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How to install a car stereo

Learn about a typical car stereo installation


Robert Ferency-Viars

Robert Ferency-Viars is the managing editor for the Crutchfield car A/V learning content, and has been with the company since 1999. A Virginia native from the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, he loves spending time with his wonderful wife and sons, listening to music, writing, and playing games with friends. Robert's love for car audio began at 16 when he installed his first car stereo.

More from Robert Ferency-Viars

Watch this video for a step-by-step overview of a basic car stereo installation. The installation shown in this video is only one example — the actual steps involved vary from car to car.

The vehicle-specific Crutchfield MasterSheetsm included with your order will illustrate the specific installation steps required for your vehicle. Use our vehicle fit tool to see if we have a MasterSheet and installation gear for your car.

How to install a car stereo | Video Transcript

Today we're going to take you through a typical car stereo installation. Every vehicle is different, but with our help you can do this yourself. We've asked someone from our tech support department to help out today, so let's dive in and get started.

If you buy your stereo from us, we'll send you a set of instructions specific to your vehicle called a Mastersheet. These instructions walk you through the process of taking out the old stuff and putting in the new stuff. And with our database of over 25,000 vehicles, chances are we have a MasterSheet for your car.

You'll need some installation hardware also, including a wiring harness that connects your new stereo to your car's electrical system. Many installations also require a mounting kit which fills in any gaps between your new stereo and your vehicle's trim. Today, however, our stereo will fit into the dash without needing one of these. Wiring harnesses, trim kits and other installation gear are available at a deep discount when you buy your new stereo from Crutchfield.

Step #1: Connect the wiring harness

The first step is one that you can do before you even go out to your car, and that's connecting the two wiring harnesses. The first harness is the one that comes with the stereo, and the other is a vehicle-specific harness that connects to your car. The process is straightforward thanks to the color-coded wires, but you'll want to refer to your wiring diagrams to make sure you make the right connections.

There are several ways to connect all these wires. Crimping them is easy and fast, but soldering creates a more permanent and secure connection. For the best of both worlds, try Posi-Products wiring connectors. They're even easier than crimping and just as secure as soldering.

So now we've connected the car harness to the stereo harness using the Posi connectors. If your stereo plays videos or DVDs, then you'll also have a really long green wire that has to be connected to your parking brake. We'll show you how to connect that wire in a little while.

Step #2: Disconnect the car's negative battery terminal

Before you start disassembling the dash, make sure you disconnect your car's negative battery terminal. That'll prevent us from causing any accidental shorts once we're moving around inside the cavity.

Step #3: Disassemble the dash

In this car, we start the disassembly by removing a top trim panel first. In order to avoid gouging the vinyl, we recommend using a plastic trim panel tool like this one to gently pry the panels loose. Once you get started, you can usually remove the rest of the panel by slipping your fingers inside and feeling for the location of the clips. Once you find a clip, you can simply pop the panel loose. Your Mastersheet comes in handy here, telling you where the clips are and which panels to remove.

Step#4: Remove your factory radio

Next, remove your factory radio. Be sure to collect all of your screws somewhere safe. Your Mastersheet will let you know which electrical dash connections to unclip and which ones to leave alone.

Tip: Run needed cables after removing your factory radio
While your factory radio is out, you can run any extra cables you may need, like rear USBs, RCAs for connecting to an amp, or a Bluetooth microphone.

Our stereo plays DVDs, so we'll take this opportunity to connect that long green wire to our parking brake wire. Following the Mastersheet, we have disassembled our mid console to expose the parking brake wire. Using a Posi-Tap connector, connect the green wire from the harness to the wire here. Posi Products really make this connection simple.

Tip: Connect the antenna adapter
This particular car uses an antenna adapter to hook up the AM/FM radio, but again, all cars are different and your Mastersheet is your guide. A quick note about antenna adapters: if the adapter has a wire on it, usually blue, be sure to connect that to one of the blue wires on your harness. That wire turns on an antenna booster. If you don't connect, you won't have any FM reception.

Step #5: Connect and install the new stereo

Now it's time to put in the new stereo. Following the Mastersheet instructions, use the harness to connect your new stereo to your car's harness. Make sure to connect any rear-mounted cables.

One note before we reconnect the battery terminal: If you've disconnected any connectors relating to the airbag, make sure you reconnect them first. We don't want to trip an error light that would need resetting. Once you've confirmed the stereo is working great, now you can reassemble your dash.

