Fancy better technology, but don't feel like a new car? Many comfort and safety extras can be retrofitted. We say what hobby mechanics can do themselves and what experts have to do.
As the owner of an older vehicle, you can get a little jealous when you look into some new cars: the mobile phone is perfectly integrated into the infotainment system and can be operated via the screen, a camera looks for speed limit signs, and LED lamps ensure the best view even in bad weather. But why buy a new car right away when your own car is otherwise in good shape? This is often not even necessary, because many of the safety and comfort functions can also be retrofitted in older vehicles. From the LED lamp to infotainment systems or SCR catalytic converters to the camera-based assistance system - almost anything can be retrofitted today.
However, the do-it-yourselfer sometimes reaches his limits. Below we have listed retrofit technology from various areas, with infotainment being one of the focal points. No wonder, because it is in the area of radio, navigation & Co. that the most has happened in recent years. We name recommended manufacturers of such systems, say where further information is available and give an estimate of how difficult the conversion will be. The scale ranges from very easy, easy, moderately difficult, difficult to very difficult.
More individuality, comfort and lateral support: If the seats are worn out or the upholstery is torn, the only way to go is to go to the saddler - or you need a new seat. Those who choose the latter are spoiled for choice and have plenty of options. Because the market not only offers hard sports shells that promise more lateral support than the series chairs. There are also numerous more civil models - for particularly large and particularly small people, with a classic pattern or many setting options. Simpler models are available from 900 euros. Top seats such as the Recaro Ergomed (from 1,710 euros) also offer many comfort functions such as lumbar support, electric height adjustment or a seat cushion extension and are optionally available with a climate package and side airbag. But the seat alone is not enough. A suitable console is usually required to connect the seat to the car (from 150 euros). Important: Make sure you have the right ABE for your vehicle. Degree of difficulty: easy
Maneuvering aid with modern technology for older cars: When ordering a new car, parking assistants quickly cost several hundred euros, and many entry-level models often didn't offer them at all. Luckily, the ultrasonic sensors for the bumper, including the control unit, can be inexpensively retrofitted.For example, the Beep & Park system from the automotive supplier Valeo is available for just 50 euros.
But there are also hurdles lurking on the way to park fun. In order for the systems to work reliably, they often have to be connected to the car's CAN bus – for example to detect when reverse gear is engaged. In order to securely mount the individual sensors, holes often have to be drilled in the bumper. Good retrofit kits have the appropriate tools on board. If all this sounds too difficult and time-consuming for you, you should better hire the workshop you trust. Depending on the system and the car, the mechanic needs two to four hours for the installation, so the costs should rarely exceed 400 euros, even with professional installation. Degree of difficulty: moderately difficult
Intelligent infotainment instead of rustic radio: Digital radio, Apple CarPlay, Google Maps: there are plenty of reasons for replacing an old car radio. What many do not know: Although most new cars no longer have a classic installation opening (DIN slot), a screen radio can almost always be retrofitted. Monitor radios are even offered for the volume models of large manufacturers, which are matched to the cockpit design of the brand. Depending on the vehicle, however, the installation effort is considerable. In the case of the BMW three-series (E90) shown in the photo above, even the center console had to be rebuilt: the climate control panel was moved in place of the original BMW radio in order to create space underneath for the Pioneer radio.
