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Life with a factory stereo

How to upgrade your vehicle's stock system

Charlie Pastorfield writes about car audio for Crutchfield. Raised in Connecticut and the U.S. Virgin Islands, he graduated from the University of Virginia, but was having way too much fun to leave Charlottesville. After a long, beautiful career touring the East Coast from Boston to Atlanta as a professional guitarist (Skip Castro Band, The Believers), he married Emilie, had two daughters (Morgan and Emma), and got his first full-time job at Crutchfield. Still an extremely active musician, he's now a member of The Gladstones, a 4-piece group that plays just about anything, and Mama Tried, a 4-piece band that plays early Grateful Dead.

More from Charlie Pastorfield

You buy a car, you drive it for a couple of months, and you decide that the sound system just isn't cutting it. In the old days, you'd buy a new stereo and some speakers and life would be good. But it's not that simple anymore. Many car makers use unusual dash configurations, and others use "premium" systems that use amps and speakers with unusual impedance ratings and proprietary connections.

Car stereo and speakers

Many new vehicles won't accept this traditional car stereo and speakers combo.

The biggest dealbreaker? Instead of the old in-dash CD player/radio combo, many new vehicles feature all-in-one consoles that incorporate climate controls, OnStar®, GPS, vehicle warning systems, and other unique features, housed right along with your sound system. Replace your stereo and you lose many, if not all, of these important factory functions.

Options for the 21st century

What are your choices if you've purchased a vehicle like this? Are you stuck with the limitations of the factory sound system? Is the local dealership your only option for adding to your system? Will you have to suffer with second-rate sound quality and limited entertainment choices for the next 100,000 miles? Cheer up. There's more and more good news headed your way.

Car stereo manufacturers have begun to adjust, moving away from the traditional stereo and speaker offerings toward developing products that enhance factory systems. Solutions range from adding a simple powered subwoofer, to using a sophisticated sound processor to expand your system, and from adapters that connect your iPhone® or iPod® to your factory stereo, to kits that integrate your smartphone into your factory system. Let's talk about some of your options.

  • Jennifer from SC

    Posted on 6/16/2015 3:52:57 PM

    I noticed that some harnesses come amplified and some are not. Does it matter which one I choose for my vehicle. It's a 2013 Chevy Impala without bose.

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/17/2015 12:59:55 PM

    Jennifer, the harnesses aren't amplified, but I understand what you mean. Those little black boxes they include contain the circuitry to make sure most of the electronics in your vehicle still work after you replace the stereo. For the most part, the different adapters all let you retain OnStar (if you have it now) and warning chimes. The ADS-MRR also retains factory Bluetooth capability AND includes an adapter for the steering wheel audio controls. You have to purchase that separately with the other adapters. Of course, if you don't want any of these features, you can get the least expensive adapter, the the LAN-01 to save a few bucks. When you use our vehicle selector and choose a stereo, we'll show you a chart that tells you which adapter keeps which factory functions. That'll make it easier for you to decide which one you need. And if you have any questions, please, give us a call. That's why we're here.

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/17/2015 1:05:48 PM

    Jennifer, the harnesses aren't amplified, but I understand what you mean. Those little black boxes they include contain the circuitry to make sure most of the electronics in your vehicle still work after you replace the stereo. For the most part, the different adapters all let you retain OnStar (if you have it now) and warning chimes. The ADS-MRR also retains factory Bluetooth capability AND includes an adapter for the steering wheel audio controls. You have to purchase that separately with the other adapters. Of course, if you don't want any of these features, you can get the least expensive adapter, the the LAN-01 to save a few bucks (but even that one lets you keep the warning chimes). When you use our vehicle selector and choose a stereo, we'll show you a chart that tells you which adapter keeps which factory functions. That'll make it easier for you to decide which one you need. And if you have any questions, please, give us a call. That's why we're here.

