While we’re sure there are pros out there who could tell you far more than we can about car stereo installation, we’ve installed more than a few over the years. And we’ve learned a few things about the process. Read on past the jump to learn how to save a ton of cash by skipping high-dollar shop installations — and avoiding costly noob mistakes.
Our top five tips for basic installation:
#1: Be very, very patient while removing interior panels.
The single biggest (and most expensive) beginner mistake in stereo installation is breaking interior panels. Don’t laugh — it’s easy to do. Interior panels in most cars are held on by either plastic buttons or screws, and it’s very important that you figure out which is which before you start yanking and pulling. On the other hand, once you discover that a panel is held on only by buttons, you’ll need to pull hard. A word to the wise: get a panel puller tool and use it slowly and carefully, popping one button at a time. When the panel comes free, look for any connected wiring before pulling it off; there’s nothing worse than having to re-wire a power plug because you yanked the wires out.
#2: Get the right parts for the install.
If you’re installing an aftermarket head unit, chances are quite good that someone already makes a great installation kit for your particular application. If you can find it and order it, it’ll save you a ton of time. While you’re at it, order a wiring harness kit as well. Be aware that wiring harness kits usually come in two parts: one part that plugs into your car’s stereo multi-plug and terminates in bare wires, and another that plugs into the back of your new head unit and also terminates in bare wires. Once you connect these two harnesses together, you’ll have a plug-in solution for your application that won’t destroy your stock wiring.
#3: Read the manual that comes with your new stereo, even if it’s in mechanically-translated Japanese.
You’d be amazed how many times some little secret to the proper functioning of a stereo is buried deep in the “installation” section of the manual. If nothing else, skim the manual for irregularities.
#4: Make good connections.
Even if you get it all hooked up properly, you’ll rue it later when a connection goes bad, leaving you tuneless on your morning commute. Take a few extra moments to make those inter-harness connections perfect, and you might even consider soldering your harnesses together and using heat-shrink to cover the joints once you’re sure you’ve got everything right. Also, make sure that all your ground connections make good solid contact with an unpainted section of the car’s body. This only takes a few minutes during installation, but if you have to pull everything back apart, it’s a pain.
#5: Run wires safely and wisely.
If you’re stringing a long wire through the passenger compartment — like a GPS or XM/Sirius antenna — make sure that the wire can’t get caught up in moving parts like power seats, emergency brakes, or door mechanisms.