Car Trim Home T9 Head Unit Product Review and Setup Installation: A GPS + Audio Upgrade For the 5th Gen 4Runner
New Product – Upgraded T10 Android Post: T10 Android Head Unit Install and Review
When I got my new 4Runner in 2018, I was excited about the possibilities (and for the fun!) I’d have in it.
However, as any 4Runner owner knows, there are a few areas where Toyota has held back in terms of technology and ease of use.
For me, the biggest lackluster feature was the stereo head unit which ultimately led me to the T9 Head Unit from CarTrim Home
Toyota’s Lackluster Feature in Tech + Ease Of Use
While the OEM unit has Bluetooth connectivity, GPS, and other (basic) functions, I had several issues with it, both functionally and aesthetically. I never liked or got used to the Entune system. The album artwork it finds for music or audiobooks is strange and sometimes completely inaccurate.
More importantly, Bluetooth often failed to connect when I started the vehicle, and I’d have to manually force the connection which happened several times per week. And when taking or making a call, Bluetooth would drop the connection and I’d be left scrambling to grab my phone to talk using my phone’s speaker to continue the call.
Navigation felt cumbersome and outdated to me, so I never used it. The screen itself was small and dull.
I found myself feeling a twinge of jealousy when riding in friends’ Tacoma’s, which at least have a more updated looking and larger screen, even if it’s still running the same Entune system I disliked on my own vehicle.
Find It Online
You can also check out their other accessories for the 5th Gen 4Runner. CarTrim makes a few other common upgrades like a TRD Grille, marker lights, and even the now common Arc-Light (look-a-like) LED Interior Lighting Upgrade.
Upgrading the 4Runner’s OEM Audio Head Unit
So I started looking into alternatives a few months ago, and unsurprisingly, there are a lot of options out there for double din head units to replace the OEM one in the 4Runner.
I found that they all have pros and cons, and ultimately I had to decide what my priorities were for the replacement. For me, an upgrade to the look and feel was important, and I wanted it to have Apple CarPlay (many available options do these days).
Because I’d be using CarPlay for 80-90% of my time in the vehicle, the native software and navigation weren’t too important to me.
I searched options from many of the usual suspects, like Alpine, Pioneer, and the Kenwood Headunit most of which had prices ranging from $500 to $1500, and mostly had screens similar in size to the OEM unit.
Also required would be a number of cables, most importantly a Maestro device to connect the head unit to the car’s steering wheel controls, speakers, and other vehicle information, which alone costs around $100, in addition to the other cables I’d need to purchase.
With a new trim kit (another additional cost, though not as much as the Maestro) to replace the OEM buttons and knobs, the new look would be clean, and the functionality improved.
Why Did I Choose Car Trim Home’s T9 Head Unit?
While searching, I came across the T9 Head Unit from a Chinese company called Car Trim Home.
After watching and reading other reviews on the previous T8 model, many of which were mixed, I weighed my own priorities and ultimately decided to go with the T9 over the other brands I was considering.
The T9 runs on Android software, and in my opinion, looks like the OEM unit should have in the first place. The stereo and screen come fully integrated into the trim kit that replaces the OEM unit (you just swap a few pieces from OEM to the T9, namely the emergency flasher button, the vents, and their knobs). You don’t have to buy a Maestro, it has all the cabling you need to keep your steering wheel functionality and other data you need going between the car and the unit.
The glossy 9” screen is flanked by a few integrated shortcut touch buttons (Home, Back, Menu, Phone) and two knobs. That’s it. No obnoxious branding or superfluous buttons. The price is $575, which I thought was reasonable, especially compared to the $1000+ you can easily drop on a new head unit. And the installation videos I watched made it look like a breeze to install, and it pretty much is. More details on that below.
So, Why All The Mixed Reviews On the T9?
To me, it seemed like a no-brainer. A great looking unit that could do all I wanted it to and more, easily installed and plug and play in terms of wiring. So why the mixed reviews I was reading on the T9 (or its predecessor, the T8)?
Thankfully I did my homework and knew what I was getting myself into before committing to the T9.
I’m still happy with my choice, even though it hasn’t been pain-free. The reason for the mixed, love it or hate it reviews out there is that the T9 has some… quirks. It requires some troubleshooting from time to time. In the case of my unit, that has been for both the hardware as well as the software. More details on that to come.
