Introduction: How to Install a Car Stereo

When I first got my car I noticed that it had everything that I wanted except for a good stereo. After some intense googling I determined that I wanted to install a stereo to improve my driving experience. With a little help from my father and some money I stole from the bank (not really), I found out that it wasn't as hard as I thought and decided to make a guide to help people who think that this is a daunting task.

Before you do anything you need to decide what you need your stereo to do. I made a list of needs that my stereo needed to include. This list contained Android Auto, BlueTooth, CD support, AUX, USB support for iPods (I know, I'm old), and FM radio. You also need to decide on a price limit as stereos can get really expensive really quickly.

I used sites like Sonic Electronix and Crutchfield to help me find what I was looking for. They help sort through stereos and tell you what will and will not fit in your car. They also tell you what wiring harness you will need, and any other necessary accessories are required for installation

In this case, I will be installing a Pioneer AVH-2500NEX on a 2006 Ford Explorer.


Pioneer AVH-2500NEX (stereo)

Metra 70-5521 (wiring harnesses)

Metra 40-CR10 (antenna adapter)

Axxess AFDI-5V (step down converter for subwoofer)

Metra Ford Double DIN Dash Kit 95-5812 (dash kit)

Note: These are the parts I needed for my specific vehicle, they may not work for your car

Step 1: Interior Disassembly

Now that the parts are selected you need to wait for them to arrive. In the meantime, you can start the disassembly of your interior. This may seem scary at first, but you’ll get used to it. Most interior panels are held on by clips and/or bolts, and some pieces require a lot of force in order to remove them. For my specific vehicle, we need to take off the center console trim panels in order to get to the panel that houses the factory stereo.

In my car, only two bolts need to be taken out, and the rest of the panels are held on via clips. After the bolts are removed, the center console trim piece can be removed by pulling straight up.

On this truck, the trim piece that houses the stereo needs to be taken off in a very specific way. First, you need to pull on the top section in order to unlatch the top clips. Then you need to pull the bottom section out to unlatch it completely, but this won’t release the panel. The center console is wider than the trim for the stereo. So, we need to stretch the panel to go over the center console (be careful not to pinch your fingers).

Once the trim has successfully been detached from the car, you need to take off any connectors that are attached to the trim panel(s).

Most of the time, you can get away with only taking off a few of these connectors, however, I would suggest you undo all of the connections so you don’t accidentally scratch your brand new stereo.

Once this is done you need to remove the stereo. There are four bolts holding it in. Once the bolts are removed you can pull the stereo out and disconnect the connectors on the back.

Step 2: Wiring Harness

Now that your stuff has arrived, you need to do something before you can install the stereo. It is now time to wire the harness.

The instruction manual that comes with your radio and the packaging for the wiring harness should tell you what needs to be connected. In most cases, the colors match up perfectly. With my harness, everything got matched up by color, but I also needed to wire a harness and a step-down converter for the factory subwoofer. I also looked up diagrams to make sure I was doing everything right.

There are a couple of ways that you can wire up your stereo harness. The most popular way is using ‘butt connectors’. With these, you need to strip the wires (if they were not already pre-stripped) and you use pliers to crimp them into place. I instead opted to solder the wires. While there’s nothing wrong with crimping, I’ve read that issues with aftermarket stereos usually arise from wires not being crimped correctly. Soldering is much more durable in this case. I've embedded some videos to show you how to solder and crimp, respectively.

The finished product should look like the last picture shown (Your harness might look better).

Step 3: Wiring the Car

Now it's time to install your harness and to do any additional wiring. This can be a very simple process if you don’t have a complicated sound system. For the main harness you just simply need to plug it into the car. You may also need to plug in an antenna adapter. For this, you just plug in one end of the adapter to the antenna wire, and the other end will plug into the stereo once it is installed. However, I also needed to install a microphone and a parking brake wire. Luckily these things aren’t hard to do. You just pick a place to put the microphone and find out how to route the wire underneath the trim panels. The parking brake is slightly different. You need to find the wires to the switch for the parking brake, and make your way back to the stereo. I routed my wires as the first and last two pictures show.

Step 4: Dash Kit Installation

It’s time to install the dash kit for your stereo. This is where my experience may differ from yours. Since we will most likely have different cars, I suggest you read from the manual that comes with your dash kit. It tells you all the things that need to get done with your specific vehicle. You will use the screws that come with your stereo to secure the dash kit on the stereo. The finished product should look something like the last picture.

Step 5: Stereo Installation

It is now the moment of truth. You now need to install the stereo to see if it fits with the trim panels. You do not need to hook up the wiring harness(es) if you don’t want to. For this step, you just insert the radio as if you were installing it and put on a few screws to keep it in place.

Now you need to put the dash together. Once you do this you are looking for any unusual gaps between the dash and the stereo. If everything looks good, remove the dash and remove the radio.
Now that you know everything fits, it is time to connect everything to the stereo. This is an easy step. In my situation, I just need to connect the main harness, subwoofer connections, the antenna, a USB extender, and an AUX cord. You will either have more or fewer connections depending on your vehicle.

Now that all the necessary connections are made, it is time to install the stereo. Insert the stereo into its place and secure it with all four screws.

Before you put the trim panels back on, test the stereo to see if it works. Put your ignition into the “accessory” or “on” position (the position where electronics can be used, but the car is not running). If the radio turns on this is a good sign. Some stereos require a little bit of setting up, this is the time to do that. Once the stereo is set up, start testing all of the features (Bluetooth, aux, Android Auto/Apple Car Play, radio, CD, etc.). If you have a subwoofer, make sure it is turned on in the radio settings (I forgot to do this at first). If everything works, congrats, you’ve successfully installed a stereo. If you find something that doesn’t work, determine if it is because of the car or the radio. If a feature on the radio is not working correctly you may have a defective unit. If the car isn’t working (e.c. your front left speaker isn’t working anymore) then it is most likely a wiring problem. In this case, you will want to remove and inspect your wiring harness to check for any faulty connections.

Step 6: Finished Product

Now that the stereo is installed, you can now start putting your car back together. Everything that you did to remove the interior will now be done in reverse. Put on the panel that surrounds the radio and put on the panel for the center console (if needed). Put in any bolts you removed, and that’s it. You’re done!

Thank you for reading my tutorial on how to install an aftermarket stereo.