Bare necessities

While the details of car stereo installation may vary from vehicle to vehicle and among different receiver models, the basics are typically the same.

For your average receiver installation, you'll need these tools as a bare minimum: a mounting kit for your vehicle's make, a wiring harness for your vehicle's model, a wire crimper/stripper, and a screwdriver (Phillips tipped).

You'll also need some way to join bare wires, because our installation is a temporary one, so we're using twist caps, but for a more permanent install, you'll want to solder your connections.

Not pictured here is the wiring harness that will come with your new receiver.

Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech


The first part of the installation, connecting your wiring harnesses, ideally takes place outside of the vehicle.

You'll want to start by stripping the ends of the wires on your vehicle's wiring harness, leaving about one-quarter to one-half inch of exposed wire. This is done by inserting the wire into the stripper at the appropriate gauge, twisting the stripper to bite into the insulating jacket, and then pulling to expose the copper wire.

Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Ready for connection

Once you're done with the vehicle's wiring harness, you'll want to repeat for the receiver's harness. The wires are colored with a universal code: red for power, yellow for memory power, black for ground, and orange for illumination. Green, gray, purple, and white are for the four speaker channels.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

The blues

Depending on your vehicle's setup, you may find that you won't need to connect all of the wires on the harness. In particular, you'll want to pay attention to the "blues." One controls the power antenna, the other turns on an external amplifier. Our vehicle isn't equipped with either, so we won't even bother stripping them.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech


Now, it's time to start making your connections. Begin by finding the red power wire on the vehicle's harness and matching it to the red power wire on the receiver's harness. Twist the two connections together as shown in the photo.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech


Next, place a twist cap over the exposed connection and twist it in place. Give the wires a little tug to make sure they are secure and move on to the next set. To avoid getting confused, start with the big three power cables--red power, yellow memory, and black ground--then move on to illumination and, finally, the speaker connections.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech


When it's time to connect the speaker cables, pay close attention to the markings on the insulating jacket. Each speaker has two wires with two poles, a positive and a negative. The negative pole is usually marked with a black stripe. Make sure that you connect the positive to the positive on the harnesses, and the same for the negative.

Connecting a speaker backwards puts it "out of phase" with the rest of the speakers in the set, causing it to pull air while the others are pushing. This essentially cancels out the sound and results in lower sound quality and volume. So, double-check your poles before you make your connections.

Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Completed wiring harness

With your wiring harness completed, you can now move on to the mounting bracket. Put the wiry mess aside, for now, and locate your receiver.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Alpine iDA-X100

For purposes of this demo, we'll be using the Alpine iDA-X100.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech


Consult the instructions that came with your mounting bracket to determine whether or not the metal sleeve that ships with the receiver is necessary for installation. If not, as was the case here, remove the sleeve and put it aside.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Detach the face

If your receiver features a detachable faceplate, now would be a good time to remove it. You'll be avoiding scratching the screen and making installation easier.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech


Many receivers also feature a decorative bezel for a clean look. Remove it now to avoid breaking it.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Use the right screws

Locate the screws that shipped with your receiver. By using the included hardware, you minimize risk to your receiver's internals that can be caused by using too long screws.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Mounting brackets

Our mounting kit uses two plastic rails that allow the receiver chassis to slide into the single DIN mounting bracket.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech


There are many holes on the side of the receiver to accommodate many brackets and mounting options. Try to use one as close to the front as possible and another as close to the back as possible to promote stability. A wiggling receiver causes skipping CDs or, at worst, damaged internals.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Fits like a glove

With the rails in place, our receiver slides into the mounting bracket with a click. Now, it is ready to go into the vehicle.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Locate your vehicle

Locate your vehicle. If your can't complete this step, you've got bigger problems than this how-to can solve!

Our test car, a Chevrolet Aveo, awaits in a dark corner of the CNET garage. You'll want to find someplace better illuminated. It gets pretty dark in the recesses of a vehicle's interior.

Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech


It is a good idea, at this point, to disconnect your vehicle's battery. This prevents damage to the receiver as it is installed and can save you from a nasty shock, should you encounter a bare wire. Before disconnecting the battery, write down any security codes or settings for other devices that will lose power, such as alarm systems.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Remove headunit

Depending on your vehicle, removing the stock stereo could be very easy or very hard. For the Aveo, we use a plastic spatula to pry the plastic covers away and access the bolts and screws holding the radio in place.

If you don't have a plastic spatula, try wrapping a flat-tipped screwdriver or butter knife in tape, to protect the interior plastic.

Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Empty dashboard

Disconnect the radio from the vehicle's harness and antenna and remove it from the vehicle. Don't throw the stock unit away just yet, you may want to reinstall it when the time comes to sell the vehicle.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Connect the harness

Locate the wiring harness you built earlier and connect the vehicle specific end to the vehicle's connector. Tuck the wires away as best as you can. Tying them in place with zip ties is an unnecessary step, but one that can help lessen the strain on the connections.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

Final connections

Next attach the receiver end of the harness to the receiver. Connect the antenna cable and any other connections, such as a USB pigtail, to the unit and gently slide the receiver into the dash.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech


Before you button everything up, reconnect your battery, crank the vehicle up to make sure that everything works. Pay close attention to the audio, making sure that it sounds good and is coming out of all four channels.
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech

All done!

If you're satisfied with the way things work, them it's time to button things up. If it will fit, reattach the bezel, put your dashboard back together, and sit back and admire your handiwork. Better yet, take your new receiver for a spin around the block!
Photo by: Antuan Goodwin/CNET Car Tech
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