Step #6: Reassemble the dash

Once everything's reassembled, re-connect your negative battery terminal and you're good to go. If you buy your stereo from Crutchfield, you'll have access to our expert tech support if you hit a snag. And while you're shopping, take advantage of our vehicle fit guide to make sure you only get the gear that'll fit your vehicle, and that you get everything you need.

Last updated November 19, 2015
  • Ugochukwu from NIGERIA

    Posted on 5/14/2015 8:46:01 PM

    how can i get the kit and i want a soft ware that can translate car stereo from other language to English. My name is Ugochukwu Chris and i am from Nigeria.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/15/2015 9:48:27 AM

    Ugochukwu, we don't carry the software you describe. Any sort of firmware update to your stereo would need to be acquired directly from the manufacturer. However, we do have vehicle-specific mounting kits for a wide variety of vehicles. If you have a vehicle that was sold within the U.S., we may have a solution for you. Contact us via chat, email, or phone, but if you're ordering internationally, you may want to read our shipping details first. Please note that we do not ship outside of the U.S.

  • Dan from Rosevvville,ca

    Posted on 8/9/2015 10:37:20 PM


  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/10/2015 9:09:48 AM

    Dan, you'll need the proper wiring harness to retain factory features like steering wheel controls. Enter your information in our vehicle selector and select the Kenwood stereo you want. Then, you'll have your choice of packages that will let you keep factory features. If you have any questions, give us a call.

  • Elmer from Henderson

    Posted on 8/28/2015 8:43:26 PM

    How to install a car stereo on my nissan xterra 4x4 '02?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/31/2015 6:38:12 AM

    Elmer, if you purchase the new receiver from Crutchfield, we'll include our vehicle-specific instructions free with the order. You can also purchase them separately for just $10. We do have one for your '02 XTERRA.

  • Craig knox from Edinburgh

    Posted on 11/2/2015 6:31:32 PM

    Hi I have just bought a toyota corolla gs 1999. It still has the original tape deck in it. When I took it out I had to remove it from bracketts. I tried 3 cd players but could not get any them to stay in as had no where to screw the bracketts there anyway round it. Thanks

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/4/2015 9:22:07 AM

    Hey Craig -- that's an odd situation. The brackets you took off of the old factory radio should easily screw into holes on the sides of a new CD receiver. But we may be able to help you figure this out. If you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help with the install. 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.

  • Jack R

    Posted on 11/17/2015 10:43:47 PM

    What about connecting ground?

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/19/2015 9:16:17 AM

    Thanks for your question, Jack. No worries about the ground -- in virtually every case the ground is integrated into the Crutchfield wiring harness. Once you've connected your new receiver's ground wire to the ground (black) wire in the harness you're all set!

  • Casey from Auburn

    Posted on 3/2/2016 8:36:14 AM

    I have a Kenwood DNX7160 in my 2008 Nissan Xterra and it has turned off. I cannot get it to turn back on. I know this sounds elementary; but i really cannot get it to turn back on. It's literally off. When I start the truck up, the little red arrow in the bottom left corner blinks - as if it's getting power - but the screen stays off. The few things I have found on the internet to power on the unit have not worked. Please let me know if you know!! Thanks!

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/2/2016 10:47:52 AM

    Casey, based on the flickering red light, it sounds like you have a loose power connection. To know for sure, you'll have to uninstall the stereo to check that connection and then secure it. If that's not the cause of the problem and 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.

  • Denise from ARNOLD

    Posted on 3/17/2016 11:40:43 AM

    I recently bought a new Boss System Model BV9976B, did all the wiring and once I installed it the unit turned on, everything looks like it is working but there is no sound coming out. Any ideas what the issue may be? Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

  • Denise from ARNOLD

    Posted on 3/17/2016 11:41:37 AM

    Sorry, I should have added the car I am installing the Boss system in is a 06 Chevy Equinox

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/18/2016 4:08:30 PM

    Denise, you'll need to check your connections again, and if your factory vehicle harness is still in place, you may want to consider using this harness to retain your Equinox's warning chimes (since you'll need to remove the radio again). If it doesn't appear to be a connection issue, you may want to contact Boss, or you can get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.

  • Jim from St. Charles

    Posted on 3/19/2016 11:48:46 AM

    I have a 2009 Saturn vue I would like to have back up camera to go along with a double din radio and maybe some upgraded speakers. The radio would need to have Bluetooth I have I phone 6 so would like the interface with my maps on my phone.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/21/2016 9:16:38 AM

    Jim, we can certainly make some recommendations. I've passed your question along to our sales team. An advisor will contact you soon to help you find the right gear for your Vue.