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Adding a direct line-in to your car stereo for an iPod/mp3 player

Picture of Adding a direct line-in to your car stereo for an iPod/mp3 player
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This instructable will show you how to add an auxiliary input, like a headphone jack, to your car so you can listen to an iPod/mp3 player/GPS or anything that has a line-out through your cars stereo.

While I will be adding it on my '99 Chevy Suburban, it can very easily be done on almost all cars, SUVs, and trucks.
Many of you will notice that I have a cassette player as well as a working radio in the car so an FM transmitter or cassette tape with a headphone jack might be the more logical answer. I have actually tried both, and while they both work OK the inconsistency and lower quality of the FM transmitter and the reliability and constant cleaning required of cassette player if you listen to your ipod more than a few times a month just don't cut it when you can have a high quality maintenance free direct line-in for a little bit more.
I found the auxiliary input I wanted at
Peripheral Electronics
then bought it off ebay.

The basic tools required are:
regular crescent wrench
Flat head screwdriver
Drill and bits (I used a 1/4" and a 5/8" bit)

You'll also need a stereo mini (1/8") jack-to-RCA cord about 3 to 6ft long (depending on whether the folks in the back seat want to play with the iPod/mp3 player while your listening). This cord will be what connects to your music player.
 
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Step 1: Preparing the car

Picture of Preparing the car
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You will most likely have to remove the front cover of your dashboard to reach the back of the radio so its a good idea to remove one of you battery cables first so you don't accidentally set off the air bags or anything. There's very little chance of that happening, but if it did you would have much bigger problems than trying to connect your ipod to your car.

If you have two batteries like me (it's a diesel :-)) you should disconnect both of them. Later on I also had to move my shift lever since it's attached to the steering column so I set the emergency brake too.

Step 2: Removing the Dash

Okay, here's the fun part. This is usually very easy since most dashboards just snap right in. I would recommend looking up how to do it in your particular car just to be sure, but there really isn't much you can hurt. In my Suburban it just required gripping it hard on one end and slowly pulling it off. This is the only point I needed the screwdriver for, since I couldn't reach one of the clips with my fingers, and I just used my Leatherman.

As you pull the dash off be careful to not just rip it off as most of the cords to the buttons are clipped on the back. It's usually really easy to safely remove them since there's normally only one way to snap it back on. If you can't reach the clip with your fingers a flat head screwdriver does the trick nicely.

To fully remove the face of the dashboard I had to move the steering wheel and the shifter down to their lowest positions so make sure you have the parking brake set first.

As you can see there was one spot where I couldn't reach the clip so I used my Leatherman to unlatch it.

Step 3: Removing the Head Unit

Picture of Removing the Head Unit
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For me this was as easy as pinching 2 clips on the sides together and pulling it out. Some head units will probably be a bit different from this especially if they're not stock, but from my experience it's usually pretty obvious. If not, then a quick search online will show how to do it on your particular car.

If your head unit was like mine then you'll want to unplug the smaller group of cords in the back. That's the one our little black box is going to split.

Step 4: Connecting the new inputs

Alright, now that you've got the face of the dashboard off, and your head unit out it's time to plug your new toys in.

The black auxiliary input box has 2 connectors, one toggle switch, and 2 sets on RCA inputs coming off it. What we need to do is plug our RCA-to-mini cord into one set of those inputs, and hook up the connectors into the head unit. If your RCA cord doesn't say which one is left and right, the red end is always the right. Or if they're marked 'ring' and 'tip' then the ring is always the right.

Simply unplug the matching cord from your head unit into the receiving end of the input box cord. For me that was unplugging the black connector from the head unit and plugging it into the white connector from our input box, and plugging the matching black connector from the input box into the head unit.

After you're all hooked up you'll find that you need a place in the immediate vicinity to store the input box. For me there was enough space behind the HVAC controls directly under the head unit that I could keep it there.

Now just put the head unit back in with the your cord that's going to connect to your mp3 player out the side and move on to the next step!

Step 5: Finishing Up!

So all that's left to do is mount the toggle switch, make a hole for the cord, and put the face of the dashboard back on.

First lets start with the toggle switch. Like most of you I didn't tick every available option box on the SUV when I got it, so I have a handy blank space under my rear hatch button which I can mount the toggle switch to. I marked the center and used a 1/4" drill bit to make the hole. I don't recommend drilling while it's still attached, I was just trying to make it clearer. On the back of the blank square was some plastic molding for whatever button I didn't buy that was getting in the way so I just used pliers to snap them off.

After your spot is all prepared simply screw on the locking washer, washer, and nut tightly then move on to the remaining mini jack cord. Now just drill a hole wherever seems most convenient, (I had to use a 5/8" bit for this one) I did it on the far side of the CD player so it wouldn't dangle near the pedals, and pull the new cord through.

Note: If you tie a regular knot in the cord on the back side then if it gets accidentally yanked then it can't pull on anything else.

Now just put the dash back in the reverse order you took it off, remembering to re-clip all the buttons, reconnect the battery, turn on the car and release the high quality tunes!

Note: My stereo had to be set on the CD player, and the toggle switch in the up position.

Your done! If you have any questions feel free to ask. Hope this helped you!

