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Car stereo FAQ

Common questions we get about choosing and installing a new car stereo

I've written about car audio for Crutchfield since 2003, after four years as Crutchfield Sales Advisor, and 10 years as a music teacher. I'm an avid music listener, with a real love of classical and film music. I love having a great system in my car, and I'll still match the system in my 98 Ford Ranger (may it rest in piece) up against anything else I've heard for great SQ. I attended West Virginia University, where I received a Master's Degree in Music Performance and a Bachelor's Degree in History. Let's Go Mountaineers!

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Q: Why should I get a new car stereo?
A: Sound and features are the two best reasons for getting a new car stereo. Aftermarket car stereos typically have more powerful amplifiers and better sound-shaping controls than factory stereos. And you'll find plenty of cool features, like Bluetooth® and smartphone compatibility, USB and aux inputs, touchscreen controls, navigation, satellite radio compatibility, and much more, depending on the type and model of car stereo you buy.

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Car stereo receivers

There are many types of car stereos, from touchscreen models to CD receivers.

Q: There are lots of different types — which is best for me?
A: Once you start shopping, you'll find four main types of car stereos: CD receivers, digital media receivers, DVD receivers, and navigation receivers. 

  • CD receivers — This is what most people think of if you say "car stereo." CD receivers play CDs of course, but most models will also feature an aux and USB input, plus a radio tuner of course. You'll find CD receivers in both single-DIN (2-inch tall) and double-DIN (4-inch tall) sizes.
  • Digital media receivers — These car stereos do away with the CD player. That's a great option if you only listen to music from digital music players, smartphones, or streaming music services. A cool variation of these receivers are Retrosound car stereos, designed to fit into classic cars that don't have dash openings large enough to accomodate a CD receiver. 
  • DVD receivers — These receivers not only play DVDs as well as CDs, but feature touchscreen displays that you can watch video content on when you're parked. You'll also enjoy features like album art display, touchscreen audio adjustments, and smartphone integration, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with some models. 
  • Navigation receivers — If you travel a lot, a navigation receiver may be right for you. You'll find the features of a DVD receiver, along with built-in GPS navigation that doesn't rely upon your smartphone.  

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Q: How do I know what'll fit my car?
A: Don't worry, we've done the heavy lifting! Our vehicle research team has checked out thousands of cars and trucks to find out what will (and won't) work in specific vehicles. Use our vehicle selector to tell us what you drive, and we'll let you know. Or, if you want to get right to the experts, call, chat, or email us and we'll give you the straight story.

Alpine is pioneering the marketing of car stereos designed to fit into specific vehicles, with their Restyle receivers that feature large touchscreen displays and navigation. Availability is limited to a select number of trucks and SUVs. 

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Steering wheel audio controls

With the right adapter, you can continue to use your steering wheel controls.

Q: Can I keep my steering wheel controls?
A: You sure can — but in most cases you'll need to install a special adapter. And when you buy any stereo from us, you'll get a deep discount on the steering wheel control adapter for your car. See our article about Steering Wheel Audio Control Adapters for more information.

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Q: Will a new stereo work with my existing factory options?
A: Your car may have come with factory-installed options, like satellite radio, navigation, or Bluetooth. In most cases, these are built into the existing factory stereo, or use proprietary protocols which aren't compatible with new aftermarket car stereos, so these features won't work with a new stereo. This can be a complicated issue though, so call, chat, or email us and we can check out your specific vehicle and features. 

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Variable color displays

Match your dash illumination with a variable color display.

Q: Can I get a stereo that will match my dash illumination?
A: We love it when a new car stereo really looks like it belongs in your dash, and matching the existing dash illumination scheme is a big part of that. To really hone in the color match, look for models that let you adjust the color for different parts of the receiver — for example, white for the display and red for the buttons. You'll also find models that let you adjust specific RGB color levels for a perfect match. Search for stereos that feature variable colors to see your options.

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Smartphone indash

An increasing number of touchscreen receivers support Apple CarPlay (pictured) and Android Auto.

Q: Will a new car stereo work with my smartphone?
A: One of the most exciting things about new car stereos is the way that they integrate with your smartphone. Almost all models offer USB connection to your phone, letting you access your music files or other stored media from both iOS and Android devices. And if your new stereo has Bluetooth, you'll be able to access your music or streaming services that way too. One of the coolest recent developments has been in the number of receivers that support the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces, allowing truly integrated touchscreen operation of many smartphone features.

