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Do you want to change your default car stereo? Are you an audiophile who needs to hear high-quality sound in your car?
In 2018, the average one-way commute time for US workers is 27.1 minutes. That means you spend almost an hour on the road going back and forth between work and home. It’s the perfect time to listen to your favorite songs or learn something new from a podcast.
In this guide, we’ll answer the question: What do you need to install a new car stereo? We also included a quick rundown on how to wire a new stereo in a car. Keep reading to learn about the things you need to prepare and have before you change your car stereo.
1. What Do You Need to Install a New Car Stereo?
As we mentioned earlier, before anything else, you need to have a plan. Research the best way to disconnect your old stereo. Check your new stereo’s manual as well so you have an idea of the next steps after you remove the old one.
Next, buy and prepare the following supplies for your new car stereo installation:
- Replacement or new car stereo
- Installation tool kit
- Dash kit
- Car stereo
- Wiring harness
- Antenna adapter
- 8mm or 10mm wrenches or sockets
- Wire strippers
- Heat shrink or electrical tape
- Solder and soldering iron
- Wire crimps (no-solder alternative)
- Stereo removal key (if needed)
- DIN tools (if needed)
If you don’t have a soldering iron, use wire crimps or butt connectors instead. They’re an easier and less hassle-free alternative.
These are some of the recommended tools you have to prepare for your stereo installation. Check the manual of the new stereo for tools you may need that the installation kit doesn’t have.
2. Tips Before Installing a Car Stereo
Wiring a stereo to a car isn’t as easy as changing a light bulb. Before you do anything to your car, you need to have an idea of what to do. Research is an excellent first step to accomplishing your goals.
There’s another thing you need to do before you do anything else to your default car stereo. Pop the hood and disconnect the car battery. This will keep you safe from unwanted short fuses or a blown fuse.
If you’re removing the factory stereo first, make sure you take note of the process. You’ll be doing the reverse once you install the new car radio on the dahs. With all that said, let’s discuss the solution to the question of what do you need to install a new car stereo.
3. Removing the Factory Stereo From Your Car
Before you can install a new stereo to improve your car audio, you need to remove the old stereo first. Some stereos use a metal mounting sleeve while others have bolts holding them to the dash. In some cases, the stereo got mounted on a rail system inside the dash.
For stereos mounted via bolts, start by removing the trim around the stereo. This will let you access the mounting screws and unscrew the head unit. To avoid cracking or breaking the trim, take your time to try to pull it in the right direction.
Once you remove the trim, you’ll see the screws that are securing the stereo to the dash. Remove the screws and pull the radio out. For spring-clip mounted radios, use a pair of DIN tools to hook and pull out the stereo.
If the stereo is using a rail system, slide it off the rail. Sometimes you also have to remove the rail so you can fit in your new radio. If this happens, you can’t reinstall the factory radio.
Some vehicles have a stereo prep package pre-wired in them. You’ll find a plug that connects the stereo to your vehicle’s speakers.
Don’t cut the wires. You want to disconnect the factory stereo from the harnesses and antenna before you take it out. Reconnect these wires to the new radio when you install it later.
4. How to Install a New Car Stereo
With your old car radio out of the way, prepare your new car stereo. Take out the manual or assembly instructions and follow them. The typical instructions will include mounting it, wiring it, and reassembling the dashboard.
You’ll see that the inside of your dash can be more colorful than the outside because of the color variations of the wires within. When you wire your new stereo, make sure you follow and match the color-coded wiring for the factory radio. As a tip, the best way to wire your new stereo is to use a car stereo connector.
It needs to match the wiring to your factory wiring plug. That means it needs to have the same wire color codes. This simplifies the task of wiring your new car stereo.
Connect the wires via soldering iron or crimping. Soldering is the most secure and permanent method of connecting the new radio to your car. If done well, it also ensures you get the most current transfer.
If you want a fast and easy method, use crimp connectors. Make sure you get a crimp connector with the right size. Take your pick among bullet connectors, crimp caps or butt connectors.
Now, you can feel the music and even get motivated to sing in your car. Singing in the car feels good and is often a great way to pass the time. It also has some immunity and mental health benefits.
5. Installing Stereos for Old Cars
Older cars use a shaft-style stereo. That means their radios have nuts and washers holding them up. If you want to learn how to install a new car stereo in an old car, you need to do it from behind the dash.
Get into a position with a flashlight and your tools. The task itself may be challenging, especially since there are a lot of things in the way. You’ll have to get around the wiring, heater controls, and ductwork in the dash.
