How To Install a Car Stereo Head Unit

Your old car needs Apple CarPlay.

Time Needed: 1-3 Hours, Difficulty: Beginner-Moderate, Cost: $80-Thousands

What kind of person are you? Are you the type who will live with a worse quality of life in order to maintain an aesthetic? Or are you the type who upgrades life no matter how it looks?

We’re talking about car interiors and the stereo head units that demand all the attention front and center. For years, I refused to update my 2003 Acura RSX radio because I liked the way it looked and appreciated keeping it stock for the time period. I replayed CD after CD until the system literally quit on me.

After years of denying the inevitable, I switched to a Pioneer DEH-S6010BS head unit with a built-in USB port, aux port, and hands-free Bluetooth capability to stream Spotify. Best of all, it was a super-cheap single-DIN unit that still had a CD player for all of my old tuneskis.

Removing part of a dashboard and messing with wires can seem intimidating, but I promise you, with some instruction and careful wrenching, it’s a pretty simple job. Grab your new stereo, don’t forget the adapters, and let’s get to work.

The Safety Brief

Installing a new stereo head unit is not too inherently dangerous, but you’re still dealing with tools, electricity, and sharp metal. In the spirit of being overly precautious, it’s best to do the work with a pair of mechanic gloves and some safety glasses.

The Tools & Parts You Need

Before you begin, gather your tools, lay them out, and establish a plan of attack. These should be all the tools you need to get the job done.

Tools

  • Automotive trim panel removal toolkit
  • Phillips or flathead screwdriver
  • Socket wrench set
  • Posi-Taps
  • Tape
  • Sharpie

Parts

  • New head unit
  • Head unit adapter, if necessary

The back of a double-DIN Pioneer car stereo.

Credit: Amazon / Pioneer

The Job: How To Install a Car Stereo Head Unit

Every car stereo installation will be slightly different due to that particular vehicle’s design, but in general, these are the steps you will need to take to get to your stereo, remove the stereo, and replace the stereo.

  1. Read the instructions in your service manual on how to remove your specific stereo.
  2. WIth your car in park and cooled down, pop the hood and detach the negative terminal.
  3. Use the panel removal tools to pop off any dashboard pieces, panels, or components to get to the stereo.
  4. Unplug any connectors that are attached to the panels. Use tape and a Sharpie to label the wires if you need to.
  5. Remove the screws/bolts holding the stereo into the dashboard. You’ll likely find at least four of them.
  6. Slowly and carefully pull the head unit out. You might need an included small metal tool that will release the head unit from brackets or a metal case. They look like small pins or keys.
  7. Disconnect the antenna wire on the back side of the head unit.
  8. Disconnect the wiring harness on the back of the head unit.
  9. Remove the old head unit completely.
  10. Next, you will need to install the wiring harness that comes with your new stereo head unit. Read the instructions for what each wire does and label them with tape and a Sharpie if that helps.
  11. Connect the wires on the wiring harness to the car’s wiring by matching up the colors and linking them together with Posi-Taps.
  12. Depending on the car, you might need to also connect things such as the reverse wires, parking brake wires, steering wheel control wires, microphone wires, or any other feature specific to your ride.
  13. Assemble the dashboard radio adapter kit, if necessary.
  14. Install the kit onto the radio or into the dashboard, if necessary.
  15. Route the hands-free microphone and its wire through the dashboard and up the A-pillar trim and headliner, if you have the option, then plug it into the stereo.
  16. Reconnect the antenna cable, the wiring harness, and any other wires.
  17. Tuck the wiring into the cavity out of the way.
  18. Slide the head unit back into the cavity and attach the screws.
  19. Put any dashboard panels in their correct positions and attach accompanying wires or connectors.
  20. Before you reattach the panels, reattach the battery cable and turn the car on to test the radio out.
  21. If everything works, put it all back together, and attach the included faceplate trim.

Well done, you now have a modern radio!

A Pioneer aftermarket stereo head unit.

Credit: Amazon / Pioneer

The Car Bibles Glossary of Terms

Welcome to Bible School!

  • Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a communication technology that allows two devices to wirelessly communicate and share information with each other.

  • DIN

DIN, which references the German Deutsches Institut für Normung that originally created the specifications, is a standardized size for a car stereo. A single-DIN radio measures 2 inches tall by seven inches wide. A double-DIN stereo is the same width but is double the height at four inches tall.

  • Ground Wire

A ground wire is an electrical system’s connection to the earth, either directly or indirectly. Ground wires give the electrical system an outlet for excess electricity.

Your Questions, Our Answers on Car Stereo Installation

You can handle the truth!

Q: How Much Does Best Buy Charge For Car Audio Installation?

A: Best Buy charges $99.99 before taxes to install a double-DIN head unit with a video screen.

Q: Are Car Speakers Hard To Install?

A: They aren’t! If you were able to install your head unit, you will be able to install your car speakers. If you have all the speakers and amps sorted, you’ll basically be popping panels off and replacing the old speakers with the new ones.

Q: How Long Does It Take To Install a Backup Camera?

A: Every situation is different, but it will likely take one to two hours.

The Video Tutorial

https://youtu.be/A1WMJwjjvWM

What To Buy For Your Car Stereo Installation

Buy one, buy all, these related items could help you in your question to build a better stereo for you and your car. At the least, you’ll need a single-DIN unit, a double-DIN head unit, and/or a new set of speakers. Keep in mind these are merely suggestions, and they might not fit with your car.

Disclosure: Carbibles.com is also a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associate Programs, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Pages on this site may include affiliate links to Amazon and its affiliate sites on which the owner of this website will make a referral commission.

Tony Markovich

Tony MarkovichTony has a thing for pop-up headlights. His first car was a $3,000 1996 Saturn SC2 Coupe, and his current project is a 1970 Opel GT junker. When he's not daydreaming about the Cadillac Sixteen, he's watching the Chicago Bulls go undefeated on TNT. Contact the author here.