Looking for Car Stereos?

Car StereosStart shopping

Steering wheel audio control adapters

Get a new stereo and keep your steering wheel controls

Many people are surprised to learn that their steering wheel audio controls won't work with a new car stereo without the help of an extra adapter. If you're considering upgrading your factory radio to an aftermarket receiver, adding a steering wheel audio control adapter lets you keep the full functionality and convenience of your steering wheel controls. We even offer a solution for vehicles that don't have factory steering wheel controls (see below).

Steering wheel audio controls in a 2006 Toyota Sienna XLE

Taking a look at the different adapters

It’s important to select the correct adapter for your vehicle. Not all adapters work with all cars, and some cars have no compatible adapter. We check these steering wheel control adapters for ease of installation in every vehicle. When you identify your vehicle on our site, you'll only see the adapters that are easiest to install in your specific vehicle.

If you have multiple adapters to choose from, it can be difficult to know which one is the best option. Here's an overview of the pros and cons of each adapter.

Axxess ASWC-1

Pros:

  • Plugs into many Metra stereo installation harnesses for easier installation
  • Easiest to program — the auto-programming feature recognizes the car automatically in many cases (see below), and programs the buttons automatically
  • Reads both digital and analog signals (see the explanation below)

Cons:

  • Difficult to remap buttons — It's not as easy to redefine what the steering wheel buttons do
Axxess ASWC-1
iDatalink Maestro ADS-MSW

Pros:

  • Programmed online — set it up before you get out to the car and define the buttons the way you want
  • Supports multi-function buttons — press once to do one thing, hold it down to do something else
  • Watch the video demo on iDatalink's website — under the "Video FAQ" tab, look for "How to Flash a Maestro SW"

Cons:

  • Does not read digital signals — analog only (see below)
iDatalink Maestro
PAC SWI-RC

Pros:

  • Least expensive option
  • Works in many older vehicles

Cons:

  • Programming is more complicated — you have to program each button in a specific order
  • Requires an additional adapter to read digital signals (see below)
PAC SWI-RC
PAC SWI-CP5

Pros:

  • Reads both digital and analog signals (see below)
  • Supports multi-function buttons — press once to do one thing, hold it down to do something else
  • Multiple programming modes — manual or via computer
  • Confirms manual programming with audio beeps as well as flashing LEDs (the other adapters only use LEDs)

Cons:

  • Most expensive option
PAC SWI-CP5

The details explained

The chart above is nice, but some of the points need a more thorough explanation.

Easier installation
  • Some stereo wiring harnesses (used to connect a new stereo) have a built-in connection for a steering wheel control adapter. Purchasing the matching steering wheel control adapter will result in an easier installation. For instance, the Axxess ASWC-1 adapter might plug right into the Metra wiring harness for your car, saving you a bunch of time.
  • Even when the stereo wiring harness doesn't have a connection built in, we have other adapters for some vehicles that will still let you plug in your SWC adapter. These extra harnesses are usually inexpensive and make the installation much simpler.
  • Our advisors can let you know if one of these situations applies to your vehicle.
Analog vs digital signals
  • Many modern vehicles send the signals coming from the steering wheel audio controls to the radio in a digital format. The Axxess ASWC-1 and the PAC SWI-CP5 adapters can read these digital signals. PAC's SWI-RC adapter will also read the digital signal with the help of a second adapter (SWI-CAN or SWI-CAN2).
  • You'll need to tap into the wiring in your steering wheel if you're using the iDatalink adapter in a vehicle like this.
  • Identifying your vehicle on our site will make sure you're buying a compatible adapter.
Button programming
Maestro box

The ADS-MSW connects to your computer via USB cable

  • Some steering wheel adapters require you to manually assign a function to each of your steering wheel control buttons. The instructions that come with your adapter will show you how to do this.
  • Some steering wheel adapters (namely, the Axxess ASWC-1) have an auto-detect mode, so it'll program itself to transmit the right signals from your steering wheel controls. If auto-detect mode doesn't work to your satisfaction, you'll still have the option of programming the adapter manually.
  • One neat advantage to manual programming is that you can choose to assign functions to the buttons on your steering wheel that are custom to your needs. This option is not available with all brands of aftermarket car stereos, so you'll want to do some research ahead of time to make sure your desired preset change will work.
  • The iDatalink ADS-MSW and the PAC SWI-CP5 adapters both let you use a computer to program the buttons (referred to as "flashing" the adapter). This is an easier way to set up the buttons and gives you more control over what they do. Plus, you can program the adapter before you start the installation.

Installing your steering wheel controls adapter

Tech support

Our tech support advisors can help you find the right wire

For the most straightforward installation, install your steering wheel adapter and aftermarket stereo at the same time. If you already have an aftermarket stereo installed, you'll need to pull it out of your dash to install the steering wheel control adapter.

Depending on your vehicle, the installation process can range from very simple to fairly complex, and that's why we recommend downloading more detailed vehicle-specific instructions from PAC, Axxess, or iDatalink. All three manufacturers also offer online instructional videos and installation tips.

In most cases, you'll have to splice some wires. If you're comfortable making a few cuts into your vehicle's wires, this is a great project for a do-it-yourselfer. And when you buy from Crutchfield, our tech support is available 7 days a week to walk you through the installation.

Soldering is recommended for the most secure connection, and is required for many of these installations. See our Car Stereo Installation Guide for soldering tips. You can minimize the amount of soldering by using Posi-Products™ wiring connectors. They're as secure as soldering, but much, much easier to use. And this particular set of Posi-Tap™ connectors is specifically sized for the smaller wires you'll encounter when installing a steering wheel control adapter.

If you're installing a radio made by Kenwood or JVC, you'll need to connect a wire from your new interface to the Blue/Yellow wire on the radio's harness. If you're installing any other compatible brand, you will simply plug in the interface's 3.5 mm jack into the steering wheel remote input on the back of the radio.

Axxess RFASWC universal steering wheel controls

The Axxess Universal Interface straps onto your steering wheel

Don't have factory steering wheel controls?

If your car doesn't have audio controls on the steering wheel, you can add them when you install a new stereo. The Axxess RFASWC universal interface will work in ANY car. It's compatible with many major brands of aftermarket stereo, so it's a great addition when you're upgrading the deck.

How do I find the right one?

Contact one of our expert advisors for help choosing the right adapter to work with your car and your new car stereo. They can also answer any questions you have about the installation and give you some idea about how difficult it'll be — some vehicles are easier than others. You can reach them at 1-888-955-6000 or via chat or email.

Gift Card The Great Gear Giveaway

Sign up for our email newsletter and then enter to win a $500 Rewards Card.

Done with your research?