Install a New Car Stereo

Once your old factory-original car radio is out, chances are that you'll be looking at a relatively big opening that remains in your car's dashboard. You may be wondering, "How is my sleek new car stereo going to fit there?" Fortunately, in most cases the size of the radio bay is standardized so most car stereos will fit. Unfortunately, there are many variations on the configuration of the bay where you'll be inserting the new stereo. Unless the stereo is designed for precisely the model of car that you own, you'll likely need a dash kit to fit it properly in the bay. A dash kit is an adapter designed to make car stereo installation easier. You should be able to buy the dash kit where you bought your new car stereo; just make sure it's the proper kit for your specific model of car.

You'll want to assemble the dash kit before you install the radio. Then slide the radio into the assembled dash kit skeleton. When you take your new car stereo out of the box, it should be encased in a metal cage -- basically a box that surrounds the stereo body like a glove. Most have metal tabs on the edge of the cage that can be bent upward to keep the new stereo in place. These prevent it from sliding too far into the dashboard opening.

Before putting the stereo and dash kit into the open bay, you need to interface the stereo with the car's electric system. All the electrical wires you need should be available inside the dash board and they should all be held together with a wire connector, a small, white, plastic rectangle that keeps the wires organized. Sometimes these connectors convert the color scheme used by the car's electrical system to a standard set of colors. You should look in the instruction manual that came with the stereo for an explanation of the color scheme.

Once you have the wires properly attached, replace the negative battery cable and switch the radio on. Once you've determined that everything is operational, you're ready to set it back into the dashboard and replace the screws. If it doesn't operate properly (or not at all), well, this is when you have to troubleshoot. Did your car blow a fuse? Could you have shorted out something in the stereo itself? If it comes down to it, you can take it to a professional to finish the installation, but don't be surprised if they charge extra to clean up the mess you made.

Up next, we'll look at some examples of electronics upgrades.