How to install a steering wheel control adapter
Learn how to keep your steering wheel audio controls when you install a new radio
I've been with Crutchfield since 1999, where I began as one our advisors, helping our customers choose new gear. After a couple of years, I moved to the writing team where I spent a decade researching new products and getting hands on with car stereos, amplifiers, speakers, and subs. Yeah, I've been doing this for a while.
For the past few years, I've been the managing editor of Crutchfield's Car A/V web article content. I couldn't ask for a better job — we get to play with car audio gear every day! I'm a Virginia native from the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Outside of work, I love listening to music, playing board games, and installing new audio systems for my friends.
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Learn how to install a steering wheel control adapter
One of the problems with replacing your factory radio with a new receiver, is that those handy audio controls built into the steering wheel won't work anymore.
The way to solve this dilemma is to install an adapter for the steering wheel audio controls, which we offer at a discount when you buy a compatible stereo. In this video, we'll walk you through what's involved in the installation process.
Installing a steering wheel audio control adapter | Video Transcript
When you install a new stereo in your car, you lose the benefit of these — the handy controls built into the steering wheel. That's because those are wired for the factory stereo and you can't just plug it into the back of the new stereo.
But what you can do is install a special adapter like this one, and that's what we're doing today. This adapter lets these controls interface with the new stereo so that you can use them just like you did before.
Plan the wire connections
I did my homework for this installation and downloaded instructions directly from the Axxess website. On their site, you tell them what kind of vehicle you have and they'll tell you right up front whether their adapter works with your car. And from there it's step by step, wire by wire, what you need to do for the installation. I added the color coding just to help myself out a little bit.
Disconnect the battery
I've disconnected the battery and I'm getting ready to pry open the dash panel so I can get the stereo out. That's what this puppy's for. Disconnecting the battery is important, and I want to note, for two reasons. One, I don't want to risk shorting something out so that my dash lights or stereo or A/C doesn't work. And two, there's an airbag sensor in this console and I don't want to mess with that, so I'm doing the job right.
Remove your stereo from the dash
I popped off the top panel, then removed a couple of screws and pulled off the main dash panel exposing the radio. Then four more screws out from the side of the radio and it's free. Now I can get to all the wiring. Next I'll take a look at the adapter. Opening the package I found the instruction manuals, a couple of wiring harnesses, and of course the adapter itself.
Connect the adapter harness and your stereo
At first glance, this harness looks a little intimidating, but don't be afraid of it. You're not going to use all these wires. First, you'll have your power and ground, naturally, and then depending on your vehicle, you'll use one or two of these wires to connect. For example, my car will be using these two. The rest aren't used and I can just tape them up or cut them off, whatever I want to do.
That leaves this big black cable. This is the control cable that'll plug right into most stereos. Now mine is one of the brands that doesn't work that easily, so instead they include this adapter. I plug that in here and then connect one of these two brown wires to a wire that's already on the back of my stereo. Not that bad.
Re-install the stereo
I used Posi-Tap connectors to make all the wiring connections between the adapter harness and my stereo. And now I'm going to re-install the stereo. So I plug this back in. And here's our new adapter and it's harness. Plug this guy in, there we go, and get that down there where I can reach it in a few minutes.
Programming the steering wheel control adapter
Alright we've finished installing the stereo and the adapter, the dash is back together, and I've pushed the adapter out through the bottom of the dash so I can see it, because the next step is programming the adapter. It needs to know what kind of car it's in and what kind of stereo it's connected to. So to do that, I turn on the ignition and watch for the Axxess adapter to start flashing. Once it does, following the instructions, I hold down the volume button on the steering wheel and just wait as it runs through its paces figuring out everything it needs to know. And once the adapter's LED is on steady — no longer flashing — then it's done. After that it's a matter of testing the buttons to make sure they work. And they do.
And that's how you install a steering wheel control adapter. It took a little planning up front and being prepared, but it really wasn't that hard. I chose the Axxess adapter because it was able to program itself on its own, meaning it could figure out by itself which buttons on the steering wheel controlled which functions of the stereo, and that made the process a little easier.
Sometimes it's not able to figure that out, and you have to do it manually, so you have to go in and say "This button controls tracks. This button controls volume up, etc." Instructions for doing that are included, and it's not that hard. It's just another series of steps.
So here's the adapter at work changing volume on the disc. I can change tracks. It'll also let me go through sources. I'm really excited to have these buttons working again, and if you're going to do this in your car I strongly recommend you install the steering wheel adapter at the same time you change the stereo. It'll just save you a lot of work. When you're ready to do it, give us a call. Our advisors will make sure that you get the adapter that works with both your car and your brand of stereo.