This past weekend, I installed a car stereo for the first time.  Not having tons of extra money, I couldn't pay somebody to do it, nor did I want to give up my money to buy a wiring harness cable for my particular car.  Here's how I installed a car stereo, using basic tools I already had, for only the cost of the stereo unit itself!

Car Stereo Installation - What You'll Need

  • A Basic Soldering Iron.  No need for a soldering station, you're going to be doing this in your car!
  • Flat and Phillips Head Screwdrivers.
  • Wire Cutters/Strippers. This pair is great if you don't have one already.
  • Heat Shrink or Electrical Tape. Use this to protect your connections from shorting out!
  • AA or 9v battery and Digital Multimeter.  I hope you don't need to use these 2 items, but if the stereo was removed before you got the car, you're going to need to chase the wires!  It's not too hard, though, and I will show you exactly what to do!

Step One - Disconnect Your Car's Battery

Remove the negative lead and place it somewhere under the hood so that it won't accidently touch it's terminal on the battery while you are working!

Car Stereo InstallationCredit: Two - Take Apart Your Vehicle's Center Console

Using your phillips head screwdriver, gently pry around the edges of your center console.  Work slowly around the whole unit multiple times until you can feel where the clips and/or screws are holding it in.  Then, defeat the clips gently and screws using your screwdrivers.

At this point, you'll see a variety of cables plugged into the various controls of your car.  You'll need to unplug the ones which you are able to unplug, and unscrew the controls for the thermostat from the center console if they won't unplug.

Step Three - Cut Off The Old Stereo Wiring Harness

If you're replacing a factory stereo, then you need to cut the wires off from the back of the unit, as closely to the unit as possible.  You want to give yourself as much room to do your soldering later.  Make sure to not the labels on the old unit and label every wire before you cut.  If you don't do this, you'll have to go through an extensive process of chasing wires later- not fun if you can avoid it!

If you're replacing an aftermarket radio with another aftermarket radio, they probably have the same plug on the back, and you can skip the next 3 steps!

Step Four - Create a Cross-Wiring Sheet and Strip/Tin Wires

You're moving along great so far!  Thankfully, we're over half way to completion on this car stereo installation project!  At this point, you'll want to plug in your soldering iron on it's stand so that it can heat up.  Make sure it's on the high setting if it has one.

You now want to grab a paper and write down what all of the car's wire colors correspond to in your new, aftermarket wiring harness.  This will help you stay on track during the soldering process.

Then, "tin" the wires by touching the soldering iron and some solder to each connection, until the wire is barely coated.  This will make your life so much easier in the next step.

Step Five - Soldering

Put heat shrink on each pair of wires that you are going to solder together, as far away from the solder point as possible.  The heat shrink needs to be cut to a length just a little bigger than the open connection you're about to create.

Car Stereo SolderingCredit:

You will then hold the wires together with a pair of pliers, or the little pliers on the end of your wire stripper tool.  Using your other hand, you can move the soldering iron along the 2 wires, melting them together.  Then, go back and add a small quantity of solder to the connection to make it firm.  Be sure not to move or flex the wires at all until they have cool- a maximum of 10 seconds.

Once the connection is solid, let go of the wires and move the head shrink over the connection.  You can lightly touch the shrink with the soldering iron, or use a heat gun to shrink it.  For these skinny wires, it is easy to just use your iron.

Step Six - Stereo Unit Installation

Now we get to place the stereo unit in the car's center console, being sure to plug in both the multi-plug and the antenna plug, which are often separate.  After that, you can connect the battery back up, and then test your stereo.  If all goes well, everything will work great!

Once you've confirmed that your stereo unit works, you can go about the business of mounting it, if necessary.  You'll need the mounting bracket from the old stereo, and the screw holes on the new unit should line up nicely.  If not, you'll have some minor engineering to do, but even that shouldn't be too bad!  You can get adapter brackets online or locally at a car stereo store!

Car StereoCredit: Seven - Put it all Back Together and Grab Your Favorite Drink

The last step is the best!  Put all of the wires, units and controls back into your center console and get in back into place and re-mounted like it was before you started.  Be sure to watch and be careful not to pinch any wires, as it is a tight area in there! 

Check out your new stereo and pat yourself on the back!  Then, grab your favorite drink and enjoy your favorite tunes on your new stereo!