  • chris from United States

    Posted on 6/17/2015 8:53:32 PM

    i purchased from you guys an alpine head unit and sound ordinance powered sub for a pickup i had, i just bought a new jeep and would like to hook up the powered sub to the uconnect 130 factory stereo unit

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/19/2015 9:21:25 AM

    Chris, since you purchased the gear from us, give us a call and our tech support team can help you with that and also let you know what gear you need for the installation.

  • DaRhonda Warren from Maywood, IL

    Posted on 10/6/2015 1:39:55 AM

    I have a Suzuki XL7, and I want to hook up 2 subwoofers and an amp to the factory radio. Do I need an adapter, or anything that's not included in a standard amp wiring kit?

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/7/2015 1:21:02 PM

    Thanks for the question, DaRhonda. Factory radios typically don't have preamp outputs, so if you're using a factory receiver, you need to get your amp's input signal from the factory speaker wiring, either behind the radio or from the rear speaker leads. Many amplifiers have high- or speaker-level inputs to accommodate this kind of setup. So you'll need to splice into those wires and probably run some wire to the amp's location.

  • Taylor Courter from Kansas City, MO

    Posted on 1/22/2016 9:16:09 AM

    Hi, I'm installing two alpine type r 10's in an I closed box with a 1000w amp and am upgrading the door speakers with alpine spr-68s which will also be hooked up to a separate 1000w amp. I like the factory head unit in my car for its sync system and various other reasons. What options do I have for this set up? Car is a 2009 Ford Escape limited 3.0V6. Thanks, Taylor

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/24/2016 5:20:44 PM

    Taylor, not sure what you mean by options since you've said you like your factory receiver. It sounds like you already have the gear you need? If you need help setting it up, you can check out this amp installation guide or if you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help setting up your system. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details. If you're looking for options to replace your factory receiver, you can use our vehicle selector to confirm which stereos fit your car and get some info on what else is needed for the installation and to retain your SYNC system. Or just give our advisors a call at the number above.

  • Alexi from Tacoma

    Posted on 1/27/2016 4:46:05 PM

    What other materials are needed to connect a powered sub with a factory stereo? Would a basic wiring kit work?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/29/2016 4:49:22 PM

    Alexi, I've passed your question along to our sales department for the best answer in your case. An advisor will contact you soon. In the meantime, check out our our instructional on installing a powered sub.

  • Yasmin from Eastbourne

    Posted on 2/16/2016 12:26:21 AM

    Hi I have a seat Ibiza 2001 model with the factory stereo that controls the heating and all shows up on the screen, I've looked into putting my normal head unit in but it seems like it's a lot of hard work and a bit complicated for me to do alone unless I send it off somewhere which is too much so I was wondering if you would be able to customise it like some people do to make a normal head unit fit? Thanks

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/16/2016 10:00:40 AM

    Yasmin, unfortunately, we can't help you with your Ibiza. Our vehicle database spans vehicles sold within the U.S. You may be able to find recommendations on forums that discuss the Ibiza specifically.

  • Garett Wages from Clovis, CA

    Posted on 4/8/2016 7:53:53 PM

    Hello Crutchfield! I have a 2005 Honda Civic Special Edition and a Rockford Fosgate Powered Subwoofer. How do I keep my head unit and speakers stock, but wire in my subwoofer?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/11/2016 4:42:35 PM

    Garrett, check out this video as a guide. Take note of this section on connecting to a factory radio: "You'll want to make sure your powered sub has speaker-level inputs and "signal sensing" turn-on capability. In this case, you can just tap into the speaker wires behind your stereo, or possibly the rear deck speakers. This will get signal to the powered sub's built-in amp."

  • Bill Reines from Hamburg

    Posted on 4/18/2016 1:39:01 AM

    Just purchased 2013 Impreza hatch (non-turbo), sold my old sound system (double-din pioneer and 2x kicker comp 12's) with my old car. Looking to throw a single 12 in without breaking the bank and without having to replace the stock radio and dash configuration and steering wheel control function. Is this possible?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/18/2016 9:51:24 AM

    Bill, I've passed your question along to our sales team for the best answer. An advisor will contact you soon to help.