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Q: Can my factory speakers handle a high-powered car stereo?
A: Your factory speakers should be able to handle the output from an aftermarket CD receiver, but there are limits to their performance. Turn up your new radio with the car sitting still, make a note of the volume level at which your factory speakers start to distort, and avoid cranking the radio up past that point.

Of course if you want to get the best sound, we recommend adding quality, aftermarket speakers as soon as you can. A new set of speakers will let you take full advantage of the big, rich sound your new receiver has to offer.

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Q: How much power do I need to get optimum performance from my car's sound system?
A: Since every car stereo is different, there's no magic "wattage formula." As long as you stay within the recommended power range of your speakers, increasing power will always add richness and depth to your music. Compare a spinet piano to a concert grand. The small piano is good enough to play music clearly, but move up to a grand and you'll gain better tone, greater harmonic detail, and more volume. The larger instrument is simply more powerful.

Here are a couple things to consider:

  • How efficient are your speakers? Your speakers have a direct influence on the overall "power" of your system. If you plan to power your speakers with your in-dash receiver, efficient speakers (sensitivity of 90 dB or higher) will give you more bang for the buck. If you're installing high-performance component speakers, an outboard amp will generate maximum performance.
  • Are you adding a subwoofer? Subs need substantial amounts of power to reproduce the lowest tones, so it's essential to use an outboard amplifier with them. You should count on using more power for bass than you use to power all of your full-range speakers. If your receiver puts out 20 watts RMS x 4 channels (80 watts total), send at least 80 watts to your sub. Using a 50 watt x 4 amp to drive your components? Dedicate at least 200 watts for bass.
  • How good is your wiring? Your system's chain of components is only as strong as its weakest link, so don't cheat your amps and speakers with substandard power cable and speaker wire.
  • Before you buy, think about your vehicle and how you use it. If you drive a quiet sedan with the windows up, you'll need much less power than someone who goes off-roading in a pickup. Speaker location, extraneous road/car noise, noise damping material, and personal taste are factors that may affect how much power you'll need in your ride.

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Q: Will I have better bass with a new car stereo?
A: Great bass depends on a lot of factors, including what you define as "great bass." Generally though, the increased power of a new car stereo will improve the punch of the low end in your system. But if you really looking to dial in some thump, consider adding a subwoofer with an outboard amplifier, or perhaps a powered subwoofer

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crutchfield master sheet

We provide Crutchfield MasterSheets with detailed installation instructions for most cars.

Q: Is it hard to install a new car stereo?
A: Helping you install your own gear is our specialty. Since 1974, Crutchfield has helped hundreds of thousands of first-time installers put a new stereo in their dash, and get the job done right. With your purchase of a new stereo from us, you'll receive our exclusive, free step-by-step instructions for your vehicle. For most vehicles, we also offer mounting kits that let you install your new stereo in your dash with a professional look, wiring harnesses that plug right into your factory wiring, and, in some cases, specialty adapters that let you retain certain factory features. If we have these parts for your vehicle, you'll get a deep discount on them when you buy any stereo.

Plus, you're able to take advantage of our friendly, comprehensive tech support, seven days a week. It's like having a pro looking over your shoulder while you work! For additional installation information, read our Car Stereo Installation Guide.

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Kit install

Installation kits are designed to let you install your new stereo in specific cars.

Q: Will I need an installation kit?
A: Most cars require some sort of mounting kit to ensure that the new car stereo fits properly and looks good in the dash. Depending on your car, these can range from simple to elaborate. When you buy a new car stereo from us, you can be sure we'll recommend the kit you need. And don't forget, you'll get a deep discount on installation kits when you buy any stereo.

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crutchfield readyharness

With Crutchfield's ReadyHarness option, we'll wire the harness for you.

Q: What's the best way to connect the Crutchfield wiring harness to my new CD receiver's harness?
A: Maybe you don't know that when you buy a car stereo from Crutchfield, we include a vehicle-specific wiring harness that you will have to connect to the wiring harness that comes with your car stereo. The most important factor here is getting a tight connection that won't come loose over time. Simply twisting the wires together and taping them with electrical tape won't give you a strong connection.

