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Life with a factory stereo

How to upgrade your vehicle's stock system

By

Charlie Pastorfield

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.