The current generation Volvo XC90 has a USB jack in the center console bin that you can connect your phone to.  And then your phone could charge and participate in the infotainment system through either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.  While that is pretty cool that your phone can be connected to the car, it is clunky to use every time you get in a car.  And to think that your phone can be tucked out of sight while you are driving is naive – at least given the current state of CarPlay and Android Auto.  In the future, maybe the car’s main screen can do everything that the phone can but in a smart and safe way.  But for now, there’s too much that the phone does that isn’t part of the car’s screen so having the phone out is important.  No I’m not texting and driving and no, I’m not playing Candy Crush while driving.  But an occasional look down to see that a text has arrived or the second screen for the map application, etc. are things that make having the phone out useful and less dangerous than having it tucked away.  And that makes the USB jack in the center console inconvenient at best.  It’s also frequently damned annoying when the wire that comes out of the center console and snakes along the cup holders to in front of the shifter gets tangled up in whatever beverage I’ve placed there.  Last week the wire broke and rather than just replace the wire, I figured it was time for me to do something better.  It was (past) time to figure out how to dock the phone in the car.

In the end, I did get a dock successfully installed in the car which is a definite improvement over the aforementioned wire-in-the-cupholders situation.  However, I’m not completely thrilled with the result.  I now have a Lightning connector sticking out of the storage bin in front of the shifter (the optional ashtray) and the phone does connect to it.  But despite my best efforts to simulate what it was going to look like there before I started, it didn’t end up the best of placements.  It is behind the shifter knob when the car is in Park – I can take the phone out of the dock when it is in Park but that defeats the purpose.  It is too low to really access the phone’s home button at the bottom.  And it is lower than I wanted considering where my eyes are – i.e. too far to look down from the road.  That means I’m going to need to work on an alternate location at some point.  But for now, since it does work and it is an improvement, I figured I would document at least that for now.

Start with my post about how to remove the center console.  That’s the hard part to this operation.  If you can do that, the rest is easy.  (And like that post, apologies for no pictures in this post either – I was working against the clock and in the cold and dark so pictures would have meant removing gloves, dark pictures, and time wasted.)

Now with the center console removed and disassembled, I worked on how to run the wire to the USB jack.  I had briefly considered trying to tap into the USB wires so that nothing would be visible in the console bin.  But the USB wires are nicely shielded and coming up with a solution that involved figuring out which wire was which, and a non-reversible procedure.  So simply plugging in a USB wire to a USB jack was definitely the preferred solution here.

The wire I got has a right angle connection so I plugged it in to the jack, bent it to the side of the jack body, and marked about how much angle would work for the wire.  Then with the USB module removed, I used a drill to create an indentation in the edge of the bin – i.e. drilling a hole by going sideways instead of straight in.  Then it was easy to put the USB wire in that indentation beside the USB module and push the module back in to the console.  A little bit of pressure is fine for the wire but I made sure it wasn’t going to be crimped.

I ran the new USB wire along the path of the existing trunk of wires back to the front of the console.

Now what to do here at the front of the console.  I had initially planned on having the USB wire poke through a hole in the bottom of the front bin but I realized now how foolish that was because the holes are way too small for that.  Maybe a Lightning connector on its own would work but I wanted to get the big chunky right angle connector that I had purchased to the top of the bin.  I could have notched the edge of the front bin like I did the console around the USB module in the back but then the wire would be loose in the bin and I’d have to do something to hold it down and the bottom is angled and the bin lid wouldn’t close then…  So I eventually decided to cut a hole in the bottom of the bin that was the shape of the Lightning connector’s body. Time to Dremel.

The first problem I discovered is that the plastic bin material is incredibly thick.  I expected about 1.5mm but it ended up being closer to 4mm thick.  Good quality stuff.  But that meant I had to plunge the connector deeper into the bottom of the bin to make sure it protruded out the top enough.  That required some artful shaving of the connector and some artful gouging of the plastic with the Dremel.  I got the hole cut out of the plastic just enough for the Lightning connector to fit through and I successfully gouged and shaved enough from the bottom so that it would protrude enough for the phone to fit over it even with the phone case on.  And I spent some extra time fiddling with the angle to make sure the connector was straight through so that the phone would go straight up.

The next problem was how to keep the connector in place.  I had been thinking that surface mounting would mean the connector would need to be held down when the phone was removed but now I had to come up with a way to hold the connector in place when the phone was inserted.  I discovered that the plastic sleeve for the shifter cable tunnel was close enough to the bin (which I now realize is the reason the front bin has a sloped bottom) that I could use a small piece of wood as a shim.  I got lucky that I had a scrap that was a tight fit between the plastic pieces and then shaved the wood off of the top to match the profile of the bottom of the connector such that when the front bin was inserted over the shim, the shim would fill the gap making it so the connector had nowhere to go.  I’m not crazy about using wood in the car but it was easier to shape and is soft so that it hopefully won’t cause any squeaking.

Then I discovered a third problem.  The console structure had a curvy bit that cut right through where the connector was going to rest.  So again, that got some artful cutting with the Dremel.  That now left room for the connector and the shim prevented it from moving.  Finally, I had all the bases covered – just enough space but not more than enough.

The last step was to glue it up with hot glue.  I glued the shim in place and glued the bejeesus out of the bottom of the Lightning connector including a little extra where the bin bottom slopes away from the connector to help prevent the connector from coming loose and tilting in the future.

And then I put it all back together.  I routed the cable neatly, reattached the front bin, reassembled the console and then reassembled the car.  Everything works!

As I wrote above in the intro, I’m not thrilled with the result.  Despite the fact that it works, I think I can do better.  I hope I can do better.  I’m titling this post “First Try” optimistically hoping that there will be a “Second Try” that documents a better solution.

2 Responses to “Installing an iPhone Dock in a Volvo XC90, First Try”

  1. Abhi says:

    Hi, Thanks for this detailed explanation. I was looking to replace some damaged aircon vents that sit on the center console and face the 2nd row seats of my 2016 XC90. I don’t think the work involved is as elaborate as your project, but there may be similarities. Any suggestions on how to approach this and tools needed to execute? Many Thanks Abhi

    • Ken says:

      Abhi, I think you’ll need to do much of the work described in the linked post. If I remember correctly, the A/C vents on the back of the console are screwed in from behind which makes getting them out something you could only do after you either removing or stripping down the console. So maybe try getting the console stripped down first and get eyes on the back of the A/C vents first. Then see how much more you need to do. And definitely comment here with what you learn!

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