Part 1: Preparing to install your Car Stereo
The most common customization that many people put in their car is a new car stereo. Most will have their car stereo professionally installed spending up to hundreds more on top of the cost of the stereo. For many, though, the added cost of installation means that they cannot get the stereo that they want at this time. Installing your own car stereo can save you a lot of money, and you can make it look just as nice as a professional installation. All you need is a couple of tools, a few parts, and a little time. Taking a little time to prepare ahead of time will save you a lot of time during the installation.
Your New Car Stereo:
When you decide on what car stereo you want to install in your car, take the time to ensure that it will fit into your car. Some cars will only accept a “Single DIN” car stereo, meaning it will only accept the standard rectangular size. Others will accept up to a 1.5 DIN, 2 DIN, 2.5 DIN, etc… If your car will only accept up to 1.5 DIN, you must choose a single or 1.5 DIN stereo.
In-Dash Receiver Kit:
This is a kit that will allow your dash to physically secure your new Stereo. Many older cars will use a universal kit, but any car that has A/C controls built into the stereo face, a trim piece that acts as the face, or an opening that is not square or rectangle, you will need a kit that is specifically customized for your car. A note of caution here, there are many manufacturers of kits out there. You can find kits for the same car that look the same ranging in price from $10-$50.
In many cases the cheaper kits do not fit as securely allowing the stereo to move around as you drive or do not allow the stereo to fit all the way into the dash as it should. In either case you are risking damage to the stereo, dash, or other equipment behind the dash. This can cause more expense than the Stereo originally cost in repair bills. I suggest ordering a kit from a trusted source such as Crutchfield or JC Whitney or picking one up at a local reputable car stereo shop. Most from discount stores you should stay away from. There are exceptions but unless you know the difference, it is safer to stay away from them.
Wiring Harness Adapter:
In most cars there is a simple harness with 1-3 plugs that the back of your stereo. This harness contains all of the speaker, light dimming, power wires and sometimes other accessory inputs you need for your stereo connections. The adapter contains the proper connection for your new stereo to plug into this harness. If you opt out of purchasing this adapter, you will have to cut the connectors off of your car’s harness and hard wire your stereo into the wiring. In my opinion, the adapter is well worth the price. It allows you to return the car to the stock radio at any time if you ever wish to. In some cases, this adapter will be included in the In-Dash Receiver Kit.
Car Stereo Installation Tool Kit:
You can buy these as a kit or the components separately. The first thing you will need is an interior trim tool kit. These kits allow you to remove the interior trim pieces without breaking them. They come in either metal or plastic tools. The metal are easier to use, but the plastic will not scratch your pieces. The next tool you will need is a tool to remove the old Stereo. Most cars will require a DIN tool, check to see what tool your car requires before purchasing. Without a DIN tool, you aren’t going to be able to pull your original head unit out. Next you will need a basic electrical kit. This should include a multimeter, wire strippers and crimpers, splicing connectors, and electrical tape. In some cases you will also need screwdrivers and pliers as well. All of these tool kit pieces will also be used to install speakers, amplifiers, or any other additional custom electronic accessories you wish to install in your car, so they are not a 1 time usage tool.
Using a “Parts Bin” is a highly recommended step. One of the hardest things to keep track of is each different fastener, bolt, and nut. Keeping them all in a bin is an easy way to ensure you do not lose any. When possible I like to take this one step farther and each trim piece has its own bin with its own fasteners. This way there is no question on what fastener goes with what part.
Be sure to give yourself a few hours to complete your installation. Actual installation time will vary by each individual car, each individual stereo and the experience of the installer. If you do not give yourself enough time to complete the installation, you will find yourself rushed to finish. This is where errors happen. You should always allow yourself enough time to “take it slow”. In most cases you will not need a few hours to install, but you will want to take the time once completed to test your new stereo, setup the clock, EQ settings and other options that it has, doing this right away will help enhance the listening experience later.
This is a preparation step that many overlook. Where are you going to do the installation at? When are you going to do the installation? What is the temperature? How is the lighting? These are all important preparation questions. Most people will not have access to a cooled/heated garage with tons of lighting to perform their installation. They will be performing it at home. If you live in an apartment, you have an additional concern. In many cases apartments have a “No working on cars” clause in the lease agreement.
This means you can actually be forced to stop after you have begun. Find out from your apartment office before you begin if you can work on the stereo. What time of day/time of year are you going to do the installation? If it is in the summer where it is 100°F you will be very hot and sweaty. After a while you will want to be done and begin to rush things. If you do not have access to a climate controlled garage, try to find a shady area with a fan to blow air on you, or a portable heater to heat the area around you. Having a small drop light that you can position in the car with you helps more than most expect, even if you are out in the bright sunlight, there are a lot of shaded areas inside the car dash.
