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Save money installing your own car stereo. Part one, the head unit.

Updated on October 31, 2013

Do you want a complete car stereo in your vehicle, but don't want to spend the money paying someone else to do it? This guide will help guide you in the right direction of getting a professional looking install and keep the money in your pocket.

The head unit

The head unit the most important part of any car stereo. Depending on vehicle and style, it can, at times, be somewhat difficult to install.

Tools needed:

  • Wire stripping/crimping tool
  • connections
  • electric tape
  • screw driver/socket and ratchet, depending on vehicle
  • mounting hardware
  • wiring kit

First step, as with any vehicle work, is to unhook the negative battery post. Next I like to hook the head unit's pigtail to the wiring kit for the vehicle. This is pretty straight forward, just match the colors of the wires. You can either use the solid, one piece connectors, or the two piece that fit into each other. I prefer the two piece, because I swap out head units quite often and it makes the next install easier, but either way is fine. Make sure you crimp the connector onto the wire, and tape over the entire thing when done.

Next step is removing the old head unit. This is where it can, at times, become tricky. Some vehicles just have one panel holding the unit in, some have a few. As a general rule of thumb, you usually have to remove the plastic piece around the shifter, and there may be bolts or screws holding the piece around the head unit after that. When in doubt, you can Google removing the head unit for most vehicles. After taking out the bolts/screws, if you have any, the rest of the panels will just pull out. You can use a flat screw driver to get it started, then slide it under the panel to find the next place it snaps in.

After all the panels are off, you should be able to see where the old head unit screws or bolts in. Take that out, and unhook the wires from the back. There should be at least two, a thicker black one for the radio, and a plastic connector. The connector plugs into the wiring kit harness you wired up earlier.

Next put the head unit in the mounting bracket. Some vehicles need brackets from the factory head unit for the aftermarket one, and need parts cut off the bracket to make it fit, so its best to read the instructions to find if either is the case. If you are installing either a 4 channel amp or sub amp, hook up the RCA's and signal wire now. The signal wire is the blue wire out of the head unit, it usually says remote turn on. If hooking up a 4 channel amp, make sure to mark which RCA's are front, and which are rear. If hooking up a sub amp to a head unit that doesn't have sub out RCA's, hook them up to the rear out. Towards the passenger side there should be a whole for those wires, and you can either run them under the carpet right away, or under the glove box, either way is fine.

Once you have everything connected that needs to be, you can put the head unit and bracket into place, and loosely put in 2 of the 4 bolts that hold it in place. Hook the negative battery terminal back up, and put the ignition in the run position to test it. I like to change the fader/balance to front left, front right, rear left, and rear right to make sure they all work. Obviously if you are installing a 4 channel amp, you'll have to skip this step for now. After you make sure it all works, turn the vehicle back off and finish bolting the head unit in, and replace the panels.

Part two

This got kinda long fast, so I decided to split it into two parts. You can find part two here.

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