How to upgrade your car stereo

Does your car still have a tape deck? Are you lacking DAB? Do you long for iPod connectivity or streaming music functionality?

If so, you’re going to need to yank out whatever old kit is in your car in favour of something a bit more contemporary. But this being an electrical item, some of you might not be so keen to take it on. Don’t worry, we have you covered.

Before we get into the actual act of changing the stereo, there are some things to note:

  • We’re looking at standard head-units here that can be removed at home. Sadly, more modern cars are built to only ever have whatever stereo the car is ordered with, as the stereo itself is integral to not only the design of the car, but also to the functionality of the dash or other screens.
  • If you’re going to change the radio, always disconnect the battery while you do so. It’s the safest way to approach it.

Removing and replacing your car radio

Do you want some pumping bass rhythms in your car? Of course you do. But how do you remove and replace your existing radio? Read on and we’ll guide you to the phat bass…

01 Get the kit

You’re going to need to start things by removing the old radio. However cars don’t come with the tools to do this.

Happily, the internet or the big orange car parts store will be able to supply you with the pins need to get the factory head unit out.

Simply insert the pins and push them together or away from each other (depends on the car) and then pull them forward, the radio should come free.

02 Unplug it

Simple as it sounds – there will be a plug connector going into the back of the radio. Unplug this, then the radio is free of the car completely.

03 Identify the plug

Hopefully you’ll be presented with a standard ISO connection into the back of which there is logical wiring (red – live, black – ground, etc). If this isn’t the case, you’re going to need to buy a specialist harness for your car. You can plug the car’s harness into it, and then the new one goes into the radio.

04 No cutting

Unless you have a car that has no radio fitted to begin with, don’t go cutting wires and splicing stuff in. This is a deeply unsafe way to approach it. Unless you own something truly unique, there will be a harness adaptor out there that fits it. This is simple and above all, it’s safe.

05 Fit the cage/surround

If your car is a standard single DIN (letterbox shape), then you just need to fit the cage into which your new radio will go. You’ll have to remove the old one first (don’t be tempted to use it, you’ll just end up permanently wedging your new one in the car), then fit the new one. Using a screwdriver, bend down the internal metal prongs on the cage so as to secure it.

If you have a car like a Mk1 Focus, or Saab or something that has a large radio face, you’ll again need to go shopping. Happily though, you can buy adaptor facias for most common cars, so your new radio will look right at home.

06 Plug the radio in

Before fitting it into the car, plug the radio in and check it functions. Some cars might need you to swap the live and ignition live wired around. Handily, most new stereos come with a harness that has a plug on the red live and yellow ignition live wires so you can swap them around if needs be.

07 Fit the radio

Push the radio into the new cage until it clicks. Do not, however, force it. Make sure you’re not caught on any wires. Also, don’t forget to connect the areal!

08 Fit the surround and face

Fit the surround and the stereo face, and then that’s it, the hard part is done. Now you just have to consult the manual for your chosen stereo so you can connect your phone etc. Simple.