While my first try at putting a doc for my iPhone in my Volvo XC90 was, strictly speaking, successful, it wasn’t as good as I wanted. I had thought it would be cool to have the dock out of sight when the phone was unplugged so as not to mar the beautiful interior with an unsightly growth. So I figured out how to get it in the front bin of the console. However, I realized pretty quickly that the phone just wasn’t visible there which makes it only slightly better than the factory version of connecting it in the main console bin. I eventually accepted that I would need to get a mount for the dashboard and that it would be permanently visible. But I still wanted to keep things as clean as possible. Here’s what I did.
I shopped a lot for different docks when I was working on my first try. I thought maybe I could get away with just a Lightning connector sticking out of the console bottom but I also looked into minimalist docks like I have for my desk and my bedside table. But after my first try where the Lightning connector alone was the dock, I realized that with the car in motion, it just isn’t enough. I worried that I’d damage the connector port on the phone by having the weight of the phone pushing the device around while I was driving. I realized I needed a proper holder for the phone.
I found only one option for a Lightning phone holder that could be attached to the dashboard of a car, the Brodit ProClip. Brodit is the Swedish manufacturer (coincidental that the Swedish phone holder is going in my Swedish car) and ProClip USA is the seller of the units in the United States. The clever ProClip system consists of two parts – the part that mounts to the car and the part that holds your phone. You order the two parts and screw them together during installation. That way, Brodit makes a set number of phone holders and a set number of clips to match each car.
Choosing the mount for the car is easy – just enter your car’s make, model, and year, and you’ve got a selection of possible mounts depending on where you want it to go in the car. To the left of the Sensus display seemed like the obvious choice for me.
Choosing the holder for the phone was more difficult. There’s an option for hardwiring which I was sort of planning to do – the wire was not simply plugging into a dashboard plug below the holder. But it’s not really hardwiring since I wasn’t planning to cut any wires and make direct connections so I didn’t need the unit with the hardwiring adaptor. The version that came with the lighter adapter was the closest match since it was an integral cable and I could just throw away the lighter adapter. But I thought that the wire sticking straight down was ugly. So I figured I’d order the one that has just a hole where you supply your own cable and I’d order a better looking cable.
Cable shopping was also a challenge. For the holder, I would need a right-angle cable with a Lightning connector that matched the Apple original size so it would fit in the holder’s hole. For the other end, I wanted to continue to use the USB connector in the console main bin and not clip any wires so to keep things neat there, I’d also want a right angle connector. And I needed a cable to stretch from one location to the other ideally with a disconnect in the middle so the console could be inserted and removed without needing to disconnect all the wiring.
First, I settled on the wire for the holder, a Skyreat 1 ft cable. It’s a short right angle Lightning to USB cable which looked like it would be about the same as the Apple original in connector size but much better looking for the interior of the car. Not just a right-angle but also a greyish color to not stand out in the car’s interior. It was a little shorter than I wanted but mapping out the route in my head, I figured the USB end would be visible in the dash near the head unit which is pretty close to where the female connector would come in from the console.
Next, for the other end, I looked for a cable with a right angle male USB connector at one end and a female USB connector at the other that was about 3 feet long. Not only was that impossible to find but I realized that all good USB cables that long would be thick cables and I wanted a thin one for where it would protrude at the USB jack end. So I ended up breaking this up into two pieces where I got the right angle connector I wanted and the length of cable I wanted. For the right angle connector, I got a 2-pack with both left and right connectors so I wouldn’t need to worry about getting the correct right angle. And for the cable, I got a 2-pack of 3 foot cables because it was a good price for what appeared to be exactly what I wanted – besides you can always use a USB extension cable. (Foreshadowing.)
When the parts arrived, I tested the cables and confirmed that the phone would kick off CarPlay when connected using the three cables. The other pre-install check didn’t go as well – the Skyreat right-angle connector was actually slightly larger than the original Apple connector. I was just going based on posted images (using a ruler to measure the screen image of the Lightning connector contacts to compare it to the Apple original I was holding in my hand and figure out the scale to determine the size of the connector) so I wasn’t too surprised that I was off by a millimeter or two but I had underestimated how exacting the Brodit mount was in fitting exactly the original Apple connector. And good for them for being exact. Fortunately, I discovered that the Skyreat connector’s metal sleeve could slide off and then it fit perfectly in the Brodit mount. And since the mount would provide the connector protection, the sleeve wouldn’t be needed with the mount. I just needed to work out how to get the Brodit mount clip to hold the right angle connector in place but since I wasn’t sure which way the right-angle connector would be installed, I figured I’d wait until wrapping up the install to cut a notch in the connector for the mount clip to grab on to. Time to install.
To do the install, I needed to remove the center console as I had on my first try. Because that process is such a big job, it got its own post and that works out well for this being my second attempt at a dock. And now that I’ve done it before, the console removal went pretty well and pretty quickly. The only additional step this time was to remove the media control panel – that’s the bank of buttons below the Sensus screen with the play/pause button and the volume wheel. Be sure to pull the control panel equally from all four sides and pull gently so it doesn’t suddenly pop out on one side.
With the console removed, I removed the Lightning connector from where I had glued it in my first attempt (boy that hot glue really holds well – nice to know) and then pulled out the whole cable. Then with the console fully disassembled, I routed the new cable in place. It was a really good thing that I got the thinner right angle cable at the end because it needed a bigger hole even than the cable of my first try. If I had managed to find a single cable to go the length with the right angle connector, I would have needed too big of a hole at the USB jack – it would have been uglier. (In the picture below, you can see the notch I made in the side that is just big enough to not squeeze the wire too tightly.)