As I said, for me there are no perfect options out there, they all have their strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve detailed my decision-making process because I think for anyone considering a change, and especially if they get the T9, it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into.
Install Guide For the T9 Head Unit Setup
The T9 came pretty much ready for installation right out of the box, after plugging in several of the provided wires and antennas into the back of the unit.
There are several videos online with instructions for how to install the unit, so I won’t go into much detail on that here. There are also tools included to help remove the panels around the OEM head unit, though I didn’t need any of them.
How To Install The Head Unit on Your 4Runner
Step-By-Step Installation Breakdown:
- Remove All Panels Surrounding Air Temperature + Fan Control Knobs
- Pull Out The Air Control Panel
- Remove The Bolts Holding the OEM Head Unit In Place. Then, Detach All Wiring.
- Reinstall OEM Vents + Emergency Flasher Button Onto T9’s Trim
- Replace All Wiring On the Plug-N-Play Harness
- Reconnect the Backup Camera Feature On T9 (Optional)
To begin, I simply grabbed each of the panels that surround the air temperature and fan control knobs, and firmly pulled until they came out. Next, you remove the air control panel, which also pops out without much difficulty.
Lastly, there are a few bolts to remove that hold the stock unit in place, and you’re ready to pull the unit out. Once it’s loosened and pulled forward, detach all the wires in the back until the unit is free.
Next, you’ll swap the OEM vents, their adjusters, and the emergency flasher button, and install them into the T9’s trim. All the wiring in the back is plug and play, and since no plug is the same, you can’t mess it up. Just match each plug to the corresponding receptacle.
Important To Note During Install
The only thing I had to pause to review was the few extra receptacles on the T9’s harness of wires that go unused, which is normal it turns out, and also the how-to on connecting the backup camera.
Note: There are two male yellow RCAs in the T9’s harness that could fit the one yellow female from the car’s wiring, the easiest thing is to have power on the unit, and try each to see which has the signal.
Per instructions from other T9 users, I didn’t move the brackets that are used to bolt it in from the original unit over to the T9.
The fitment isn’t quite right, and because the T9 is quite a bit lighter in weight than the OEM unit, the clips at the top hold it in place nicely.
Some Things To Note When Installing The T9 Head Unit
With the unit installed and ready, I put the air control panel back on but left the two pillar panels off the front so I could remove the unit to get access to the back again if need be.
In fact, I left it this way for a few days and did indeed need to do few adjustments to things on the back of the T9.
Before getting into the changes/fixes I needed to do, it’s important to mention the customer service from CTH, and also the help from T9 community. Both are best accessed through Facebook and Facebook Messenger. I’ve been in direct contact with the folks at CTH using Messenger, and they’ve been quick to respond and eager to help for the most part. Then there is the 4Runner group on Facebook for T9 Head Unit owners, with hundreds of users, who share tips and tricks for setting up and ideas for apps to install, and most importantly, help each other troubleshoot issues as they arise. A couple of users are administrators of the group, and really go the extra mile in helping anyone with known or new issues to get them resolved.
In my case, several things needed improvement. There’s probably little chance I would have kept my T9 if it weren’t for the customer service at CTH and the 4Runner T9 owners’ group on Facebook.
The issues I dealt with certainly don’t happen to everyone, and there are others that have dealt with problems I haven’t. While the installation of the unit took an hour or less, I’ve spent quite a few additional hours looking for answers, troubleshooting, and working on the fixes. Here are the issues I had to address:
The Wifi wasn’t working well at all.
It connected to my phone’s hotspot, but not to my home network, despite the relatively strong signal in the garage. It turns out that the Wifi antenna, which I put onto one of the 4G ports was much more effective on the TV port, which was unused.
Note: The unit comes with a TV antenna for over-the-air signal, which I haven’t used or even set up. And now, I can easily connect to my home network.
To seal the deal on good Wifi, I purchased a pair of antennas (only one is needed but the recommended antennas are sold as a pair) that are better than the one that came with the unit, for around $10 on Amazon. One of the group admins on Facebook helped me sort this one out.
Constant Whining Noise
With power going to the unit, the T9 emitted a high pitched whining noise.
