Making It Work at the Wheel
By Brett Solomon
One growing trend among luxury and even everyday vehicles is steering wheel-mounted remotes that control the mobile audio system. Wheel-mounted remotes have proven to be not only a convenience feature, but a safety feature as well, as they tend to reduce the time drivers take their eyes off the road to search for a volume knob. But there is one big problem with steering wheel remote controls as they occupy the market today — they do not integrate with aftermarket car audio head units.
There is a specialized section of the aftermarket where companies are dealing with the problem head-on. This section of the aftermarket goes under the heading OEM integration. OEM stands for the Original Equipment Manufacturer, and integration obviously means making it work seamlessly. The OEM integration aftermarket has created devices to allow the use of the aftermarket head units while assimilating the factory steering-wheel controls, borg-like, to the new head unit.
The OEM integration products of the aftermarket segregate the custom retailers from the mass merchandisers. The reason being is that interfacing steering wheel controls to actually function with aftermarket head units is typically a more expensive unit than installing "a deck and two."
The devices themselves are not expensive, but mass merchandise customers who are just looking for basic sound will probably not pop for the extra cost. They are not difficult to install, as most of the engineering has been done at the factory, but even so, additional wiring must be tapped into and correctly interfaced.
As a small sidenote, I was recently called into look at an installation in a Hummer H2, where the expensive SUV would not function properly. As it turns out, removing the factory radio interrupted the OnStar service. Luckily, OEM Integration devices saved the day by providing the proper harnesses to safely relocate the factory head unit from the dashboard and retain OnStar functions. In this particularly complex installation, two OEM integration devices were used, one to relocate the factory radio, and another to emulate the steering wheel functions to a new Kenwood video head unit. The customer was then able to tap into all of the factory functions for which he paid $60,000, while enjoying the superior sound quality and conveniences of an aftermarket solution.