Car Buying

Is a Rear Seat Entertainment System Worth the Expense?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2015

If you're interested in buying a family car, you're probably considering whether or not to spend a little extra and opt for a rear seat entertainment system. After all, they can keep children entertained on car trips -- whether you're going across town or across the country. But are they worth the expense? We took a closer look at what they cost and whether you should buy one.

Factory or Aftermarket?

If you're interested in getting a rear seat DVD or Blu-ray player for a new vehicle, you'll discover that there are usually two options: buying a car equipped with the feature from the factory or buying a car without the feature and getting it installed later, usually from an aftermarket company or a local shop that specializes in automotive entertainment.

Interestingly, these two solutions usually cost about the same. Yes, the factory option tends to be a little more expensive, but it also works seamlessly with the vehicle, is covered by the manufacturer's warranty, and doesn't require you to be without your car while it's being installed. Figure somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 extra for a factory unit -- depending on the vehicle and the complexity of the system -- and just slightly less for an aftermarket solution.

Other Solutions

Before you commit to buying an aftermarket rear seat entertainment system -- or adding an optional system to your car -- it's worth considering other options. For instance, several retailers now offer fasteners that can carry an iPad or another tablet on the back of your front seat, providing a screen for rear passengers. Better yet, since the screen isn't fixed like a rear seat DVD or Blu-ray player, rear passengers can bring this tablet on the go, giving it multiple uses.

Here's another important item to consider: Many cars now offer on-board Wi-Fi hot spots, which can increase the tablet's usability. Chrysler's Uconnect system, for instance, offers on-board Wi-Fi for $34.99 per month or for $9.99 per day if you only want to subscribe for a specific long car trip. With that subscription and a tablet computer, rear seat passengers can download movies and games on the go, keeping them occupied a lot longer than a regular old DVD player probably will.

Worth the Expense?

In our mind -- and in this world of tablets and useful apps -- a rear seat entertainment system doesn't have the same value it once did. With tablet or iPad holders positioned on the seatbacks of the front seats, rear passengers can have largely the same experience as they would with an actual DVD player. Sure, the screen may not be as big, but the tablet is portable, which means it can be used for other activities outside the car. Add in Wi-Fi to the mix, and your kids may never fight again -- for a fraction of the price of a rear seat DVD or Blu-ray player.

With that said, we could see the argument for a rear seat entertainment system -- especially if you're unwilling to buy a tablet for your child's use. But we'd only opt for it if pricing is very reasonable, as we suspect that you won't get any money back for a rear DVD or Blu-ray player when the time comes to sell your car.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Is a Rear Seat Entertainment System Worth the Expense? - Autotrader