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Car stereo installation
What is a car stereo?
The car stereo goes by many names: radio, receiver, head unit, to name a few. When you think of a car stereo, your mind probably instantly jumps to ‘it’s what plays music in your car’, and you would, of course, be correct. However, in today’s world, as cars become more and more hi-tech, they are responsible for so much more than just that.
Types of car stereos
Not all that long ago, a typical car stereo consisted of a volume control, a radio tuner, a CD player and maybe the option to input an AUX cable to listen to music from a phone. This would’ve been paired with a small and basic digital display showing information such as the volume level, the radio station frequency and the selected audio input.
Today, the stereo’ is really an ‘infotainment’ system and features will include Bluetooth integration, navigation systems and phone integration systems such as CarPlay and Android Auto. As a result, there are many different types of systems available.
Car stereo sizes are measured using DIN, which stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung. This is the industry standard and in the mid ‘80s it began to be used to standardise car radio sizes in BMW, Audi and VW. It’s now the industry standard worldwide.
Single DIN: These stereos are approximately 7-inches (18cm) wide by 2-inches high (5cm). This is the most common size and can fit most vehicles.
Double DIN: 7-inches (18cm) by 4-inches (10.2cm). The extra height in double DIN stereos allows for features such as touchscreens, as well as more control functions. Due to the increased height, double DIN stereos won’t fit all cars.
OEM replacement: When single DIN or double DIN stereos don't fit, an OEM replacement may need to be sourced. Although these are still aftermarket, they are designed specifically for particular vehicles.
Different stereos will accommodate different features, so it’s important to figure out what you want from your car stereo before you pick one.
Bluetooth: If you want to be able to connect your phone to your car without the need for messy cables than Bluetooth is a must. Depending on the Bluetooth system, you’ll be able to make and receive phone calls as well as play music through your car speakers.
USB connectivity: A USB input will allow you to connect a device using a USB cable. This could be used to charge your phone or play media files from a USB drive or portable hard drive.
GPS: Some stereo units will allow the use of GPS navigation. Most likely, this will only be available in double DIN sizes as it is a feature that requires a bigger display.
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto: The ability to connect a smartphone is a sought-after feature with new car buyers. However, it is also available to those who don’t want to purchase a new car just to access this feature. You can find aftermarket stereos that accommodate CarPlay and Android Auto.
CD/DVD player: Although the humble CD player is beginning to be phased out from new car models in favour of Bluetooth and AUX, if you want to keep it old school and play CDs, there are aftermarket stereo units that are available with the CD feature.
Reasons for installing a new car stereo
If you own a modern vehicle, chances are your existing stereo system will already have everything you need. You’ll likely have everything from smartphone connectivity to GPS navigation, so there really is no reason to install a different stereo. However, if you own a car that hit the streets before all this gear became the norm, you’re probably missing out.
Being able to access any of the features listed above is reason enough to upgrade your car stereo. The great thing about aftermarket stereos is that you generally won't forfeit anything from your stock set-up by upgrading as it retains all the basic functions of a stock system. If anything, you’ll actually get more than you need.
Aftermarket stereo head units can also be used as an opportunity to add a bit of colour to your cabin. A lot of them come with programmable lights around and throughout the unit. If you’re into that sort of thing, it can be the perfect way to spruce up an otherwise dull dashboard.
Who can install an aftermarket car stereo?
Installing an aftermarket stereo often involves messing around with your car’s wiring. The stereo has to be wired into your car speakers or, if you’re replacing your speakers as well, the whole thing needs to be wired up. The stereo will probably come with a warranty, but if you have a crack at wiring it all up yourself and end up doing it wrong, that warranty might be at risk.
Basically, get a pro to do the job. This means a qualified auto electrician who knows how to correctly remove the old unit and install the new one. This way, you know your new stereo will be working perfectly from day dot and if something does go wrong, it will most likely be an issue with the unit itself, not the install job. If that does happen, the manufacturer or retailer will be able to provide a solution and can’t pass any blame onto you.
Things to consider when installing an aftermarket car stereo
Apart from making sure the stereo you chose has all the features you want and will fit the space in your dashboard, there isn’t too much to consider. If your existing system has all the features you need, then you might want to ask yourself if you really need to upgrade at all.
The physical appearance of the unit is also something to consider. As mentioned previously, many of them are quite colourful and not too discreet. If you like a minimalist look, you may have to look a little bit harder for the perfect stereo head unit that blends into the dashboard.
Not looking for an aftermarket car stereo installation?
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