Depending on the equipment, screen devices cost 400 to 1,500 euros. The inexpensive devices have DAB/FM tuners on board, as well as interfaces for reversing cameras or mobile phone apps. More expensive devices such as the Pioneer AVIC-Z910 (see photo above) also have an angled display, navigation or DVD drive. While there are bezels and adapters to match, such complex installations should be left to car audio professionals who know how to remove and reconnect. Depending on the scope, 150 to 300 euros will be charged for installation. Degree of difficulty: moderately difficult
DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting)
Easy and inexpensive to digital radio: Retrofit DAB tuners for 50 to 200 euros receive digital radio signals and feed them into the car radio. There are two variants for sound transmission that almost all retrofit tuners are capable of: by cable or by FM converter. However, the latter cuts the high sound quality of DAB down to FM level. The installation is as uncomplicated as with a suction cup navigation system, but there is also a windshield adhesive antenna. In metropolitan areas with decent DAB coverage, reception worked well in our tests, but there were dropouts in rural areas. Degree of difficulty: very easy
Halogen was yesterday : LED lights have long been standard in many new cars. For many older models, there are now retrofit bulbs with LED technology for the old H4 and H7 lights. The LED lights not only provide more light output and visibility, but above all more safety on the road. The two test diagrams below show how big the difference is: first the halogen technology, then the LED technology. The premium halogen lamp Philips Vision +30 achieved an impressive range of 94 meters. However, the retrofit variant with LED technology reached 115 meters and was more than twice as bright. In addition, the service life of the LED lights is around five times longer than that of the halogen lamps.
Important: Only access products with ABE for your vehicle and carry them with you. Market leaders in the field of legal retrofit LED lights are Osram and Philips with the Nightbraker LED and Ultinon Pro6000 LED series. With prices between 100 and 130 euros, these lights are usually more expensive than the replicas from China, but they have the official blessing of the KBA (German Federal Motor Transport Authority), pose less risk of glare and often also offer better light output. Driving with bulbs without ABE is illegal.
Bulb replacement: Before replacing, check the bulb manufacturer's website using the VIN (vehicle identification number) to see if there is an available LED alternative. It also lists whether special adapters are required for installation. The lamp can then be changed according to the operating instructions. With most cars, you can do this on your own with a little manual skill. Degree of difficulty: very easy
Warm butt in the cold season: Some hate it, others love it: the seat heating. It's particularly a shame when the latter have to do without the built-in bottom warmer and sit in the car freezing. But fortunately there is a remedy.
The simplest variant are seat covers with heating wires, which are available from 15 euros. The installation of heating components that are drawn into the seat is less conspicuous and somewhat more expensive. The prices here are between 30 and 100 euros plus installation (approx. 300 euros). This can be done by the technically gifted themselves, since the covers can usually be opened with a zipper. Then the heating mats must be attached between the upholstery and the cover. If seat airbags are involved, the specialist workshop should be consulted. Level of difficulty : moderately difficult
SCR catalytic converter
Is it still worth it? Well, as useful as the installation would be: retrofitting Euro 5 and early Euro 6 diesels with SCR catalytic converters has developed from a much-noticed trend topic to a marginal phenomenon in recent years.Hardly any manufacturer offers retrofit kits at all, and few diesel owners benefit from subsidies from the car manufacturer. Conversion pioneer Twintec Baumot even had to file for bankruptcy in 2021, Dr. Pley has now specialized in mobile homes.
The test for auto motor und sport showed that an SCR retrofit kit from Dr. Although Pley reduced nitrogen oxide emissions in a Mercedes C-Class by 60 percent, fuel consumption increased by ten percent at the same time. In addition, the ammonia emissions shot through the roof.
Filter expert HJS focuses on craftsmen's vehicles, for which there is a state subsidy of almost 5,000 euros. This is a good buffer against the costs of around 6,000 euros plus installation. After all, Oberland-Mangold still offers retrofit kits for some Audi and VW models.
VW and Mercedes are the only manufacturers who contribute to the conversion costs - with up to 3,000 euros. However, the approval is subject to certain requirements. For example, Mercedes customers must live in or near a city affected by driving bans. There is currently no retrofit kit for BMW and Volvo cars due to a lack of funding. Degree of difficulty: very difficult
Sign recognition, distance warning and Co.