Upgrade Your Car Stereo
That ends our guide on the preparations and steps on how to change a car stereo. We hope we addressed your question: What do you need to install a new car stereo?
Always check the make and model of your vehicle. Remove the factory stereo and slowly rework the wiring to connect with your new system. The difficulty depends on whether or not you have an old or new car.
If you enjoyed reading his guide, check out our other content. We cover even more auto and motor topics and general lifestyle tips too!
In-dash Stereo Installation Guide
This installation guide walks you through the process of installing a new car stereo. Please read over these guidelines before beginning the installation in order to give yourself an idea of what to expect.
You can also download a pdf of the Car Stereo Installation Guide.
[Tools needed for car stereo removal and install]
Tools Needed (depending upon vehicle)
Remove the factory stereo
When installing a new stereo in your car, your first step will be to remove the old stereo. Pay close attention to the steps involved, for the process for installing your new stereo will be the same, but in reverse.
Free Car Radio Installation
For detailed information on how to remove the factory stereo in a specific vehicle, refer to your Crutchfield MasterSheet™ instructions, if available. They will walk you through the process step-by-step. Otherwise, you may use the general guidelines below.
Before you begin, start by setting the parking brake and removing the negative cable from the car battery to prevent accidentally short circuiting something.
[Disconnect your battery]
Your factory stereo will be mounted in one of two ways:
secured in a metal mounting sleeve by spring clips
bolted to the dash with brackets
Spring clip mounting
If the stereo is held in by spring clips, you'll need a pair of DIN tools. Insert the DIN tools into the holes on eitter side of the unit until a click is heard. The tools serve to release the spring clips and also hook onto the sides of the stereo so that you can pull it out easily. Spread the tools apart slightly then pull the stereo out of the dash.
[Din tools used to remove factory stereo]
Bolted in place
Sometimes, accessing the stereo requires the removal of one or more trimpanels from the dash. You may have to (carefully) pry the plastic trim away from the dash (which is often secured by hidden pressure clips), or locate and remove bolts to disassemble other pieces of panel. Once you have gained access to the factory stereo, removal should be obvious. The stereo will almost always be secured by four screws, sometimes bolted directly to the front of the dash, other times secured to side brackets. Remove the screws and pull the stereo from the dash.
[Removing a stereo that's bolted in place]
American cars built before the early 1980s often came with a 'shaft-style' stereo, which secured to the dash via nuts and washers to the right and left knobs. A shaft-style stereo must be installed from behind the dash. Getting it into position is the tricky part, since your vehicle's wiring, heater controls, and ductwork may be in the way.
[Factory stereo wiring harness]
Unplugging the factory stereo
If your vehicle has (or once had) a factory stereo, or if it was pre-wired with a 'stereo prep' package, there should be at least one plastic wiring harness behind the stereo opening. This plug connects the stereo to your vehicle's electrical system, and also makes the speaker connections. You will need to unplug the factory stereo from the wiring harnesses, and unplug the antenna to complete the removal process.
[A custom wiring harness makes installing a new stereo much easier.]
A custom wiring harness makes installing a new stereo much easier.
How to wire a car stereo
Free Car Stereo Installation Instructions Pdf
If Crutchfield carries a custom wiring harness for your vehicle, you can use it to connect your new stereo to your vehicle's factory wiring harnesses. This will ensure that everything works seamlessly, just like the factory stereo did. These harnesses usually include a stereo wiring diagram for connecting the harness to you new stereo. You new stereo will also include a radio wiring diagram in the owner's manual. Refer to the two diagrams to confirm the car stereo wire colors that need to be connected to the adapter harness.
If a harness is not available for your vehicle or if the factory stereo plug was cut off, you'll need to identify each of the stereo wires and connect them to the corresponding wires of your new stereo. If you purchased your new stereo from Crutchfield, our Tech Support team may be able to tell you the colors and functions of your car's stereo wires.
Decide how you want to connect the wires together. Crimping is fast and fairly simple. If you crimp the wires together, be sure to use the correct size crimp connector — typical in-dash stereo wires are 18-gauge, but a few use heavier gauge power and ground wires. There are several types of crimp connectors, including bullet connectors, butt connectors, or crimp caps.
Posi-Product™ connectors offer a quick and secure twist-on connection for wires, and they can be re-used. Like crimping, you'll want to make sure you have the right wire gauges for the job.
[Posi-Products car stereo connectors]
Posi-Product connectors provide secure connections for your wiring.