  • Matt from San Diego

    Posted on 4/27/2016 6:17:09 PM

    Hey, I have a 2016 Honda Civic ex t and would like to upgrade the factory speakers and maybe add a powered sub, is this possible?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/28/2016 9:11:40 AM

    Matt, we can help you upgrade your Civic. I've passed your question along to our sales team. An advisor will be contacting you soon.

  • Gary from Berlin, nh

    Posted on 5/9/2016 6:48:32 PM

    I just purchased some Kicker 6.5" speakers for my travel trailer. The stock speakers are horrible, so I wanted to replace. When I went to install, I realized the stock speaker hole is slightly larger. Do you have any type of adapters to " fill the empty space? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/10/2016 9:21:16 AM

    Gary, give us a call or use our vehicle selector to confirm which accessories you'll need for installation. We carry a variety of speaker adapters.

  • DAVID from BIRMINGHAM,AL

    Posted on 5/16/2016 10:30:58 PM

    MY JEEP HAS A FACTORY INSTALLED SUB...CAN I BRANCH OFF OF IT WITH OUT AN ADAPTOR

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/17/2016 9:46:11 AM

    David, if you're talking about adding another sub to your system, you won't be able to use factory amplification. Give us a call at the number above for help with options.

  • Brooks from Woodstock

    Posted on 5/19/2016 10:35:01 PM

    I just bought a 2014 Kia Forte. I have taken my entire Alpine system out of my previous vehicle and am wanting to put just the speakers and amp (no sub) in the new car. My biggest concern is retaining as much sound quality as I can. I realize that you get what you pay for and I fear the cheap line out converters won't help me retain the quality I had with the entire alpine set up. Is the AudioControl LC6i (or similar higher priced units) worth the extra investment?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/20/2016 10:38:21 AM

    Brooks, I've passed your question along to our sales team for the best answer. An advisor will contact you soon to offer advice on a factory sound processor. In the meantime, this article goes a little more in depth. Also, keep in mind that speaker fit will change from vehicle to vehicle. Before you disassemble your Kia's door, be sure that your Alpine speakers will fit. You can use our vehicle selector to confirm which speakers fit your car.

  • Dane from Perth

    Posted on 5/31/2016 10:15:04 AM

    Hi, I have purchased a powered sub and am going to wire it to my vehicles factory head unit and factory amp. The head unit doesn't have RCA outputs and so I know I have to splice the sub cables to the speaker cables. My question is do I put the splice in the speaker cable after the amp? And does it matter if I pick up the front or rear speakers for the splice. Thank you.

  • Aldo

    Posted on 6/19/2016 1:54:15 PM

    Hi guyd I have a 2006 Toyota Tacoma with the OEM radio, what do I need to install an amp? Thank you

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/20/2016 7:37:54 AM

    Aldo, I've passed your question along to our sales team. An advisor will contact you soon to help find the right amp for your needs.

  • Francisco Pando from Great Bend

    Posted on 6/22/2016 6:00:36 PM

    I have 2014 Ford fusion without the touch screen radio. I want to upgrade the door speakers and hook them up to an Amp, how would I go about hooking the amp up to the door speakers.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/23/2016 9:09:12 AM

    Francisco, you'll some basic questions about installing an amp answered here. Give us a call and an advisor can help you find the right system for your vehicle.

  • Vernon from Abilene

    Posted on 6/25/2016 5:47:44 AM

    Hello, I have a 2010 4-Runner all stock ( JBL ), which means it has a factory AMP powering ALL the speakers which includes the factory SUB, I am wanting to ADD an AMP & 2 12" SUBS while still using factory radio, Can I just unplug speaker wires from factory SUB and then use the wires from it as the input into the AMP I am wanting to ADD? Thanks

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/27/2016 9:05:53 AM

    Vernon, swapping out the subs won't work. You'll need to work around that factory amp. So, you'll want to make sure your new aftermarket amp has speaker-level inputs and "signal sensing" turn-on capability. Then, you'll tap into the speaker wires behind your factory stereo.

