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How to install a car stereo

Learn about a typical car stereo installation


J.R. Stoffel

J.R. has been at Crutchfield since 1996. He's been helping customers buy the right products from us for many years, and now he supervises and trains our Advisor Group. He worked as a D.J. on our local rock n' roll radio station, does video production on the side, and plays drums in a band called Ice House Road.

More from J.R. Stoffel

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

Hey everybody, this is JR. I work at Crutchfield and today we’re going to do a car stereo installation. We’ll just go over the basics of how to install a car stereo into a car, well a truck actually.

Step #1: Disconnect the car's negative battery terminal
So we’ve set the emergency brake, and now we want to disconnect the negative battery cable.  We disconnect the negative battery cable because if our wrench accidently touches any metal in here, it’s already grounded, it doesn’t cause any sparks or flames or fires or anything like that. And we’re disconnected, and we’ll kind of tuck this out of the way so it can’t accidently reconnect itself.

Step #2: Disassemble the dash
All right, so we’re going to pry out the dash to reveal the radio, to get down to the radio, and in this truck, we have to take out the piece that goes all the way from here to right here. It’s one big piece around the radio. In a lot of cars, it’s just one small piece of dash trim that can be pried out, however in this truck, again we’ve got to remove this panel here so, got a trim panel tool, and I’m going to start prying and getting this panel out.

It’s a combination of using the tool and your fingers. The tool helps save your fingertips so you don’t, you don’t end up pulling your fingernails off -- that’s no fun at all.

All right, looks like the panel’s loose. We’ll sort of gingerly get it out of the dash here. There’s probably going to be some wiring connectors we’ll have to disconnect. Squeeze that right there; got that one. And another one here. All right get the last wiring connector unplugged and I think that should be all of them. Now we should be able to take this entire panel out of the dash. There we go. All right, we’ve got our dash out.

So we’ve got our dash trim panel off, and now we’ve just got to get the radio out and this process is fairly similar in most vehicles. There are usually some screws holding it in. It could be a Philips head or a flat head or a socket of some kind -- that’s what we’ve got today is a 9/32nds socket to remove these four screws.

And our four screws are out. So now we can pull the radio out of the dash and disconnect it. All right this is our antenna connection right here, this big harness here, and disconnect this last harness. We’ve got our factory radio out of the dash and our dash is now sort of ready for the new radio. So now we’ll go into the shop, we’ll get our wiring harness all connected and ready to go. We’ll put the radio in the installation kit and we’ll come back out here so we can start to put this thing back together.

Step #3: Connect the wiring harness
So we have here the harness that came with the radio and the harness that plugs into the vehicle, the vehicle specific plug. We’re going to connect these wires to these wires so I’m going to go ahead and begin connecting these wires. I’ll start with the ground wires where I’ll just twist the copper together here, then I’m going to take my posi-connectors, we’re doing these instead of soldering just because they are so simple, so easy to install, and it makes a nice tight connection. It’s that easy, really. So now our ground wires are together and tight and we can move onto our next one. So what’s nice so far is the wires on both the vehicle specific harness and the radio’s harness have been matched color for function so our yellow is our constant wire, our black is our ground wire, our red is our switched power wire.

You may have noticed a few extra wires on this harness that we’re not addressing or hooking up right now -- we’ll deal with those later. This green wire’s our parking brake wire; we need that because the radio has a screen on it and we’re going to need to connect it to our parking brake. And if you’re hooking up just more of a traditional receiver that doesn’t have a video screen on it, you won’t have the parking brake wire, or the reverse wire on there. So these are extra wires that are for this receiver specifically.

So we’ve finished the harness. We’ve got the vehicle specific harness connected to the radio harness. We’re going to move onto assembling the installation kit which is the thing that holds the radio in the dash and makes it look good. So we’re going to put the side brackets into the kit; they only fit one way so you can’t put the side on the wrong side. I’m going to put this on the radio and now we’ve got some screws to hold the kit to the radio itself.