Soldering creates a permanent, professional connection that ensures maximum current transfer. We strongly recommend that you use heat-shrink tubing and a heat gun to insulate the soldered connection. Avoid taping the wires together — the tape will dry out and fall off, exposing the wires and making it only a matter of time before something shorts out.
Usually, it is best to make all of the new stereo's wiring connections via the wiring harness, but if you have to make a direct power connection, you'll need to know the difference between 'switched' and 'constant' power.
A switched power source is only on when the ignition is keyed. Connect your new stereo's main (switched) power lead – usually a red wire – to a switched power source, so that the stereo will turn off when you turn off the car, and not drain your vehicle's battery.
A constant power source is always on. Connect your new stereo's memory lead – usually a yellow wire – to a constant power source, so that you don't lose your stereo preset, sound shaping, and clock settings every time you turn off the vehicle.
A rare few high-powered stereos require you to make a direct constant power connection at the positive terminal of your vehicle's battery. This requires a heavier gauge power wire, an in-line fuse (usually included), and a ring terminal to connect the power wire to the battery clamp. You will have to route the power wire through the vehicle firewall and into the engine compartment in order to make the connection at the battery.
A good ground connection is vital for proper stereo performance. If you are not using a custom wiring harness, look for a bolt, screw, or wire that contacts the bare metal of your vehicle's chassis. Loosen the bolt, slip the ground wire underneath (this is almost always a black wire), then tighten the bolt. If your ground wire doesn't contact bare metal, your stereo won't operate. A loose or weak ground connection can result in signal noise interfering with your music.
In-dash video — tapping into the emergency brake wiring
If your new stereo has a video monitor built in, you will also need to connect a wire to your emergency brake wire. This wire acts as a switch to turn on the video monitor when the parking brake is engaged. Follow the instructions included with your in-dash monitor to locate the emergency brake ground wire. And once again, Crutchfield's award-winning tech support team can be a big help here.
How to install the new stereo
If the original stereo was bolted into the dash, you might need to remove the mounting brackets from the sides of it and attach them to the sides of your new stereo. More likely, you will need a mounting kit (which may include a trim ring, a dash insert, brackets, a faceplate, and/or a metal mounting sleeve) to install the stereo (Figure 1).
How To Install Car Stereo Receiver
If a mounting kit is required, follow the instructions included with the kit. Sometimes you install the kit in the dash, then slide the new stereo's metal mounting sleeve (if included) into the kit. Secure the metal sleeve by using a screwdriver to bend the sleeve's metal tabs into place (Figure 2). In other cases, you attach the mounting kit to the new stereo first, then secure both in the dash with screws.
[car stereo installation metal mounting sleeve]
Once the dash opening is ready for the new stereo, hold the stereo near the opening. Connect the stereo wiring adapter to the vehicle's wiring harness and plug in the antenna cable.
Slide the stereo into the dash opening, but don't fasten it down just yet. First, test the stereo to make sure everything is working properly. It's easier to fix a problem while everything is still exposed. You'll have to reattach the battery cable in order to test the stereo, so if you disconnected any airbag warning plugs, be sure to reattach those before reconnecting the battery.
Turn on the power and try each source (AM, FM, CD, USB, etc.). Then adjust the balance and fader settings to check that each speaker is working. Once you're sure the stereo is wired and working properly, finish securing it in the dash and reinstall any pieces of dash trimpanel that you removed.
[You might need to use a basckstrap to support the rear of your new stereo.]
Installing a backstrap
A mounting bracket — or backstrap — is often included with new stereos. For most installations, a backstrap usually is not a necessary part of the installation process. However, it can be useful to help support the stereo in your dash; it also helps reduce vibration. One end of the backtrap attaches (with a screw) to the rear of the stereo. The other end attaches to an existing bolt or screw behind the dash. Just bend and shape the backstrap as necessary to enable mounting.
Can you do it?
If your vehicle has an upgraded version of the factory sound system or an integrated stereo/climate control panel, you will probably need a special factory system adapter in order to install a new stereo. An adapter allows you to use a new stereo with your existing speaker system. And you'll get it at a deep discount when you buy any car stereo from us.
How To Fit Car Stereo System
[Dash kit adapter for a 2010-up Chevy Camaro's dash panel]
Car Radio Installation Instructions
This adapter allows you to install an aftermarket stereo in a 2010-up Chevy Camaro's dash panel, while maintaining all heating, ventilation, and air conditioning controls.