  • Hope from Seneca

    Posted on 6/29/2016 2:31:23 AM

    I'm about to purchase a 2016 Jeep Wrangler and I want to purchase subwoofers.. Is it possible that I could keep the stock touch screen radio and have subs at the same time?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/30/2016 9:25:11 AM

    Hope, I've passed along your question to our sales team. An advisor will contact you soon to help you find the right gear for your new Wrangler. The short answer is -- yes, you will be able to add subs and keep your factory radio. Check out this article for an overview on adding bass to your vehicle.

  • Anthony Pena from Manchester

    Posted on 7/17/2016 6:26:22 PM

    Hi I have a 2015 Honda Accord Sport and want to install subs. Will I need to change the factory head unit or can I keep it just like that?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/18/2016 9:32:47 AM

    Anthony, you may be fine with your factory radio, but you will need to install an aftermarket amplifier to power your new subs. Here's a little bit more information about adding subs to your system, but feel free to call us with questions. An advisor will be happy to help you find the right gear for your system.

  • Al from brooklyn park

    Posted on 7/20/2016 6:23:47 AM

    I have a 2016 tacoma four door with thr non jbl 7 inch screen stereo. I would like to keep everything stock but add some better speakers. Will my stock head unit have any trouble running better speakers? Do you have any speaker recommendations?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/20/2016 7:20:48 AM

    Al, you should be fine powering aftermarket speakers with your factory radio. I've passed along your question to our sales team. An advisor will contact you soon with recommendations for your Tacoma.

  • Mike Trainor from Phila

    Posted on 7/27/2016 5:47:52 AM

    I just picked up an 08 trailblazer with bose and onstar i switched out the radio and have the right harness but when I switched it out I get static out of the speakers alot of reviews say I need to bypass it but do you guys sell something to install between the aftermarket radio and stock bose amp to fix the signal

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/29/2016 8:35:43 AM

    Mike, if you have the right harness, you shouldn't need to bypass the amp. Your best first step would to be to recheck all your work to make sure all connections are solid and aren't picking up unwanted interference. If everything looks good, give us a call to make sure there isn't a better harness for the job (there are options with your vehicle).

  • Paul Hazelwood from Wichita

    Posted on 8/9/2016 1:44:40 PM

    I am wanting to add a subwoofer to a 2016 Ford Fusion. I am most likely going to use the rear speaker wiring as the input source for the amplifiers speaker level inputs. Do the rear speakers in my vehicle need to be permanently disconnected when using their wiring for this?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/10/2016 1:25:29 PM

    Paul, rather than dedicate this wiring entirely to your new sub, you'll need to splice into rear speaker signal. That will allow you to send an audio signal to your sub, but you'll still be able to use your rear speakers to play full-range sound. Posi-Products speaker connectors will be the best tool for the job.

  • Jerel from Houston

    Posted on 8/15/2016 3:45:00 AM

    Hi, I have a 2011 Navigator. I recently added a subwoofer to the factory stereo system. The sub isn't doing the job. I have a 1200watt mono block and a punch p3. I have the LOC installed but Im not getting the output as the sub should. Do you think a bass processor(epicenter or other) would help resolve the issue, or what?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/15/2016 8:59:29 AM

    Jerel, the first thing you'll want to do is make sure that your amp and sub are a solid match -- it's hard to tell for sure from the info you supplied. Check out this article -- it will take you through the steps of ensuring that your sub is properly powered. Also, keep in mind that if you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.

  • Brad deshong from Gainesville

    Posted on 8/15/2016 3:55:54 PM

    I have a 2010 f150 lariot, an alpine mrx-m110 amp and a sub. Is there a way to install that without replacing the head unit?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/17/2016 11:47:20 AM

    Brad, yes, you can still use your factory stereo, and you may find this article useful. You'll tap into the speaker wires behind your stereo, or possibly the rear deck speakers, to get audio signal to the amp.

