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How to install a car stereo

Remove your factory stereo and install a new one

Car install guide image.

Car stereo installation basics — In this article, we'll walk you through the process of installing a new car stereo. We'll cover:

  • How to remove the factory stereo
  • How to wire the new receiver — what you need to know to connect it right
  • How to install the new car stereo

Please read over these guidelines before beginning the installation so you'll know what to expect.

Get your toolbox

You'll need a few tools to get the job done, but nothing serious. A couple of screwdrivers and a wrench or socket set for the battery cable are most common. You’ll also need some wire strippers, electrical tape, and a way to make wiring connections – which we’ll cover later. One of the more important tools you'll need is a panel removal tool to help you safely remove the dash panels without scratching the surfaces or breaking anything. 

Bojo panel tools

Protect your trim panels by using the right tool for the job.

Watch this video for a step-by-step overview of a basic car stereo installation

If you’re looking for a more visual take, check out this video of one of our senior advisors installing a stereo. He walks you through the process from start to finish and shares a few expert tips along the way.

Removing the factory stereo

When installing a new stereo in your car, your first step will be to remove the old stereo. It would be easy to breeze through the removal steps and forget them. But don’t rush! You’ll want to make sure you remember the sequence of these steps, since you’ll be reversing this process to install a new stereo.

For detailed information on how to remove the factory stereo that's specific to your vehicle, refer to your Crutchfield MasterSheet™ instructions, which walk you through the process step-by-step. Otherwise, you may use the general guidelines below. These instructions are free with a car stereo purchase, or you can purchase them separately for $9.99. Using MasterSheet instructions with the general guidelines below will prove to be a winning combo.

Before you begin, start by setting the parking brake and removing the negative cable from the car battery to prevent accidentally short circuiting something.

Disconnect your battery

Your factory stereo will most often be mounted in one of the following ways:

  • secured in a metal mounting sleeve by spring clips
  • bolted to the dash with brackets
  • mounted to a rail system inside the dash

Removing a spring-clip mounted radio

If the stereo is held in by spring clips, you'll need a pair of DIN tools. Insert the DIN tools into the holes on either side of the unit until you hear a click. The tools serve to release the spring clips and also hook onto the sides of the stereo so that you can pull it out easily. Spread the tools apart slightly then pull the stereo out of the dash.

Din tools used to remove factory stereo

Removing a stereo that's bolted in place

Sometimes, accessing the stereo requires the removal of one or more trim panels from the dash. You may have to (carefully) pry the plastic trim away from the dash (which is often secured by hidden pressure clips), or locate and remove bolts to disassemble other pieces of panel. Once you have gained access to the factory stereo, you should be able to see screws that secure the radio to the dash. Remove the screws and pull the stereo from the dash.

Installing a stereo in a Prius dash.

Removing a stereo attached to a rail system

Some vehicle manufacturers mount the factory radio to a guide rail inside the dash. Once the spring clips or bolts are removed, you can slide the radio off of the rail. Because this rail can sometimes interfere with the chassis of a new radio, it may have to be removed too. Something to keep in mind: once this is done, you often cannot reinstall the factory radio.

Stereos for older cars

American cars built before the early 1980s often came with a "shaft-style" stereo, which secured to the dash via nuts and washers to the right and left knobs. A shaft-style stereo must be installed from behind the dash. Getting it into position is the tricky part, since your vehicle's wiring, heater controls, and ductwork may be in the way. One of our vendors, RetroSound, offers several vintage shaft-style radios with modern features on board and a versatile mounting system.

Unplugging the factory stereo

If your vehicle has (or once had) a factory stereo, or if it was pre-wired with a "stereo prep" package, there should be at least one plastic wiring harness behind the stereo opening. This plug connects the stereo to your vehicle's electrical system and  the speakers. You will need to unplug the factory stereo from the wiring harnesses, and unplug the antenna to complete the removal process.

With the old radio out of the way, it's time to focus on the new one. That involves connecting all the wires and then installing the stereo in the dash. 

Factory stereo wiring harness

How to wire a car stereo

If Crutchfield carries a vehicle-specific wiring harness for your vehicle, you can use it to connect your new stereo to your vehicle's factory wiring harnesses. This will ensure that everything works seamlessly, just like the factory stereo did.

car stereo custom wiring harness

These harnesses usually include a color-coded wiring diagram for connecting the harness to your new stereo. Your new stereo will also include a radio wiring diagram in the owner's manual. Refer to the two diagrams to confirm the car stereo wire colors that need to be connected to the adapter harness. The nice thing is that you can make these connections on a workbench, desk, or kitchen table without having to be inside the vehicle.

If a harness is not available for your vehicle or if the factory stereo plug was cut off, you'll need to identify each of the car's stereo wires and connect them to the corresponding wires of your new stereo. If you purchased your new stereo from Crutchfield, our Tech Support team may be able to tell you the colors and functions of your car's wiring.