Part 2: Installing your Car Stereo
The most common customization that many people put in their car is a new car stereo. Most will have their car stereo professionally installed spending up to hundreds more on top of the cost of the stereo. For many, though, the added cost of installation means that they cannot get the stereo that they want at this time. Installing your own car stereo can save you a lot of money, and you can make it look just as nice as a professional installation. All you need is a couple of tools, a few parts, and a little time. Now that you have completed your preparations you are ready to begin the installation.
Disconnect the Battery:
Disconnect your NEGATIVE battery cable. This step is necessary to ensure that you do not cause any damage to your new stereo or to the battery from surges while you are working.
Remove the Trim Pieces from your Cars Dash:
Using your Trim tools, gently remove all required Trim Pieces from your cars dash to expose the original car stereo. Your In-Dash receiver kit often times will have instructions on what pieces you need to remove. Check these instructions for any guidance. Ensure you keep all fasteners and trim pieces organized. Using a parts bin or other dedicated storage location that is not easily knocked over and not in the way while you are working. It may seem like an unnecessary step for many pieces but I have spent hours looking for a lost clip or had to go to the dealership to purchase a damaged piece. In either case, that extra minute proved to be so valuable.
Remove the Car Stereo:
Using your DIN tool (or other specific tool), remove the original car stereo. There are holes on the sides for you to insert the tools into. Once you have them inserted, pull outwards (to the left and right) on the tool. Gently, but firmly begin to pull the original car stereo out. When the old stereo begins to slide out, grab the sides of the stereo and continue to pull it all of the way out while supporting it. Do not just yank it out. Bring it out slowly until it is completely free. Once you have it completely out, unplug all of the connections and set your old stereo to the side.
Install Your In-Dash Receiver Kit:
Read the instructions carefully and fully before you begin. This step is very critical in maintaining a professional look for the installation. Use the trim removal tools to disassemble any additional trim pieces that are required that have not yet been removed. Following the directions, install the In-Dash Receiver Kit. Your new pieces should align and snap in easily. If they do not, take the time to find out why they do not and correct the issue. For any kit that requires tightening nuts or bolts to mount, be sure you do not over torque these as this can cause damage to your pieces and cause alignment issues.
Install Mounting Sleeve:
The Mounting Sleeve is part of the In-Dash Receiver Kit or part of the new Stereo. In some cases you will have one with the stereo and one with the kit. It is always best to compare the 2 and decide which one will fit the stereo the most securely and will fit the kit most securely. This sleeve is generally a metal cage that the new stereo will actually mount to. Install the sleeve to the kit. Ensure the kit and the sleeve are secure to each other and to the cars dash. If either piece is loose or not square, adjust each until both are correct.
Install Wiring Harness Adapters:
Now that the Car is prepped for the new stereo, now is the time to begin the Stereo Preparation. Remove the Stereo from the packaging and locate the wire harness for it. Some stereos will have this permanently attached while others will have it a separate plug. In either case you need to attach the wires from the Wiring Harness adapter to the wires from the stereo. In most cases the wires will use a standard color system so it may be just as easy as matching the colors. Take the time to double check each wire. This is not a step to shortcut or to use the wrong items. Use Wire connectors for each wire. Do not just twist together and tape. If you do the best you can hope for is less than optimum audio quality, worst is you can start an electrical fire under your dash. Use the proper wire connectors and heat shrink (tubing that shrinks when you heat it) to seal the connections.
Install Your New Stereo:
Now you are ready to connect your new Stereo to the cars wire harness. Plug the Wiring harness adapter into the harness you unplugged from the original stereo and into the new stereo if it is not already attached. You should have enough wire to set your stereo down somewhere nearby. Reconnect your Battery contact and tighten it down tight. Loose battery connections are one of the leading causes of electrical issues in cars.
Test Your New Stereo:
At this point everything should be connected back together with the radio connected but not in the dash. Turn on the radio and make sure all the speakers work and any other supported items work, such as dimming the display when the lights are on. Once the testing is complete, turn the key off and slide the new stereo into the Mounting Sleeve in the dash. Be sure to tuck the wires into the dash as you do this. The stereo should slide in easily without binding. If you have any binding, pull it back out and check the reason for the binding. When fully seated, the stereo will lock to the mounting sleeve and be secure.