Soldering used to be the go-to method, but these days most people find crimping the wires to be much easier. Our favorite method is using Posi-Twist™ connectors. They're even easier than crimping and provide a strong, secure connection. You'll find more Posi-Products, crimp tools, connectors and more in the car stereo installation tools section of our website. And when you buy any stereo from us, you'll get a deep discount on these tools and connectors.

We're really excited about our new ReadyHarness service. For a fee, we'll make the connection for you, resulting in a sturdy, properly wired harness that'll save you time during your installation. 

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Metra 40-HD10 Antenna Adapter

You may need other adapters, like this antenna adapter, when installing your new stereo.

Q: Will I need other, special adapters for my car?
A: Besides the stereo's wiring harness, you may need additional wiring adapters and interfaces, depending on your vehicle and its options. One common and inexpensive adapter you may need is an antenna adapter, to accommodate the different styles of antenna plugs found on different car models. 

Many late-model vehicles may require special adapters for factory functions that are built in to the existing factory radio, like door chimes and warning tones. You may also have factory amplifiers and other features that could require the addition of adapters like an iDatalink Maestro module to retain your factory functionality.

As always, our vehicle selector will guide you through the process of seeing what's needed. And don't forget to call, chat, or email us and our Virginia based experts will help you find out what you need to know. 

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Last updated 10/26/2017
  • Sam from Massachusetts

    Posted on 6/8/2015

    I unplugged my amp and subwoofer to clean them up and check to make sure they're wired securely still. My sub and amp were set up fine and working beautifully. I rewired everything back into my trunk and was about to connect the power cable to the positive terminal and it sparked, which I thought was going to stop, but it didn't and started to melt the terminal. I quickly removed the cable from the terminal. I checked the ground and the connections on the amp and everything seemed fine. I went to connect the terminal again and the inline fuse blew. Went through a couple more inline fuses and then finally amps fuse blew. I'm not sure what's going on. From what I've read It might be the insulation on the power wire might be split somewhere causing a short and overheating, my ground wire might have a bad connection, the amp itself is faulty, my internal car wiring could have a short, the wood blocks I mounted it to could be causing it. Also I did not turn the car meaning the remote wire did not power the amp to turn on, my keys were in my pocket. I also did not have the sub woofer connected to the amp at the time just in case something were to go wrong and I didn't want a blown sub, car and amp. Could you help me figure out what's wrong?

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/9/2015

    Thanks for your question, Sam - it sounds like a pretty frustrating situation. If 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.

  • anthony faniel from houston

    Posted on 7/9/2015

    I have two amps one for highs and one for the subs. Subs not playing and radio won't get loud and it started staticing or cut out when volume turn up

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/10/2015

    Anthony, a good first step would be to see if you can isolate the trouble to one amp or another. You're already getting zero performance from the subs, so disconnect the power and ground from the sub's amp. See if you continue to have the crackling/shorting problem with the rest of your audio. If it continues, then you at least know that the crackling/shorting can be attributed to the amp for the mids/highs or your radio. If not, then it could be that the combination of these amps is taxing your system, and one or both are shutting down. Take this opportunity to also double-check all of your connections. If 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.

  • david medina from north hollywood

    Posted on 8/22/2015

    Hi I have a pioneer avh-p8400bh i had it installed on my 2007 chevy Impala but my radio station dont show up on my screen not even the fm or am band do you know the cause for this thanks

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/24/2015

    If 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.

  • Charles Wright from Houston

    Posted on 8/31/2015

    I have 4 hilfonics Brutus brz15D4 15" Car subwoofers 2400 watt peak 1200 w rms My amp is a brx 1200.1 1200 watt super d class Hilfonics Brutus My question is......is that enough power to push all 4 subwoofers in the amp.....Are should I add one more

  • Joe brown from Saratoga Springs

    Posted on 9/7/2015

    Hey guys, this may be difficult to answer without seeing exactly what I'm talking about but I'll give it a shot. I installed a new head unit as well as an amp and subwoofer in my car recently and all seems good except one minor issue, and it's hard to trace. Upon startup, the head seems to produce great volume, giving adequate sound levels at about 20 (out of 62) volume, but only for a quick moment, then it's as if the connection weakens, and I have to play it at much higher volume (40-50 out of 62) to get the same sound. At first I thought it was my cheap aux cable (always playing music through auxiliary from my phone) but it seems too consistent for that to be what it is. I'll continue trying different things, again I know this is pretty ambiguous but thanks to anyone who replies!

