Swap Out Your Car Stereo(s)




Intro: Swap Out Your Car Stereo(s)

I was going to call this instructable "Stereo Echo Head Transplant"... here's how I swapped the CD/radio/cassette head unit (head transplant - get it?) from my Toyota Echo with the crappy radio-only head unit from Carla's car.

She had been asking for a new car stereo for a while, problem was that she wanted one with a cassette player as well as a CD player, which turned out to be impossible to find in aftermarket car radios. Since my car stereo actually does have a cassette unit, I decided to give her mine, as a Xmas present. Meaning I'll be stuck with the crappy one for now, but that's easily fixed.

Swapping stereos between two cars of the same year and make is about as easy as it gets - no need to worry about cable harnesses, etc. A good starter project for someone who's never worked on a car stereo before.

Yes, we have matching cars. Ya got a problem with that? Three guesses which one is hers...

Step 1: Find Info Online!

There's all sorts of information to be found online about cars and cars stereos. In my case, I'm lucky there's a lively Echo fan community. These links were particularly helpful:

Echo Drivers Forum
Removing the center console
Toyota Echo 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 Car Stereo Removal and Installation Instruction Guide
Install Doctor - The Do-It-Yourself Car Stereo Installation Resource
Toyota Radio Wire Harnesses

Step 2: Gather Ye Tools

The only thing you really need for this car stereo is a Philips screwdriver. I found a needlenose plier (to grab those pesky screws all the way in the back) and a flathead screwdriver (to unplug the connectors) to be useful as well.

Trusty Bag o' Tools on the right, printed out instructions next to it...

Step 3: Dismantle (a Small Piece Of) the Dashboard

Now, before you start messing with the guts of you dashboard, remember to unplug your car battery! I didn't - see Step 8 - Oops!...

Ok, time to get down to business. You could just pry off the plastic trim panel around the radio, but the top edge of it is kinda wedged under the center dashboard panel, with the climate control knobs. Turns out this panel is actually hiding some screws we'll need to get at to unscrew the radio, so let's just start with that panel instead...

Two screws cleverly hidden underneath the left and right knob, a good pull on both ends, and the whole panel just pops off. Easy!

If we had a bigger job to do, we could now start unplugging all the connectors to the center panel. In this case, I decide to just let it dangle - it's not (much) in the way anyway.

Next, carefully pull off the trim panel around the radio. From what I've seen of radio installation tutorials for other car brands, most of them seem to use a similar approach: find some hidden screws, remove the trim panel and/or part of the dashboard, and then you can get to the screws that hold the radio itself.

Step 4: Unscrew the Screws

That's what they're there for - duh!

Step 5: Pull the Radio!

Four screws later, the radio slides right out!

Or.. ehm... it would, if you remembered to put the gear shift in L, so you have space to slide the radio out.

Left cable is antenna. Wire colors on the blue and white connector match exactly the diagram I downloaded from the [www.installdr.com Install Doctor] (once you realize the diagram is drawn head-on, i.e. what you would see if you unplugged the connector).

Step 6: Repeat on Second Car

Note the flowers, just stuck into the passenger side vent. No need to feel envious of the little flower vase that comes with the VW bugs...

I'm not removing the center panel, just lifting it up a bit, so I just left the flowers, makeshift clock and everything else in there.

Pull off knobs, unscrew two screws, pull center panel, pull trim panel and set aside, unscrew 4 screws, slide out radio...

Same connectors as on the other radio, just turned around - excellent! This one is a "single-DIN" head unit, whereas mine is a "double-DIN". In other words, my radio is "fatter", this radio has an empty space above it.

Step 7: Time for the Head Transplant!

Unplug the connectors, and swap the radios. Get the happy recipient to pose with her radio!

As expected, I just need to flip the connectors around to make everything fit. Wiring colors on the connectors are exactly the same, so we should be home free. The tabs on the connectors are a bit hard to squeeze & pull by hand, but they're just the right size for a flathead screwdriver...

Make sure to snap a picture of the label on the radios for good measure - never know when it might come in handy.

Plug everything in, and screw the crappy radio into it's new (and likely very temporary) home.

Moment of truth - it works! Well, in my car anyway... Put the trim and center panel back into place, screw everything back up - DONE!

Now do the same on the other car...

Step 8: Oops!

Here's where the comedy of errors starts. Make sure the recipient of the new stereo is there for this part, to witness how you ruin her car...

Remember those top screws holding the radio in? Well they're kinda far back, so make sure you don't slip and drop them behind the radio into the central console! They unscrewed like a breeze, and they screwed back in on my car just as easily. But for some reason I had a hell of a time with these (probably because Carla was watching this time, and I was going "See how easy this is? - Oops!").