While driving, the road noise drowns it out, but while stopped or parked, it was definitely not something I could live with forever.
Thankfully there is a fix, figured out by a T9 user that provided the solution to others, and CTH let anyone attempting the fix do so without risk of voiding the warranty.
I opened up the back of the unit to get access to the back of the LCD panel and turned slightly with a screwdriver the potentiometer. A half-turn counter-clockwise did the trick, just as promised, and my T9 was whine-free.
Cold Boot Problem
Rather than coming out of sleep quickly when the car was turned on, which takes just a few seconds for the unit to be ready, the unit did a cold boot every time.
This is closer to 30 seconds and annoying to wait for every time you turn the car on. A software update was required to solve this one. I downloaded a zip file, unpacked it to a thumb drive, and plugged it into the unit for install.
After the update, the cold boot problem was solved. CTH customer service, as well as the FB group, were helpful for me on this one.
EQ App Needed For Equalizer
The stereo comes with a good equalizer for better sound, even with the stock speakers. Lots of users on the group raved about it.
The only problem was mine didn’t have an equalizer. The same software update I needed for the cold boot solved this one as well.
As promised, the EQ app showed up after the update and is indeed a great tool to improve the sound.
Wireless CarPlay Takes A While
This one isn’t necessarily a problem that had to fix, just a preference.
The T9 can do CarPlay via Bluetooth, and while I liked not dealing with plugging in my iPhone, I tried it out for several days and decided I didn’t want to wait each time I started the car for 30+ seconds for my phone to connect.
Wireless Connection Skipped Songs
The other downside is that music sometimes ‘skips’.
Not terribly but it does happen once every few minutes in my experience. The alternative is to buy a dongle ($60 on Amazon or from CTH) which plugs in via USB to the back of the unit and then gives you CarPlay via a wired connection.
It’s a lot quicker to connect, and no more ‘skipping’. The dongle hasn’t been flawless. There have been times when, for some reason, it fails to connect.
The handful of times it’s happened I’ve just unplugged and plugged it back in.
Note: I plugged it into the back of the unit and ran it behind the panels to the very bottom of the left panel so that it emerges near the footwell. I then routed it under the plastic where the center console trim meets the carpet coming up from the floor, far enough towards the driver’s seat so that it comes up easily to where I have my phone mounted. Plenty of different ways to do this, but this worked for me and kept things looking mostly cable-free.
Life (So Far) with the T9 Head Unit…
T9 is fun for the whole family!
I’ve had the T9 installed now for a few weeks and have wondered a few times (and been asked by my wife) why I’ve put up with all these issues.
Not only have I had to troubleshoot issues to get the T9 working the way I want, but judging by what I’ve read on the Facebook group, there’s no guarantee it’ll be forever stable.
For me, even with the problems, it’s still preferable to the OEM unit, and the price point and overall functionality of the unit make it preferable to me over other aftermarket options. Others may differ with me on this.
As I mentioned, my OEM unit wasn’t free from problems either.
Upgrading to T9’s Smart Features
The USB port makes it easy to add media and photos, do system updates, and more.
So far I mostly use CarPlay, and it looks awesome on the T9’s screen.
If you’re not using CarPlay or Android Auto, the native software has a music player, radio, phone control, GPS, etc., all the things you’d expect it to, plus a number of others you don’t usually see, like a web browser.
I have downloaded a handful of other apps, like Netflix, YouTube, YouTube TV, Amazon Prime, and a few others, and they work well. These, of course, require an internet connection. The T9 comes with a slot in the back of the unit for a SIM card, so anyone so inclined can have a data plan for their T9, making streaming video or music a breeze.
You can also use a hotspot from a connected device, or Wifi, for internet connection.
As mentioned, I mostly use CarPlay, which of course uses the phone’s data for anything requiring the internet.
I’m not watching videos while driving, so the streaming apps are fun but not getting used daily. I’m looking forward to having the ability to stream or playback video for times when I have the family in the car for long drives or car trips.
When I do, as an alternative to streaming video, I’ve instead tried plugging a thumb drive loaded with videos into the USB slot, and the T9 will play anything I’ve thrown at it (I use VLC as a video player).
This is likely how I’ll keep the kiddos entertained while we’re heading to the grandparents’ house, or off to a remote campsite, where streaming video won’t be a viable option.