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The Crutchfield Vehicle Research Team

Working hard to make your stereo installation easier

Jon Paulette is a veteran automotive writer who has spent a fair portion of his life hanging out at racetracks and talking to amazing people who make extremely loud cars reach ridiculous speeds. Despite all that, he still has enough hearing left to enjoy a stupidly large music collection. A native Virginian, Jon lives in the Charlottesville area, roots for the Nationals and would like a good BBQ sandwich right about now.

More from Jon Paulette

crutchfield research team

Ben (L) and Wayne (R), researching a smart fortwo. (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Here at Crutchfield, we've been selling car audio gear for over 40 years now. For most of that time, we’ve been taking cars apart to find out what fits. We started with our own cars, then moved on to visiting junkyards in search of the info we needed. It was dirty, dusty, occasionally “snaky” work, but it was worth it.

Old school research

In the old days, our field research was often done in an actual field. (Crutchfield Research Photo)

In-depth research

We’ve come a long way since then. Now, we have a dedicated research facility, access to a wide variety of current models, and a database of over 25,000 vehicles — and counting. And that database isn’t just a list of makes and models. It’s an incredibly detailed collection of measurements, photos, footnotes, instructions, and the kind of knowledge you can only acquire by taking a car apart.

Max, an associate of ours, recently asked about some gear for his 2012 smart fortwo, which turned out to be a model we hadn’t researched yet. We realized that this was a great opportunity to show you how we gather the information we use to help you buy and install stereo equipment for your car.

No one else in the consumer electronics industry does what we do. That’s why no one else knows what we know.


Every step of the process is documented by our team. (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Step-by-step documentation

The process begins when the car rolls into our garage. There, veteran researchers Ben and Wayne get to work. Each step in the removal and replacement process, from the dash to the doors to the rear of the vehicle, is documented with incredibly detailed notes and upwards of 400 photos.

They also test the dash kits and wiring harness adapters that are needed to install the new stereo gear.

Around 150 cars go through the full research process each year, and numerous others roll into the shop when the guys need to take a quick look at a factory system they haven't seen. For a garage that doesn't do oil changes, it's an incredibly busy place.

Lots of data, lots of benefits

The raw numbers are entered into our massive vehicle database, along with detailed footnotes that explain any issues that could arise when you try to install certain gear in certain vehicles. All this info comes into play when you speak to a Crutchfield Advisor or enter your vehicle information into our Outfit My Car page. Instead of wading through a bunch of stuff that doesn't work, you’ll go straight to what fits your car. From there, it’s just a matter of using Crutchfield's shopping tools to choose the installation gear you need to install the new stereo components in your car.

If you have installation questions, you can call, chat, or email our Tech Support team. These electronics experts can frequently refer to our database and find a photo of the exact area you're working on. When you need help, we know what you’re talking about, and we probably know what you’re looking at.

crutchfield stereo research

Here, Wayne check out the smart's wiring. (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Dedicated to the do-it-yourselfer

For most customers, the most tangible benefit of all this work is our famous Crutchfield MasterSheet™. Created by Tom, a car audio expert and 22-year Crutchfield veteran, each MasterSheet contains installation instructions, photos, wiring information, and even a tool list. Though the info is priceless, the MasterSheet is still included free with car stereo and speaker purchases from Crutchfield.


Crutchfield ResearchNotes

For select low-volume cars that don't have a MasterSheet, we've created Crutchfield ResearchNotes™. These photo-filled instructions contain the info you need to handle your installation. They're sent via email with your order confirmation, so you can print out the sections you need, or just pull up the PDF on your laptop or tablet in the garage.

Even with step-by-step instructions in hand, a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of “doing it themselves.” That’s why we created the Crutchfield Research Garage. This ever-growing collection of web articles gives you an honest assessment of what’s involved in replacing the stereo system in your car, truck, or SUV. If the job is easy, we’ll tell you all about it. But if it’s difficult or nearly impossible (rare, but it happens), we’ll tell you that, too. We want you to do it yourself and do it right, but we also want you to know what needs to be done.

As you might imagine, the smart fortwo has a couple of quirks, but as our Vehicle Profile article in the Research Garage explains, it's a reasonably uncomplicated vehicle for the do-it-yourself car audio enthusiast.

Find out what fits your car

Thinking about new car stereo for your car? Visit our Outfit My Car page and see what's available.

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