  • Erich

    Posted on 8/18/2016 11:23:29 PM

    2015 chrysler 200 , want to amplify rear deck speakers using factory radio, however line converters wont work as factory radio wont send signal once rear speaker is unhooked , i need a dummy load of some sort to trick radio , what do you have ?

  • Erich

    Posted on 8/19/2016 12:09:04 PM

    I was hoping you guys have some sort of active line converter that would have the impedence value the factory radio needs to see to send out audio signal wants the rear speakers are unhooked and the factory speaker wires are hooked to line converter, my guess is a line converter with a built in reaistor would work , but unsure if any companies have such a device

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/22/2016 11:22:44 AM

    Erich, I've passed your question along to our sales team for the best answer. An advisor will contact you soon to help you find the right gear for your Chrysler.

  • Rachel from Fort Leonard Wood

    Posted on 8/28/2016 12:52:57 PM

    I'm purchasing a 2002 Ranger 4-door extended cab. I want to keep the look of the dash, but upgrade the sound quality and loudness (I have my windows down 90% of the time, and if it's hot, I also have my AC blowing full blast- like to have my cake and eat it too haha). I wish Kicker had that custom system for the ranger, but they don't, so I'm looking for alternatives. Also, don't want to lose any of my space in the backseat to a massive subwoofer (ha). I'm too picky for my own good. How could I go about doing something similar to kicker's system on my own (or with some professional installation if absolutely required). Thanks!

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/29/2016 7:58:09 AM

    Rachel, congrats on the new ride. I've passed your question along to our sales team. An advisor will contact you soon to help find the right gear for your Ranger.

  • Oswaldo Rabanal from NY

    Posted on 9/11/2016 10:18:54 AM

    I just purchased a Chevy trax 2016, I have read online that the factory radio signal is too low for an aftermarket amplifier. I plan on buying from you guys the Alpine 5 channel 900 rms amp and speakers to go with it of course. So will it work? Especially because this amp has the speaker level inputs, I want to make sure it'll work before I spend a lot of money and time to find out it doesn't. Thanks!

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/12/2016 2:10:05 PM

    Oswaldo, I've passed your question along to our sales team for the best answer. An advisor will contact you soon to help you ensure a match with your new Trax.

  • Matthew from Perth

    Posted on 9/20/2016 1:50:38 PM

    I'm hoping you guys can help me out l. I have a 2006 suburu outback with automatic climate control and without the factory subwoofer. I'm wanting to improve my sound quality and wanting the option to connect my phone through Aux or Bluetooth. Every car audio shop I go to quote me around $1400-$1800. If you guys have any ideas that would be great thanks! :)

  • Jose ortiz from Myrtle Beach

    Posted on 9/22/2016 4:35:50 AM

    Hi guys.. I'm looking to install an after market amp and sub to my wife's 08 Jeep liberty. She wants to keep her factory radio which has an amp and sub in the rear.. What's the easiest way to add aftermarket amp/sub.. I purchased impedance converter.. If that helps

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/22/2016 6:56:21 AM

    Matthew, I've passed your question along to our sales team. An advisor will contact you soon to help find a solution that matches your budget.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/22/2016 7:37:32 AM

    Jose, you may want to consider an all-in-one powered sub, but an advisor will contact you soon to help find the right bass solution for you.

  • Nicolas Consecion from Anaheim

    Posted on 9/28/2016 11:38:02 PM

    I'm looking to install 2 subs and an amp into my 2016 impala with out bose. I want to keep my oem head unit what is the best way to do this with out tapping into the speakers.

  • Mia from hayward

    Posted on 9/30/2016 9:41:48 PM

    I have a 2009 mini cooper and I removed the non working factory radio and had an after market Kenwood/Bluetooth radio installed. I have now purchased a new Mini Factory radio, and want to have it installed. But many places are saying that as long as the original wire harness is still intact, the factory radio can be installed. My question is, should my original wire harness still be intact , or did it have to be removed when I had the Kenwood installed?


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