337B Dash Kit
Scosche VW03B Wiring Harness
AXXESS ASWC-1 Steering Wheel Control Module
Metra 40-EU10 European Antenna Adapter

removing the old unit

The HVAC vents can be removed with a trim removal tool, credit card, or in my case: bare hands. Pull outward, there are no physical fasteners. There is a climate control cable that is attached to this – as seen in photos, no need to detach, just flip it up and rest it on the dash. The factory head unit is secured by two screws that will be accessible once the vents are removed.

Physically, all you’ll have to do is attach the side “wings” to the head unit you’re installing, then it will secure with a screw on either side. The fit and finish of this dash kit is on par with Metra kits I’ve used in the past. While not a perfect match, the color and finish is pretty close to the Schwarz interior. Much better fit than the equivalent Z4 option from Metra, which is the worst fit I’ve ever seen.

wiring: much easier than it looks

The wiring was essentially color-to-color between this Pioneer head unit’s harness and the Scosche wiring harness. Regardless, just compare the wire colors between your unit’s harness and the VW03B colors to be sure. The gray. white, purple, and green sets are your speakers. Yellow is “constant 12v” which is used for memory and such, while red is your switched power. Red is what is powering your head unit when your key is in the on/run positions.

Note: There is a Metra harness for the X3, the 70-9003, and I advise against it. It has a separate power wire for some reason (not pinned out), and additionally is lacking the CANBUS wires that you’ll need to retain steering wheel controls. The Scosche adapter has all pins populated and works well. You won’t use all pins, I simply popped out the extra leads from the VW03B adapter to make less wire spaghetti.

Other than the color-for-color connections, you’ll want to solder in additional wires from the ASWC1. The harness for this unit is intimidating, but we are actually only using 4 wires from it. Black, red, pink, and the black 3.5mm cable. You can unpin or simply tape up the remaining wires.

The black wire is soldered or tapped in with the stereo ground, the red wire is soldered or tapped in with the red stereo wire, and the pink wire is soldered or tapped into the brown wire corresponding with pin #9 on the vehicle. This was labeled “mute” or similar.

The programming process for the ASWC-1 is pretty simple, here is an illustration of pin #9 as well as the complete programming steps from Metra: https://metradealer.com/files/aswc/ASWC-1_INST_102.pdf

in summary

I was able to fish the microphone wire through the leather trim above the adjustable steering wheel, and then clip the microphone to the instrument cluster bezel. This made for good voice fidelity in calls, as well as looking relatively polished. The factory sound system, as I’ve discovered in the past, sounds much better with the new head unit. The total cost for this project was around $125, including the head unit, which I highly recommend (if you don’t need a physical CD slot) and have installed now in three of my vehicles.