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Car Stereo FAQ

Common questions about choosing a new car stereo

The Crutchfield writing team is a group of full-time, in-house copywriters who share a passion for consumer electronics. In addition to creating the articles and videos you find in the Research area of the Crutchfield website, these hard-working and talented people write the informational copy for the products on our website and in the Crutchfield catalog. Our writers constantly research the latest products, technologies, and industry trends, so that we can bring you the most helpful information possible.

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CD Receivers

Cassette Receivers

General FAQs

Steering wheel audio controls

With the right adapter, you can use your steering wheel controls with a new stereo

Q: If I install a new stereo, can I still use my steering wheel controls?
A: You sure can — if you 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: How can I connect my iPod®? And what’s the difference between using an aux cable and a USB connector?
A: When you want to play your iPod in the car, the two most common options are running a cable from the iPod’s headphone jack to your stereo’s aux input, or using your iPod’s cable and plugging into a USB input.

Aux connections tend to transmit background noise, plus you have to control the tunes from the iPod itself — not the safest thing when you’re driving alone. The USB connection, on the other hand, transmits no background noise, gives you receiver-based control, and also charges your player. In many cases the receiver also processes the sound, something it’s designed to do better than your iPod in an amplified system. Check out our article about the benefits of a USB input for more details.

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Q: I can’t see the display when the sun shines on it. Are there displays that are easier to read in direct sunlight?
A: We’ve found that displays that let you tilt the face, often found on DVD and navigation receivers, are the best solution. These receivers also give you large touchscreens, let you play movies while you’re parked, and give you a slew of other fantastic features. If your receiver can do it, try changing the color of the display or adjusting the brightness and contrast to help cut through the glare. To see these suggestions in action, watch our video about avoiding glare on the display.  

Another solution is a receiver with simple, well-thought-out controls. That way, you'll be able to make simple adjustments without even looking at the receiver.

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Bluetooth connection in your car

A Bluetooth connection is a bridge between your smartphone and your stereo

Q: Can I use Bluetooth® to stream music and make phone calls?
A: Absolutely! And you can often do even more, like running and controlling Internet apps. Basically, a Bluetooth connection works as a bridge between your phone and your dash. Even if your receiver doesn’t offer control over apps, you can stream the audio from your phone and play it in your car. Our video about Bluetooth in the car will give you all the details.

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Q: Can my factory speakers handle a high-powered CD receiver?
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.

Speaker performance is critical to listening enjoyment, so 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 does my factory system have?
A: While we don't have exact power ratings for the systems in specific vehicles, we can tell you that factory systems usually have less power than aftermarket units.

But bear in mind that, for example, the 100-watt factory system described by your car dealer probably consists of 4 channels of 25 watts peak power. This translates to roughly 10 watts RMS (continuous) x 4 — not bad, but a far cry from most current aftermarket receivers.

Even if your factory system seems relatively powerful, there are still benefits to going with an aftermarket receiver. These advantages typically include better specs, built-in Bluetooth® connectivity and iPod® controls, MP3/WMA/AAC file playback, USB input for media players and thumb drives, more extensive tone controls, easier (and less expensive) integration with other equipment, like amplifiers, and the enhanced reliability you can expect from a recognized audio brand name.

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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, though:

  • How efficient are your speakers? Your speakers have a direct influence on the overall "power" of your system. If you're planning on powering 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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Car Stereo Installation

Q: How can I be sure the radio I want will fit into my dash?
A: You can count on Crutchfield to have stereo fit information for just about every car, truck and van on the road today. Our Vehicle Research team has gathered data on thousands of vehicles, and your car or truck is probably one of them.

When you call to place an order, we check our one-of-a-kind installation database to make sure what you want will fit. When you're visiting, you even get to check this info yourself (that's why we ask for your vehicle info). And for most vehicles, we offer the installation parts and accessories you'll need at a deep discount when you buy any stereo from us. You can see the specifics about this gear, and which stereos and speakers will fit your vehicle by entering your vehicle details into our Vehicle Selector

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Ford Crown Victoria radio

This Ford radio looks like a double-DIN, but it's not quite that big (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Q: My car has an oversized factory radio. Why can't I replace it with an oversized aftermarket receiver?
A: "Oversized" receivers come in two different sizes:

  • the 3" tall (or DIN-and-a-half) slot found in many GM/Chrysler vehicles.
  • the 4" tall (or double-DIN) opening in many other vehicles.

