How To Install a Car Stereo

Car Stereo Head Unit Installation Guide

Head Unit Install Guide

You too can install your own car stereo system!Installation level of difficulty
Can vary in complexity depending on your vehicle.

Estimated time to complete installation
The average time to install a car stereo is 1-2 hours. This can vary based on the vehicle, your technical capabilities, and access to the proper tools. The installation of an aftermarket car stereo is a moderately complex installation, with some vehicles being easier than others. There are unique tools needed to complete the installation on some vehicles, and in most cases there will be vehicle-specific installation parts required to complete the installation. Some portions of the vehicle's dash will need to be removed.

Safety considerations
A radio installation can be accomplished safely with the proper know-how and tools. An improper installation can cause damage to the radio, your vehicle and even you. Improper wire probing can trigger the airbags in your vehicle causing injury and added expense. Some tools and parts of the dash can be sharp, so be careful when working with them. Wear safety glasses and hearing protection as needed.

Installation parts needed
Dash installation kit
The installation kit mounts the new radio into the existing opening in your dash. In most cases the aftermarket radio is smaller than the factory radio. The installation kit compensates for the size difference and provides brackets and trim rings to secure the radio into the dash.

Wiring harnesses (vehicle-specific and radio-specific)
There are two types of wiring harnesses required-vehicle-specific and radio-specific. These two harnesses are connected together with a universal plug and then the vehicle-specific side is plugged into the vehicle's wiring. The radio-specific side is then plugged into the radio.

Antenna adapter
In order to connect the aftermarket radio to the antenna in your vehicle, you need an antenna adapter. In most vehicles, the antenna is a different size than the connector on an aftermarket radio, so the adapter has plugs on each end to accommodate the radio's connector and the antenna's connector.


make sure you have the proper tools for the job! Multiple-size flathead and phillips screwdrivers

Multiple-size standard and metric sockets (shallow and deep sockets)

Panel tool

Pick tool

Hex key set

Drop light

Wire ties or electrical tape

Ford/Mazda/European radio removal tool (depending on type of vehicle)

Wire cutters/crimpers


Step-by-step installation

Dash disassembly/radio mounting

step 1

1. Search the area surrounding the radio to determine how the current radio is secured into the dash. In most cases, this will require disassembly and removal of a portion of the dashboard or trim pieces. Gather the appropriate tools and lighting. Place a dropcloth over any dash, console, or front seats that you want to protect.

step 2

2. Remove the necessary portions of the dashboard or trim pieces by removing the screws. Carefully search for screws that hold the dash in place. Check inside ashtrays, gloveboxes, or nearby areas for any hidden screws. In addition to screws, there may be clips holding some of these panels in place. Use a panel tool to pry the panels away from the clips. Be careful when prying the clips free because too much pressure could crack the panel and the clips. Once you are sure that all the screws and clips have been removed, carefully pull out the section of the dash.

step 3

3. Once the dash or trim pieces have been removed, you should have access to the radio. There should be brackets holding the radio to the dash. Remove the screws or bolts that hold these brackets in place.

steps 5-6

5. Remove the radio from the dash.

6. Store the radio and brackets so it can be reinstalled at a later date. Depending on the vehicle, you may need to re-use the factory brackets to install the aftermarket radio.

Radio kit mounting

step 1

1. Open the dash installation kit from the bag and review the instructions for your vehicle. Follow the instructions for assembly. Some vehicles may not require an installation kit if the factory brackets can be used to mount the aftermarket radio.

step 2

2. Place the radio cage (or sleeve) into the kit opening and bend back the tabs so that the cage is securely attached to the kit. Make sure the front edge of the cage is flush with the front edge of the kit before bending back the tabs.

Note 1
Some kits will require assembly for your vehicle as they can be used for numerous vehicles. Others will be made specifically for your vehicle. Pay attention to the instructions. It is also a good idea to view how the factory radio was mounted as a guide.

Note 2
Some vehicles will not require a kit since the radio brackets can be removed from the factory radio and mounted to the new radio. Be careful to use the correct screws to attach the brackets to the side of your new radio. If the screws used to mount the bracket to the new radio are too long it can cause damage.

Wiring connections

steps 1-2

1. Remove your new radio from the box.

2. Connect the radio-specific harness to the vehicle-specific harness.

steps 3-4

3. Plug the radio-specific harness into the back of the radio.

4. Use wire ties or electrical tape to secure the harnesses so that the wires are contained and the universal harness does not disconnect.

Wiring connections

steps 1-2

1. With the wiring harnesses and installation kit connected to the radio, place the radio in the opening to determine how the brackets on the installation kit will mount to the dash.

2. Before securing the radio back into the dash, turn the radio on to make sure the wiring is connected properly. Check all of the controls to make sure everything works correctly.

step 3

3. If everything works properly, attach the installation kit to the dash. Route the wiring harness and other cables carefully behind the radio so that when it is placed in the opening, it does not kink or cut the wires.

step 4

4. Use wire ties or electrical tape to secure the harnesses so that the wires are contained and the universal harness does not disconnect.

Installation notes

Use the proper tools. Power tools can help but be careful as they can provide more torque than needed.

Be careful with the tension you place on dash pieces. If they do not loosen when moderate pressure is applied, look for other screws or fastening points that could be holding them in place.

Protect your vehicle's interior with a dropcloth or other protective covering so that it is not damaged during the installation.

Find a safe spot for any dash pieces and screws that are removed so they don't get lost or broken during the installation.

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