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Emma8927 days ago

The steps are really very nice and workable that to DIY basis. so it's the most prominent that we will do it on our own . Except these there are so many DIY stuffs for car are there that can save some bucks from your unnecessary expense .

corybiss1 year ago

HELP! I did this process very similarly but my car doesn't recognize my stereo anymore so in return its draining my battery when my car is off. Is there a simple fix for this?

May not help OP but maybe someone with similar issue.

On certain vehicles disconnecting the battery will reset the stereo unit (especially if it is a factory unit) causing you to have to enter a code before the unit will work again. This is a security feature used to help deter thieves. If you have your owners manual that would be the first place to check. Mine was on a plastic card clearly marked "radio security code." The card is the size of a credit card so you can put it in your wallet but I just keep it with the manual. Mine was a 4 digit pin that is entered using the radio preset buttons.
If you can't find the code there you could try calling the dealer or doing a search online. The code may or may not be specific to each unit.
(Try reading the radio section of the manual, it should tell you what to do if it's locked.)
supra921 year ago
The best way to listen to your SAT radio, MP3, iPod, smartphone in vehicles with factory stereos will be using an Auxiliary audio input interface. this are made for Factory radioS. Auxiliary input its a direct audio connection to your factory Car stereo, These interfaces are not tape adapters or FM transmitters, which means the signal isn't getting degraded by the process of sending it to your Factory car stereo. The good thing about an auxiliary Interface is that it is a digital direct connection of the audio signal from your iPod, MP3, or portable satellite radio, smart phone to the Oem car stereo this way you will get the best CD sound quality. Aux audio input converter lets you add an additional digital audio source to your Factory stock radio. We have audio input adapters for many factory stereos as well as aftermarket systems, radio needs to be CD-changer controller or have a CD, source BAND SAT aux disc button Auxiliary input converters are designed to convert the CD-changer or satellite port of the radio (with external controls) into an Auxiliary audio input. Maintains full function of all factory features, steering wheel and rear seat controls. The adapter plug into the factory radios from most 1995 and up vehicles. Retains digital sound quality extends external audio source no need to use noise FM transmitters http://www.oemautosound.com/c-3-car-auxiliary-adapter.aspx
meghu212 years ago
MP3 is an audio file which is compressed with this standard. Intrinsically speaking, an MP3 player is any electronic device which can play these audio files. MP3 player is referred to any device which can play music files in different formats.http://www.whatisall.com/technology/what-is-an-mp3-player.html
ewilder22 years ago
Excellent pictures and very clear instructions! Thank you! Can you tell me exactly which auxiliary input box you purchased? I want to ensure I get the right one. Again, GREAT instructable!
aphesia2 years ago
Great Instructable! This has made me decide to remove the old radio out of my '81 Chevy LUV. But I want to run an ACC line to a box such as the one you used and just get rid of any normal stereo nonsense. Is there an auxilary input box that you could suggest to use (since there's never going to be anything that was made for vehicles in 81)? Thanks!
galadriel3 years ago
Oh, fantastic, I was thinking about doing this to my '99 Chevy Tahoe; you have the same panels, radio, everything. Thank you for this instructable and allllll the photos!

Can you please be specific about what electronics I need to buy? This will be my first electronics project, so I am unfamiliar with what I'll need.

Do you think there's any way to avoid putting in an extra toggle by having the audio in hook into the "Cassette" controller? It's not like I'm ever going to use the cassette player.
Hey, I got this working. Thanks for the pm advice, and thanks for the instructable :) This is great.
mine is a 1997 Ford Explore and it had a 6 CD changer in it witch i took out cause it was broken any one know if this will work some how
GerGa005 years ago
So does the stereo need to have a cd player? Is there no way to do this mod without a cd player?
pickingrin (author)  GerGa005 years ago
No you don't need a CD player.  For my particular system I got the unit that required one since I have a CD player. Hope this helps!
srhadaham6 years ago
your stereos is one heck of a lot harder to get to than mine, i only have to undo two screws and a faceplate pops off and then two bolts to free the stereo
Lucky. I had to take out my center console, the power mirror controls, the cover to the gear shift, and the plastic casing around the gear shift.
pickingrin (author)  srhadaham6 years ago
Which car is that?
plymouth voyager, I'm not sure what year
its a 1999 in case you care
great instructable, but as all the installers have told me...DO NOT use metal for a panel popper! it will damage the interior.
lol that doesn't mater in my car  about 70% of the trim is gone 
pickingrin (author)  gman2000watts6 years ago
Great idea. For me there was only one spot under the dash that I couldn't grab with my hands. Another idea is to cover the screwdriver with a cloth.
Kontaminate6 years ago
How much did the "little black box" cost you on ebay?
pickingrin (author)  Kontaminate6 years ago
$45
ac1D6 years ago
I have one question: What is all these thing on your keyrings?lol!
Looks like grocery store cards and such.
pickingrin (author)  hack124x7686 years ago
Yeah, I travel a lot so I've got grocery cards for pretty much every store.
ac1D pickingrin6 years ago
dunno where u live, buy here we don't have grocery card lol.
slimguy3796 years ago
my new deck came with an input, and i have an ash tray right below it and i ran the line through the ashtray and now i can play it like u awesome:). thanks for the tip.
JanetWitch6 years ago
BTW - GREAT photos!
JanetWitch6 years ago
Awesome! I can't wait to put one in!