Posi-product connectors

Options for connecting the wires

You’ll need to fasten bare wires together, and there are few ways to do it. Please avoid only taping the wires together — eventually the tape will dry out and fall off, exposing the wires and making it only a matter of time before something shorts out. Here are the options that will give you secure, lasting connections:

  1. Soldering creates a permanent, professional connection that ensures maximum current transfer. We strongly recommend that you use heat-shrink tubing and a heat gun to insulate the soldered connection. Most purists prefer this method, because it’s the most secure and conductive connection for the wiring.
  2. Posi-Product™ connectors offer a quick and secure twist-on connection for wires, and they can be re-used. It never hurts to have a couple of Posi-Tap connectors on hand for various jobs, too. This is our favorite way to get strong connections fast.
  3. Crimping is fast and fairly simple. If you crimp the wires together, be sure to use the correct size crimp connector — typical in-dash stereo wires are 18-gauge, but a few use heavier gauge power and ground wires. There are several types of crimp connectors, including bullet connectors, butt connectors, or crimp caps.
  4. Crutchfield ReadyHarness™ service simplifies your installation by letting us do most of the work for you. We will take the harness from your new stereo and your vehicle-specific adapter harness and professionally connect the two before we ship your new stereo. We'll let you know if this service is available for your car when you tell us what you drive and select a new stereo.

Check out our wire connecting videos to see these different methods in action.

Crutchfield ReadyHarness service

Crutchfield ReadyHarness servcie — let us do the work for you

Power wires

Usually, it is best to make all of the new stereo's wiring connections via the wiring harness, but if you have to make a direct power connection, you'll need to know the difference between "switched" and "constant" power:

  • A switched power source is only on when the ignition is keyed. Connect your new stereo's main (switched) power lead – usually a red wire – to a switched power source, so that the stereo will turn off when you turn off the car, and not drain your vehicle's battery.
  • A constant power source is always on. Connect your new stereo's memory lead – usually a yellow wire – to a constant power source, so that you don't lose your radio station presets, tone control presets, and clock settings every time you turn off the vehicle.

Although rare, a few high-powered stereos require you to make a direct constant power connection at the positive terminal of your vehicle's battery. This requires a heavier gauge power wire, an in-line fuse (usually included), and a ring terminal to connect the power wire to the battery clamp. You will have to route the power wire to the battery location, which is often through the vehicle firewall and into the engine compartment in order to make the connection at the battery.

Speaker wires

Car stereos have eight wires for the traditional 4-speaker system – a positive wire and a negative wire for the front left, front right, rear left, and rear right speakers. Depending on the wiring configuration in your vehicle and the wiring harness adapter we offer, some of these may not be used.

Ground wire

A good ground connection is vital for proper stereo performance and to eliminate unwanted noise. If you are not using a custom wiring harness, look for a bare, unpainted bolt or screw that contacts the bare metal of your vehicle's chassis. Loosen the bolt, slip the ground wire underneath (this is almost always a black wire), then tighten the bolt. If your ground wire doesn't contact bare metal, your stereo won't operate. A loose or weak ground connection can result in signal noise interfering with your music.

In-dash video — tapping into the parking brake wire

If your new stereo has a touchscreen or video monitor, you will also need to connect a wire to your emergency/parking brake wire. This wire acts as a switch to turn on the video monitor when the parking brake is engaged. 

This wire can be in different locations in different vehicles, depending on the brake configuration. The wire is usually found where your parking brake is. In vehicles that have a hand brake between the front seats, you'll have to remove the center console to get to it. In vehicles that have a foot-pedal parking brake, the stereo's wire will need to be routed to it under that dash. Either way, it isn't too hard, just take your time. And once again, Crutchfield's award-winning tech support team can be a big help in locating it and helping you get to it.

Installing the new stereo

Mounting the stereo in the dash

If the original stereo was bolted into the dash, you might need to remove the mounting brackets from the sides of it and attach them to the sides of your new stereo. More likely, you will need a mounting kit to install the stereo.

If a mounting kit is required, follow the instructions included with the kit. Sometimes you install the kit in the dash, then slide the new stereo's metal mounting sleeve (if included) into the kit. Secure the metal sleeve by using a screwdriver to bend the sleeve's metal tabs into place. In other cases, you attach the mounting kit to the new stereo first, then secure both in the dash with screws.

If your vehicle has an upgraded version of the factory sound system (such as a Bose or Harman Kardon upgrade, for example) or an integrated stereo/climate control panel, you will probably need a special factory system wiring adapter in order to install a new stereo. An adapter allows you to use a new stereo with your existing speaker system. And you'll get it at a deep discount when you buy your new stereo from us.

iDatalink Connec KIT-MUS1 Factory Integration Adapter

This integration package lets you keep the factory LCD screen and touchscreen climate controls in select 2010 and up Ford Mustangs.

Once the dash opening is ready for the new stereo, hold the stereo near the opening. Connect the stereo wiring adapter to the vehicle's wiring harness and plug in the antenna cable. Depending on the stereo you choose, you’ll also need to connect various things to the rear of the stereo, such as the Bluetooth® microphone wire, a USB cable, steering wheel control interface, or an auxiliary input cable.

Check your work

Slide the stereo into the dash opening, but don't fasten it down just yet. First, test the stereo to make sure everything is working properly. It's easier to fix a problem while everything is still exposed.