Next-generation assistance systems in used cars: Modern cars are no longer making the greatest advances in performance or consumption, but in the assistance systems. They ensure more safety and comfort - and can be retrofitted, for example in the form of the Mobileye Connect 8 (from 1,000 euros) or the predecessor Mobileye 630 (from 800 euros) tested by auto motor und sport. This means that drivers of older cars can also enjoy traffic sign recognition, pedestrian and bicycle collision, distance and lane departure warning.
In order for the system to function properly, the installation should be carried out by specialists. The small display can be mounted on the dashboard in the driver's field of vision and, in addition to speed limits and traffic signs, also shows the distance to vehicles ahead and the lane. In order for the system to work safely, it must be installed, calibrated and trained for the respective car by a specialist workshop. Because in addition to the sensor, which is attached to the windshield, the system is also supplied with vehicle data from the CAN bus. This is where the magic happens: the camera in the small black housing evaluates the image data. From there they are analyzed and processed in the control unit. If, for example, the set minimum distance to the vehicle in front is not reached, the system warns the driver with visual and acoustic signals. Difficulty: very difficult
For a better rear view: When parking, the cameras help to find the way into the gap.Solutions that are based on the manufacturer's systems are elegant - as here at VW (from 100 euros). The installation is not recommended for beginners as the systems have to be trained in the workshop. Images from most cameras can be displayed directly in the navigation display. Radio systems that cut off the power from the license plate light, for example, are cheaper and easier to install (from 70 euros). However, the image quality is usually worse than that of the manufacturer's models. Degree of difficulty: moderately difficult
Cell phone connection
Charge wirelessly and use apps: Charging or connection cables for cell phones are even more annoying in a cramped car than at home. Since most smartphones can now be charged contactlessly (Qi standard), installing a corresponding charging tray can definitely be worthwhile. If the mobile phone is placed on a certain spot, the battery is filled by induction. There are several variants for this: Universal charging pads receive their power from a 12-volt or USB socket and can be attached anywhere in the cockpit. Of course, chargers that have been developed for specific car models look better. They often replace the rubber mat in the center console. Although a power cable still has to be pulled, the shelves, which cost between 50 and 100 euros, can be installed by less experienced car mechanics.
Also practical: Many smartphone apps can be transferred to the on-board monitor via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and operated legally while driving. In most vehicles, the connection is also made via USB cable, only in completely new cars via a radio connection. And even that can be retrofitted: a radio adapter such as the Carlinkit 3.0 model (around 140 euros at Amazon) establishes contact with the mobile phone. The transmission module itself is in turn connected to the USB interface and gives the infotainment system in the car the illusion of a connected mobile phone. The adapters cost from 100 euros and are available for Apple or Android. Level of difficulty : very easy
For rich sound: Retrofitting a high-quality stereo system can be time-consuming. If you don't want to disassemble half the car, you can find devices in specialist shops that have been optimized for certain vehicle types so that they can be adapted to standard cable harnesses using plug connections - including those from Audiotec Fischer (Match, Helix), Gladen (Gladen, Mosconi) or Eton. There is a good overview at www.ars24.com
High-quality DSP power amplifiers, i.e. amplifiers, improve the sound image enormously. The compact power amplifiers from Match are connected between the standard radio and the loudspeaker. A digital signal processor (DSP) adapts the sound to the interior acoustics of the respective vehicle. Model-specific loudspeakers with built-in adapters and plug-in connections for the existing audio cabling are also available from the accessories trade.If you want rich bass and at the same time want to save space in the trunk, it is best to use a subwoofer for the spare wheel well. Difficulty: Easy
Simple features such as DAB tuners, inductive charging stations for smartphones or LED lamps can be installed without any problems and with little effort. Anyone who shows a bit of skill and knows their way around does not need a specialist for updates in terms of hi-fi sound, parking assistance, screen radio, seat heating or reversing camera. The situation is different, for example, when retrofitting an SCR catalytic converter. This is where the professional should go. It is best to consult such a person if you want to retrofit your car with modern assistance systems, i.e. with distance warning, sign recognition and the like.