I’ve been daily driving a thirty year old Toyota FX16 and the aftermarket head unit up and died a couple of months ago.  So, as usual, I took to the internet to see what high fidelity options are out there.  The first result for “Bluetooth Car Stereo” on eBay was $21.  Too good to be true?  I had to find out.

The funny thing is, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of stereos to choose from under $25 on eBay.

What you don’t get with a $21 Chinese car stereo is a CD player and an AM tuner.  Big deal, who uses CD players these days?  (People on their way to Radwood, that’s who.)  So the body of the stereo is only 1/3 as deep as an old school CD head unit. In my car, that made the install a bit easier, as there isn’t much depth between the face of the stereo and the heater controls behind.  The lack of mechanical components is likely what keeps the price down. It also weighs maybe 1/3 of the old unit, making install easier.  Wiring is standard, with power, keyed power, ground, and four speaker channels.

(Probably the worst photo I’ve ever taken – apologies.)

One thing that made install more difficult was the trim ring around the face of the stereo was not removable.  My existing install kit did not utilize that trim ring, so I had to grind it off (I was amused at taking the bench grinder to the brand new car stereo). The install didn’t end up beautiful, but certainly passable.  Additionally, the mounting screw holes on the side of the body were in different locations, so that took a bit of drilling and adapting.

So how does it work?  It works great.  I’ve been using it for about 3 months with no problems.  My speakers aren’t high quality, so I can’t get a perfect sense of the sound quality, but it’s indistinguishable from the previous stereo, which was mid-range model of a well-known brand.  It’s plenty loud, and has pre-amp outputs if you want to pipe the music through a booster.  The bluetooth, the USB port, the FM tuner, and the AUX port all work flawlessly.  Even hands-free calls are ok (not great, a bit noisy on the other end, but then, I’m driving a noisy car). 
I can’t speak for all the other cheap-ass head units out there, but the one I have is worth every penny.