Note: You'll have to reattach the battery cable in order to test the stereo, so if you disconnected any airbag warning plugs, be sure to reattach those before reconnecting the battery.

Turn on the power and try each source (AM, FM, CD, USB, etc.). Then adjust the balance and fader settings to check that each speaker is working. Once you're sure the stereo is wired and working properly, finish securing it in the dash and reinstall any pieces of dash trim panel that you removed.

What about modifications? 

In some vehicles, you might have to make modifications to the dash opening or the area inside (what we refer to as the “dash substructure”) in order to install a new stereo. If this is the case for your vehicle, we’ll warn you about it when you’re shopping on our site, and also in your Crutchfield MasterSheet. And once again, don’t hesitate to call our tech support crew if you need any guidance.

Ready to try it yourself?

By now you should have some idea of what is involved in replacing your factory stereo with a new, better, aftermarket stereo. So, it’s time to check out our Crutchfield Outfit My Car tool, where you can tell us what kind of vehicle you have. From there, you'll be able to see the details about which stereos, speakers, and other gear will work with your vehicle and also see the installation gear you'll need to do the job right.

And if you have questions, we’re ready for you. You can contact our Advisors via chat or phone.

In-dash Stereo Installation Guide
  • Hardeep Singh from Barnala

    Posted on 11/6/2021

    Blaupunkt (maji mp 36) Is not USB Conteced

  • Commenter image

    Alexander H. from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/9/2021

    CW, give our tech support team a call for best next steps.

  • Cw from KS

    Posted on 8/8/2021

    What do I do if you send me a harness that doesn't work in my car?

  • James Cummings from Weirsdale

    Posted on 7/5/2021

    Where can I get a manual for the Jensen CDR6221 I just ordered? There isn't one packed with it. Thank you

  • James Cummings from Weirsdale

    Posted on 7/5/2021

    First I have to say, your customer service is the best I have ever had to use. I ordered a part I didn't need and there were zero problems in returning it. Now for my question..... I don't know what the illumination wire is for. What does it do? Where do I connect it?

  • Jamal I. from Brooklyn

    Posted on 6/16/2021

    I recently purchased a 2013 HONDA CR-V and I am trying to install a Alpine ILX-W650. However, I am confused about how to wire this whole thing together. I has a wire to put the antenna in and I have a steering wheel control interface and parking break bypass to wire together. The speaker wires and the yellow CONSTANT I am comfortable wiring together but I'm left with 3 blue wires, 3 red wires & 3 black and the parking break bypass that needs to be put together and my method of putting them together is via soldering not butt connectors. Can you help me with a way to wire these last few wire if i even need to wire all of them at. Any and every help is appreciated. Thank you.

  • Matthew Robbins from Waldoboro

    Posted on 3/30/2021

    I just installed a brand new head unit and it's wired up correctly and i still have no sound in any of the speakers. Had this problem before i changed the head unit thinking that was the issue. What could cause this?

  • Jonathan Ray Watt from Mcdonough, Ga

    Posted on 2/21/2021

    Crutchfield is AWESOME! First-time customer here, and I recently purchased a new stereo and all new speakers for my 1990 Foxbody Mustang. I'm a customer for life now.. Everything I needed to get the job done right. Excellent customer service and Great quality products for my car. Thanks again, you guy's ROCK!!

    Commenter image

    Alexander H. from Crutchfield

    on 2/22/2021

    Thanks, Jonathan!
  • Rahzi Patterson from Jesup, GA

    Posted on 12/10/2020

    So I just purchased the kenwood excelon ddx396 for my 1999 z28 Camaro. My car currently has the monsoon factory radio and amp but my speakers have already been upgraded past factory. However my factory amp and radio isn't enough power to push my speakers the way I want them. I purchased what I think to be a "high-powered" radio to push my already upgraded speaker system to its max potential, or at least just better than the factory radio and amp. In the radio install above I noticed Mr JR didn't mess with the factory amp at all. My purchase also came with my vehicle specific ready harness to connect my factory wiring and new stereo, however, if i install my new radio the same way in this video without bypassing my factory amp, will my new radio even make a difference in my speaker system?

    Commenter image

    Alexander H. from Crutchfield

    on 12/15/2020

    Rahzi, give our Tech Support team a call for their guidance on wiring. But to answer your question... As is, that harness will limit you to factory amp power. We recommend bypassing the amp and using the new radio's higher power going right into factory speaker leads at the output of the amplifier or run new wires to the speakers. That wiring harness is a simple one, so you could extend wires from that to the speaker wire after the factory amp, taking it out of the equation.
  • Joseph lister from Fairhope

    Posted on 10/14/2020

    I bought a kit for my 2000 ford f250 super duty. Differed all the wires and it's not coming on. My question is do I have to have the remote on, brake, I'll,reverse or power antenna hooked up for the radio to turn on at all? The screen doesn't come on at all.

    Commenter image

    Alexander H. from Crutchfield

    on 10/16/2020

    Joseph, give our Tech Support team a call for free help if you bought the gear from us. They can troubleshoot the problem with you.