If you do drop one of the screws into the center console, you'll have to unscrew the radio again, stick your arm into the gaping hole as far as it fits, and grope around blindly. Try not to touch anything. Try not to electrocute yourself (highly unlikely). There's probably a better way to do this (like, taking off the plastic panel below the dashboard), but I actually found the screw fairly easily.

Next... put everything back together again - use a needlenose plier this time to maneuver those pesky back screws into place - a magnetized screwdriver would be handy here as well.

Moment of truth...


It doesn't work.

Not only does it not work, but we seem to have drained the car battery somehow! No clue what happened - the CD tray on the radio made happy purring noises when I first plugged it in, so I know it had power 15 minutes ago. Was the car battery low to begin with? Did the dangling connectors cause a short against the chassis somewhere? Did I cause a short somewhere by groping into the dashboard innards? No idea...

So... unscrew everything again, and unplug the radio again asap - just in case that's where the problem lies. Jumpstart the car, then gingerly plug the radio back in. It works! No sparks, no suspicious dimming of the lights - everything looks fine. Disconnect the jump cables, and go for a nice sunset spin by the Bay, to make sure the battery is fully charged.

Step 9: Tadaa!

Everything seems to work fine. We have two functioning radios, two happy car batteries, and one very grateful Carla. Now she can listen to her collection of old tapes in the car again!

Now the only thing that's left is for me to get a new car stereo...



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    26 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    this really helped me. Mainly cuz this radio is the exact same in my 2001 toyota sienna, and since im pimpin my van, this helped me figure how the heck to remove the damn thing lol so thanks :D


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Cool instructable! The only thing I was thinking is that you might not want to put your license plate on the internet.

    13 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I've never really understood why license plates should be hidden on pictures. Anybody care to enlighten me?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    If I'd stalk anyone it would probably be someone that I got physical proximity to and then I got access to that license plate in real life. And/or the name and address. I really don't see the need of hiding my license plate more than being secret about my name. It's not like it's secret information or anything like that. Personally I'd rather stalk some crazy ass guy that pissed me off in the traffic than a random dude living half across the world. Still.... it might be a good idea to err on the safe side.... ;-)


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I think the issue is not so much stalking, but identity theft. Any dedicated stalker can find out far more about you than just your license plate anyway, by dumpster diving, stealing your mail, watching you from a distance, etc.

    However, once you start putting personal information online, that opens it up to a whole different level of risk. Especially if you link pieces of personal information together, like a name with a birth date, or a name with a license plate. There are people out there who will "scrape" such information from the web, then assemble it into a fake persona to do credit card purchases, open bank accounts, forge ID cards, etc.

    In this particular case - imagine doing a google image search for "Toyota Echo", filter out all the cars that match the color of your own car, and have a license plate on the image. Then try to get the name of the owner. Fake an ID card, fake a license plate, drive around without insurance...

    I just whipped up this scenario on the spur of the moment - this particular one may not be feasible, and/or there may be other abuses out there that I haven't thought of. Fact is, it's hard to predict *how* your personal information will be abused, once the whole world can find it online.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I don't think the quesiton is answered here. I see thousands of license plates daily. If I wanted to use that info for nefarious purposes, it's right there in front of me. What's the dif' if they're on the 'net? Not being difficult; just haven't seen a definitive/convincing answer to this question.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    if you guys would want to do anything like that then just look outside, there are lots of cars


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    oh yeah, no one is going to try this probably but it is not that hard to unblur a picture. Maybe next time a black bar. But this should be sufficient.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    As I said - go ahead and try. I'll bet you a beer (or age-appropriate equivalent consumable) you won't be able to get it from this picture...


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Go ahead and try - I dare ya! Actually, I didn't just blur - I pixelized. A badly done Gaussian blur may still leave some medium frequency components which could be amplified to recover the original letters. Pixelization is much harder to undo.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Aha! Thanks for the pictures :P I'll probably be using this to help swap out the stereo in my Baby 2001 Echo :D thanks!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Looking at your basic radio, couldn't that just be replaced with a standard DIN sized unit? just unscrew the frame and pull off the radio and replace it with something else of your choice (CD, MP3, DVD even!!!)... :)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    The only thing I can recommend is that you mention to UNPLUG THE BATTERY before playing around with your stereo system. Car batteries can drain a lot of power very quickly, enough to weld metal and melt the wires in your car. Dont risk it, just unplug the battery, it only takes a minute. Other than that, good instructable :)

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    i've done that, it sucks, plus the capacitor didnt help, good thing i knew not to ground it to the car battery