10 Easy Steps to Install a New Car Stereo

Back of car stereo with wires being connected to car
New 2 din radio being installed in a car.

duh84/Getty Images 

You're about to begin an auto repair task that is rewarding at the finish. Sure, it feels good when you know that you have a new air filter or that you changed your own oil, but when your new car stereo lights up, it's exciting! You're only a few steps away from the answer to "how do I plug my MP3 player into my car?" Easy.

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Install Your Own Car Stereo With MP3 Player

Car stereo in box, wiring kit, and iPod cable

Matthew Wright, author

Before you begin, you will need the following supplies.

  • replacement stereo
  • wiring adapter kit
  • wire crimps
  • electrical tape
  • wire cutters
  • crimping tool
  • screwdrivers

Some will tell you that you don't need the wiring kit but believe me; it will save you an hour or more of installation time, not to mention the huge reduction in frustration! If you are installing a car stereo with an iPod jack, be sure to pick up a patch cord, too. Let's get to work.

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Remove the Trim Around the Car Stereo

Screwdriver being used behind the car stereo compartment

Matthew Wright, author

In most vehicles, you will have to work your way toward the car stereo by removing trim panels. If you have a repair manual, check to see what's involved in removing the car stereo in your vehicle. You may be surprised at how many panels need to be removed to get to the stereo, but keep at it.

The trim panels will be held on by screws for the most part. Some of the screws may not be as obvious or visible as others. Also, some pieces may be attached using a type of push screw which is simply pulled out of its socket.

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Pull the Stereo Assembly Out

Hand pulling the stereo assembly out of its compartment

Matthew Wright, author

After you have removed all of the trim surrounding the stereo, you'll remove the old stereo as an assembly, a unit that includes the stereo itself and a mounting bracket. You might have a coin tray underneath the stereo that will come out at the same time.

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Remove the Stereo From the Bracket

Screwdriver removing bracket screws

Matthew Wright, author

With the bracket assembly out, you need to remove the old car stereo from it. It will be held together by a set of screws, usually within the side of the unit. Remove these screws, and the old stereo should slide right out.

If your stereo sits atop a coin tray, you may or may not have to remove the tray at the same time. Don't worry if you take it off and then realize you didn't have to. As long as you don't break anything, it'll go back with ease.

You might ask yourself, how do I plug my mp3 player into my car? Easy.

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Get Started on the Wiring

Plug-n-play via an adapter.
The adapter connected to the car's wiring harness.

Matthew Wright, author

Don't screw the new stereo into the bracket just yet. It's time to start the wiring process. Since you were smart and purchased the wiring adapter with your car stereo, all you have to do is connect the new stereo's wiring harness to the adapter, and it's plug-and-play.

To connect the stereo's harness to your adapter, you'll need to strip the wires and crimp the connections. Never install a new car stereo using only electrical tape or those twist-on type connectors used in house wiring. These aren't acceptable or safe ways to keep automotive wiring in place.

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Secure the Ground Wire

Chop chop the ground wire.
Cut the connector if you don't need it.

Matthew Wright, author

Many car stereo wiring harnesses will have a screw type connector at the end of the ground wire. If for some reason your current stereo was not grounded through a wire (the diagram on the back of the wiring adapter kit will tell you) you can ground the car stereo by finding a screw under there to which this wire can be attached. If your car is like most and has a ground wire for the car stereo already, just cut the connector off and crimp it to the adapter harness.

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Do a Test Run

It's alive!
Test the car stereo before you install it.

Matthew Wright, author

Once you have all of your electrical connections made, plug the adapter into the car's wiring harness. Then plug the stereo itself in for a test run. It may seem silly, but the worst time to find out about a wiring issue is after you have re-installed all of those trim panels! Once you've checked the power and all of your speakers, unplug the stereo unit.

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Install the New Car Stereo Into the Bracket

Hand holding a stereo trim plate next to its snap-in location

Matthew Wright, author

Wiring is finished; the car stereo works. Now all you need to do is put the new stereo into the bracket. It should have holes in the side just like your old unit did. Use the screws that came with the new car stereo; they will be correctly sized. Once it's in, snap the trim plate onto the outside.

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Finish the Installation

Back of stereo with wiring assembly plugged in

Matthew Wright, author

With the new car stereo secured into the bracket, all you need to do is plug the wiring harness back into the stereo and put the assembly back into place. Before you shove everything in, try to arrange the wires so that they won't be crimped by anything when you push the new car stereo into the hole. Re-installing all of those panels is the reverse of removal.

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Successfully installed car stereo lit up

Matthew Wright, author

If everything went as planned, you have a new car stereo, and all of those panels are back into place. Don't skip any of the screws when you re-install those panels. If you do, you might be rewarded with an extra percussion section inside your car as all of those panels start to vibrate!

Remember your first question? How do I plug my MP3 player into my car? It was easy, right?