  • Troy from Cheyenne wells Colo

    Posted on 12/20/2015

    I want to install a car cd player and a car cassette player can I tie both players into the same speakers?

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/23/2015

    Troy, we don't carry a relay that would allow you to do this, but we used to. An online search for this item or something similar would get the job done if it's two car stereos you have in mind. Otherwise, if you have a cassette car stereo with an auxiliary input, you could connect a portable CD player via that aux-in. Also, keep in mind that if you're going through the effort of installation and if you can let go of the cassette format, a new CD receiver will give you so many modern features like Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, USB input for an iPod or smart device, and of course, more power. Give us a call for recommendations or use our vehicle selector to confirm which stereos fit your car and get some info on what else is needed for the installation.

  • John from Aberdeen

    Posted on 12/24/2015

    I have a 2005 Camry LE with its original stereo. My sixteen year old son wants a new stereo with BT and USB plug-in. My wife thinks it's unnecessary plus she thinks it will depreciate the value of the car. In addition, she believes it will mess with the electrical system of the car. Any advice and where to look up some information about this?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/28/2015

    John, while we can't speak to any change in the value of your car, your son will certainly enjoy it more. He'll be able to access his music with ease and hands-free calling via Bluetooth is a safer option when driving. And more than likely, by the time you plan on selling the car, most sellers would see these added features as a benefit as well. Take a look at this Camry-focused page, and if you have any questions at all, give one of our advisors a call at the number above.

  • Dana from Rosedale MD

    Posted on 7/23/2016

    I have a 2010 Honda Accord coupe...7 speakers....so far I have two keenwood 6.5 inches KFC-1665s...I plan on buying a Bluetooth radio and hooking those speakers up to the new radio...I also have two 12 inch subs (250rms) each in a sub box....and I plan on getting two speakers for the rear deck DS18 PRO-X6M PRO Series 6.5-Inch Midrange Loudspeaker 225 Watts RMS, 450 Watts Max Power....I also have a extra heavy duty titanium super bullet tweeter 400 watt max....what kind of amps do I need...? Thanks in advance.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/25/2016

    Dana, give us a call for the best answer. If you intend to power your speakers using the factory amp, you'll need a specific harness with your new receiver. If you aren't going to use the factory amp, you'll need more than one amplifier to power the system you describe and we'll need a little more information about those two subs before we can make a recommendation. In the meantime, this article will be useful to you.

  • irving e teviovitz from brooklyn

    Posted on 1/31/2017

    I use windows media player to burn cds. I learned that people can get many songs on one cd by going to top right of media player---2nd line down---under burn options and pick "data cd" before you burn a cd for use in car. These cds played great in my newer car, but I get an error when I try to play the "data cds" in my older car. How can I get the data cds to play in my older car---adaptor, etc. thanks, Irv iteviov@yahoo.com

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/1/2017

    Thanks for your question, Irv. Sorry to say that there's really nothing you can do to change the "baked in" capabilities of your older car's existing stereo. If it wasn't designed to play data CDs, there's nothing you can add to make that happen. Of course, you could look at replacing the stereo in that vehicle with one that has more up-to-date capabilities. You can use our vehicle selector to confirm which stereos fit your car and get some info on what else is needed for the installation. Hope that's some help!

  • Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/1/2017

    Thanks for your question, Irv. Sorry to say that there's really nothing you can do to change the "baked in" capabilities of your older car's existing stereo. If it wasn't designed to play data CDs, there's nothing you can add to make that happen. Of course, you could look at replacing the stereo in that vehicle with one that has more up-to-date capabilities. You can use our vehicle selector to confirm which stereos fit your car and get some info on what else is needed for the installation. Hope that's some help!

  • Richard Good from Portland

    Posted on 9/5/2017

    I have everything hooked up, new stereo, amp, subwoofer and 4 speakers but now I don't have any sound from anything. I have power to the amp and head unit and that's as far as it goes. Do I need a heavier gauge speaker wire from the amp to everything else or is there something I am missing? I bought everything from you guys but my work hours are hard to find time to call tech support. Any help is appreciated.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/6/2017

    Richard, I've passed your question along to Tech Support. Someone will reach out to you via email soon.

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