We’ve got the kit on the radio and it is ready to go.  We’ve got our wiring harness completely put together so we’re ready to go out to the truck to put the radio and the harness and stuff in the truck. One thing I would like to mention is this is a double-din radio meaning the radio’s about four inches tall. It takes up this entire opening in this installation kit. Not every radio is that size; some radios are a single din or two inches or half that height, such as this radio here. So I brought this out just to sort of get a visual on the single din with a pocket vs. a double-din radio.

Step #4: Run accessory cables
So we’ve got our radio in the truck pretty much ready to go in, but we have a couple other things to do first. For example, this radio has a USB input on the back of it and it comes with this nice USB cable that we’re going to plug into the back of the radio and route it out to where we can reach it. And we’ve also got a Bluetooth microphone to install. The microphone, we’ll probably put it up here on the visor so it picks up the caller’s or the driver’s voice really well, and we’ll route the cable down and into the dash and into the back of the radio where it plugs in right here.

So we need a place to put the USB cable where the driver can reach it easily when he gets in and we found the perfect place in this truck. There’s a nice little storage pocket right here and it also happens to give us pretty easy access to routing it up to get it to plug into the back of the radio. We’re going to take the plug and we’re going to just route it right down through here. Pull it up right out of the radio cavity, and we’re going to pull out enough just to have some slack to plug it into the back of the radio and the rest of this cable. We can just sort of fold it up, leave it right in here so that driver can bring it out when he wants to plug his phone in.

All right, so we’re going to put the Bluetooth microphone right up here on the visor, fits nice and snug. And we can aim the Bluetooth microphone right at the driver’s face -- really gets the voice projected out of there really well so you get a nice direct voice pickup on the microphone. This nice, thin cable can be routed right up behind the headliner here. Just tuck it in there so it doesn’t fall out and it stays nice and hidden. We’ve got microphone cable routed right up in here avoiding all the important stuff like the steering linkage, and our last little bit, we’re just going to run it through this little hole and into the radio cavity.

We ran the USB cable, we ran the Bluetooth microphone, and we’ve got the radio’s harness good to go in the dash there. With most receivers, that would be all we would need to do, however this is a video receiver, which means it needs a connection to the parking brake so the video receiver knows when not to play video. That parking brake connection is down here, just a little switch, and we tapped into it. Pretty much, we’re ready to start plugging this thing in.

Step #5: Connect and install the new stereo
We’re ready to connect the radio, and slide it into the dash, and make sure everything works. So we’ll start with the steering wheel control interface right there -- that was pretty easy. Next, we will do our Bluetooth microphone which plugs in right next to that. Let’s go the USB cable that we ran earlier, we can plug that into the USB cable input here. Got our radio harness, the radio side of that connection goes right into the back of the radio. And last but not least, we have our antenna connection, which is our shortest wire. And the antenna connector is right here on this side of the radio which, is good because again that cable is kind of short.

We can go ahead and secure the radio into the dash -- looks like a pretty good fit with our installation kit. The factory screw holes line up nicely, and we can just go ahead and use the factory screws to hold it in place.

Step #6: Reassemble the dash
So we’ve got our radio in, we’ve got it all connected and now it’s time to put our dash panel back on. And, uh oh, this is why we did the emergency brake, by the way, because sometimes you’ve got to put it in gear to clear room to put your dash panel back on.  And you’ve got to bend it just right to get it in there. There we go. And now we can go ahead and make all these connections and hook it up and test it out.

All right, this is our last connector and so now we can go ahead and reconnect the battery and test it to make sure it’s all working.

Got out battery connected and we can go ahead and test it out. Put the key in the accessory position. All right let’s see if it pairs with my phone. Sounds pretty good, but that could be because it’s the band, it’s Ice House Road. If you haven’t heard of them, it’s on Spotify. You can’t hear it at this part of the song, but they have a great drummer. Here, let’s try another song – yep, there’s the drummer.

That’s how to install a car stereo. Please like the video, subscribe to our channel if you’d like to see more videos like this because we’d love to keep making them for you. Thanks so much for watching.

Last updated May 20, 2016
  • 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.