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Use Factory Steering Wheel Controls With Aftermarket Head Units

YuanYuan Liu |

Use Factory Steering Wheel Controls With Aftermarket Head Units


It is usually easy to choose whether to upgrade an old factory car stereo. However, if it is a non-standard head unit or steering wheel control, it may complicate the problem. Regarding the steering wheel control, the most worried thing is that the aftermarket head units is not compatible with the factory steering wheel control and cannot be used.


Factors to consider

When upgrading car stereos, there is usually no need to worry about losing the steering wheel control function. But this type of upgrade is more complicated than most. The steering wheel audio controls may match your original equipment manufacturer (OEM) hardware,  but this does not mean that the aftermarket head units you buy will be compatible with the steering wheel control.

In addition to purchasing a compatible head unit, the most common installation solution also includes purchasing and installing the right type of steering wheel audio control adapter to facilitate connection between the factory controls and the aftermarket head units.

This sounds complicated, and it is true. Because a large number of manufacturers use the same set of interoperable communication protocols, the compatibility may be more than you think, so you have only a few options to consider instead of dozens.


Can You Connect Steering Wheel Audio Controls to Aftermarket Head Units Without an Adapter?

When upgrading a factory car radio, the first thing most people want to know is whether it is possible to keep their steering wheel audio controls. After that, it's natural to think about whether it is possible to keep these controls without an adapter. 

This question is a bit complicated, but the answer is basically no. You cannot connect the steering wheel audio control to the aftermarket head units without an adapter. There are some exceptions, which is why it is important to find out what type of control your car is, and whether you can find a plug-and-play radio. However, in most cases, an adapter is required.


The most important thing to note is that if you have considerable knowledge and experience, you can build the adapter by yourself when you need it. The problem is that this is not a DIY project that anyone can do. If you can't design and implement an adapter without outside help, then you'd better buy one.


Plan ahead With Steering Wheel Audio Controls

Like many other aspects of upgrading car audio, you also need to make a plan in advance. In the case of steering wheel audio control, it is important to plan ahead, because there are several parts need to be put together in the right way.


The first step in this process is to check the different adapters on the market and determine the one that fits your vehicle. Every car has a specific communication protocol, so you need to find an adapter kit compatible with that protocol.

Next, check if the different head units are compatible with the adapter. Although this narrows your options to a certain extent, you still have a lot of head units to choose from.

It is also important to note that the adapter and head unit should be installed at the same time to save your time. The problem here is that if you install a new car stereo before considering steering wheel control, and then you select a head unit that supports this function, then you will have to remove all parts again to install the adapter.


In some cases, you must also program each steering wheel button to correspond to a specific head unit function. As far as customization is concerned, this provides users with a lot of room to play like android radio, but before going deeper, you need to know that this is an additional complex knowledge. If you have no idea about wiring and programming adapters, a car audio store should be able to help you.