I attached the short right angle cable to the main 3′ extension cable and wrapped the connection between the two in electrical tape – partly because there was some exposed shielding on the connectors and partly because I wanted to make sure they didn’t even think about working apart over time. Then I ran the extension cable the length of the console, following the original trunk of wires ending up with a few inches to spare at the front – good thing I went with the 3′ cable. To hold the cable in place, I used twist-ties to attach it to the original wire trunk. That came out very nice.
Now for the other end, the dashboard mount. The placement of the dashboard mount is predetermined by Brodit and they did a good job working that out. The clip inserts easily into the dashboard by simply wedging between two plastics. Great design. I removed the self-adhesive strip cover (which doesn’t actually do the holding, it just prevents sliding) and snapped it into place. That took maybe 3 minutes tops.
The hard part here was cable routing. I had planned on prying apart the two pieces of dashboard right where the bottom of the clip attaches and sneaking one end of the short Skyreat cable through. But it wasn’t until I started trying to pry that I realized they aren’t two pieces – only one with a fake seam. Ah crap. So I could drill an ugly hole under the clip and make it so if the clip is ever removed, there’s an unsightly hole in the dashboard or I could find another way. At this point, definitely the easiest thing to have done would have been to use the Apple original cable in the Brodit mount and have that enter the dash at the seam between the console and bottom of the dashboard (under the media control panel). Then I could have been done and just put it back together. But I really didn’t want that look in the car and I felt like I was close.
So I kept poking around and discovered that the small piece of wood between the steering wheel and the center console could pop out and behind it is another piece that can pop out and the instrument panel sort of can lift up and behind that is an opening that connects to the area behind the media control panel. It wasn’t as straight a shot as I wanted, though, and it was going to be tough to snake a wire through so I got out the drill. I drilled a 3/8″ hole in the dashboard material in the location that is behind the trim that I had removed. I figured that would be big enough for the right-angle Lightning cable end to get through but small enough to avoid being visible after the trim was put back together. Then I snaked a scrap wire through the hole and caught it on the other side near the media control panel. You can’t even see the hole in the dashboard in the picture below because it is to the right of the black frame for the wood to attach to.
Then I taped the Lightning connector to the end of the scrap wire at the center and pulled the scrap wire back through the hole I made in the dash. And that all went well until the connector started to come through the hole. I had done a good job taping it up but the scrap wire pulled through the tape leaving the connector half way out. I figured a gentle tug with needlenose pliers would finish the job. I did get the connector through but without that metal sleeve on the connector, it ended up somewhat mangled. I felt stupid about that. I should have known that it was more fragile without the sleeve, I should have known to make the hole larger, and in general, I should have been more patient with this part of the process. But time was ticking and in the interest of wrapping things up, I was impatient and made a mess of the connector.
On the plus side, after I cleaned up the remnants of electrical tape adhesive from the Lightning connector and carefully reformed the plastic connector, I was able to get the connector reinserted into the Brodit mount. And now that I knew which way the cable was going to angle, I was able to create a bit of a notch in the back of the cable for the mount clamp to hold. I felt bad further hacking up the poor little connector but with it shoved into the mount, it all pretty much ended up invisible.
I chose to angle the wire to the left, then loop it under the clip holding the mount to the dashboard because that was the path that kept it best out of sight. Then the cable follows the seam (that is not actually a seam between two parts but actually just a fake seam) along to the trim next to the steering wheel. That route worked pretty well.
However, that route was also much longer than what I had planned on. Going straight in the seam behind the clip as I had planned would have saved about 12 inches of routing. But that length got used up by traveling up the outside of the dashboard, through the hole behind the trim, and then returning back behind the media control. So now, it was too short to actually make a connection like I wanted and the USB end of the Lightning cable would have been just behind the trim next to the steering wheel.
Fortunately, I had ordered that 2-pack of USB extension cables. So I was able to use the second extension cable in the dash – the female end got taped on to the end of the Lightning cable and that all got buried in the dash. Then the male end ran along next to the media head unit and down the right side to the floor where there was space to make a loop and end it close to where the console would connect to it.
Now with this in place, I was able to start re-assembling everything. First, the trim next to the steering wheel while making sure the wire was pushed into place well. Then, the media control panel. Then the center console was put back together and put back in the car.
Time to test. It didn’t work. I got charging connectivity but not CarPlay connectivity. I pushed the phone further down on the holder and got CarPlay, then I let go and CarPlay went away. It seems that I was wrong about my estimate for the required length of the Lightning connector and the right angle part was preventing the cable from getting far enough through the mount. So I squeezed harder and it popped out a bit on the top of the mount which appears to have locked it in place even more now. And when the phone goes on the dock, now, CarPlay comes right up. Yay! I finished putting the car back together and other than the mount on the dashboard, it looks just like it did when I bought the car new. Perfect.
Well, I do have a lingering concern that the damage I did to the Lightning connector end and the improper length and size in the mount will become a problem in the future. Maybe Brodit will come out with a better looking solution and I’ll be able to replace the mount or even just the mount bottom with it when they do. Until then, I’ll just be careful to keep my thumb on bottom of the Lightning connector when I push the phone in the dock to help keep it from falling apart.