Replacing a car radio: this is how it works with installation and removal

Replacing a car radio: this is how it works with installation and removal

Nowadays, a car radio is so much more than the old receiver with its two knobs. A modern car radio is expected to have many additional functions and comfort features. Original radios only partly meet these expectations. Many customers therefore swap the originally fitted radio for a new one. Errors are often made. Read in this manual what to observe when replacing the car radio.

What is expected of a modern car radio

car radio functionThe radio function itself is only part of the possibilities of this traditional equipment. Especially important nowadays is its connection with the smartphone. Synchronisation turns the car stereo equipment into a speaker phone or a convenient navigation assistant. Thanks to Bluetooth technology this connection no longer requires wiring.

Modern standard radio equipment includes remote control, integrated in the steering wheel. Radio control by way of the steering wheel is a practical safety enhancing feature. The driver doesn’t need to take his hands off the wheel for radio control and can keep his eyes on the road. Transferring this functionality when installing new stereo equipment could prove to be a challenge.

What you have and what you want

car radio replacementWhen considering replacing the car radio, you should first define the possibilities.
The accessory market offers a broad spectrum of equipment in several price categories and with many different features.

car radio support technologiesFor some technologies it makes sense for manufacturers not to invest extensively in research and development. After 30 years on the market, the compact disc is gradually regarded as obsolete. Just like the cassette players, CD equipment will ultimately disappear from the market. Instead of investing in outdated technology it is recommended to check if the radio has a USB connection. Bluetooth is nowadays often standard as well and expected even in cheaper radios. USB connection enables connection with an external disc. The radio should be capable of playing all music formats, at least MP3 and WAV. Many other formats are available.

Synchronising the radio and the hard disc can prove to be a challenge. By all means, be certain to avail of thorough advice prior to acquisition.

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Disassembling the old radio

Disassembling the old radioIdeally you disassemble the old equipment before buying a new radio. This enables you to check the connection requirements of the new radio. A new radio not having the necessary connections is no problem. The retailer offers a fitting adapter for every combination. Therefore be sure to bring the old radio for advice. Not until you found the new radio and all the right adapters, you can return home. It is a real nuisance to discover the incompatibility of the new radio and the old connections during installation.
However, this is only an option if the radio is relatively easy accessible, i.e. if it is mounted with a cover frame and in a standard radio slot.

The disassembly of the old radio is very simple, you need:
– 1 flat screwdriver
– unlocking key of the old radio
– all-purpose spanner

how to remove car radioWrap the end of the screwdriver in (insulation) tape. Now, remove the radio cover frame by simply levering it off with the screwdriver. Please proceed as carefully as possible. The frame can easily break. The tape prevents scratching.
You absolutely need the old radio’s unlocking key. If it is no longer available, go to a garage and have the car radio disassembled there. This is a minor task for professionals and shouldn’t cost more than five euro from your coffee fund.
For some constructions, radio disassembly can prove to be tricky. VAG, for example used its own locking system: in older VW and Audi radios the unlocking keys are not inserted sideways, but at certain points between switches. If you get stuck, please check Youtube where you can find the matching disassembly manual for every radio.
Disconnecting the battery to replace car radioDisconnecting the battery is unnecessary when installing and de-installing a radio with standard slot. Removing the ignition key is sufficient. As long as there is no need for applying new wiring, there is no danger of short circuit or cross-wiring.
If the radio does not have a standard slot, the entire panelling must be removed. Possibly, switches have to be removed as well. Now, disconnecting the battery makes sense. Removing the panelling can be a lot of work as it is generally screwed tight with plenty of screws. Proceed carefully or consult the repair manual of your car.

The golden rule when removing panelling is:

If it jams, you do something wrong. Apply force and you destroy something.

Installing the new car radio

Installing the new car radioNew car radios are always sold with the matching mounting frame. Therefore the old frames must be removed.
If possible, only use adapters between the old connection and the new radio. As a layman you should avoid new wiring of existing connections. In modern cars, the risk of causing damage is too big. Nevertheless be sure to take pictures of the connection positions prior to installation. This will give you something useful for orientation.

The new radio should offer the following connecting possibilities:
– power supply
– connection with the speakers
– connection with the remote control in the steering wheel, if present.

In the original radios of VW and OPEL, the connection for “always on” and “on” is differently wired from radios for retrofit installation. The “always on” function enables the radio to be switched on when the ignition key is removed. In the simple “on” function this is not possible. Furthermore, a radio disconnected from the power unit might lose its individual settings every time the ignition key is removed.

The internal memory erases all channels as well as time and date settings, which need to be entered again. To prevent this, no new wiring is necessary: in the adapter jack the separate flat contacts can be exchanged. Just swap the yellow cable with the red one.

Don’t forget the CD/DVD lock

car radio lockIf you bought a radio with CD or DVD player, this module needs to be unlocked prior to installation. Two bolts in the casing fix the equipment’s CD tray or the insertion mechanism and the laser eye. This prevents it from losing its position during transport. The bolts must be removed prior to installation of the new radio. The player is now unlocked, enabling you to play CDs and DVDs in the radio.

Improving the acoustics

updating car radio acousticsThe times when holes had to be cut in the window shelf in the rear are over. New cars have ideally positioned loudspeakers of standardised size. The original speakers are not necessarily the best. Their replacement by high-grade parts delivering optimal sound is an option. If there are no loudspeakers in the rear of a new car, the connection wiring is generally present. If this is insufficient, an additional amplifier could enhance the car acoustics. Its installation however, is a bigger challenge than the simple replacement of the car radio.

Foto: cla78, chakbkk, Klaudia Pinter, mashe, Mile Atanasov, Ishbukar Yalilfatar, optimarc, RealVector, Syda Productions /

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