If the dimensions of your car's dash opening differ by even a fraction of an inch from these standard oversized openings, you won't be able to install an oversized aftermarket radio without modifying your dash. Many Fords, for instance, look like they can handle a double-DIN radio with ease, but in reality, the opening is a little too small. In some other vehicles, the bracket system that holds the factory radio in place won't work with an oversized aftermarket receiver. In either case, we recommend installing a standard DIN-sized radio with a mounting kit.

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crutchfield master sheet

Illustrated installation instructions (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Q: How difficult is it to install a new receiver?
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 receiver in their dash, and get the job done right. With most new receivers, 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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wiring harness

Once you've attached the Crutchfield wiring harness to your new receiver, simply plug it in to your car's harness

Q: What's the best way to connect the Crutchfield wiring harness to my new CD receiver's harness?
A: 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.

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Metra 40-HD10 Antenna Adapter

Q: I'm getting poor AM or FM reception with my new stereo. What could be causing this?
A: A common reason for poor reception after installing a new radio is the factory power antenna or antenna booster is no longer being triggered by the new radio. Many vehicles with 'stubby' antennas or in-glass antennas need signal boosters for proper reception.

The power antenna wire on your new radio (usually blue or blue/white) will need to be connected to the power antenna wire on the vehicle adapter harness.

In other cases, the blue power antenna lead for the vehicle will actually be on the antenna cable itself (as in the example above). This wire will still need to be connected to the power antenna lead of the new radio.

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Q: My speakers work great when listening to the radio, but why does the sound cut out when I play another source like CD, USB, or Bluetooth?
A: This most often indicates that there is an external amplifier in the system, and that your receiver's power antenna wire is connected to the amp's activation wire. Many factory systems have amplifiers in them without the owner being aware.

To make sure, check your stereo's wiring harness to see if there are two different remote turn-on wires (normally Blue and Blue/White). If there are two, the blue is specifically for a power antenna and only works when the radio tuner is being used. The blue/white is the remote turn-on for an amplifier and works whenever the stereo is turned on, regardless of the source selected.

Connect the Blue/White to the remote wire. This should keep the amp activated when you switch to sources other than radio.

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CD Receivers

Q: Will a CD receiver play MP3, WMA, or AAC files burned onto a CD-R or CD-RW?
A: Most CD receivers will play at least MP3 and WMA files, but be sure to check the receiver's "Details" tab to find out for sure.

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Q: What if I want to listen to my iPod® or other MP3 player with a new CD receiver?
A: Most new CD receivers have built-in iPod controls, tied to a USB input on the front or rear of the receiver. Just plug in your iPod and you're ready to go. These USB inputs also let you play music stored on thumb drives or other USB devices. If your receiver is not iPod-ready,  you can add an iPod adapter.

A majority of receivers also offer auxiliary inputs. You can plug almost any audio device into these receivers with a simple patch cord. Remember, with an "aux in" connection, you won't have control of your iPod or other player from the receiver, but it's a simple, easy way to enjoy your music library when you're on the road.

A growing number of CD receivers and digital media receivers are designed with smartphones in mind. If you have a recent iPhone, for example, some receivers work with Siri to give you eyes-free control over your iPhone's functions.

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Cassette Receivers

Q: I still have a lot of old cassettes. Is there any point in buying a new cassette receiver?
A: That depends. New cassette receivers are increasingly hard to find. Look for a cassette receiver that has an auxiliary input. That way, you'll have the ability to add other listening sources — SiriusXM satellite radio, an iPod, or an MP3 player, for example.

If you can't find a new cassette deck that suits your needs, there are still ways to enjoy your cassette-based music on the road. If your home stereo includes a good cassette deck, you can connect the deck to your computer and digitize your music. Once that's done, you can copy the files onto a USB thumb drive. It takes a bit of work, but you'll be able to enjoy your music without worrying about jams, snags, and broken tapes.

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  • 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 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 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

  • 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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