Upgrading Your Car's Stereo – The Basics

From the factory, most cars do not come equipped with the optimal car stereo. To cut costs and increase efficiency, manufacturers use cheap materials and lousy design for stereos, speakers and subwoofers. The result is an ok stereo that will play your favorite music, but won't make you feel like you're at the concert.

There are thousands of products on the market that are geared towards improving the car stereo components that manufacturers don't produce well to better your music listening experience. Not every vehicle needs to replace all of its components to sound great either. But there are key components of every car stereo that are commonly replaced to freshen both the look and sound of your car's stereo. Here we list the car stereo components that are typically replaced and/or upgrade.

Ask the Right Questions

Before you begin the process of upgrading, make sure you ask yourself:

  1. What's my budget?
  2. Do I want to replace everything?
  3. What is my car lacking?
    • Does it have Bluetooth? Built-in amplifier? GPS Nav? Build-in Subwoofer? – This will dictate which components you should replace.
  4. What's my favorite type of music?
    1. Does it have heavy bass? Double bass? – This will dictate the size of speakers and subwoofers you should replace.

Answering these questions will help you narrow down your search for what to upgrade and replace in your car.

Commonly Replaced Components

There are hundreds of different components that you can change out and upgrade in your car, here we narrow them down to a list of four:

Head Units:

Head units are the heart and soul of your car's stereo. It's what allows you to play music, make phone calls, listen to the radio, navigate to where you're going and more. Knowing the features you need before choosing the right car head unit is essential before you buy. There are single din, double din, CD/DVD/MP3 players, GPS navigation, multimedia and more. You can take a look at our Car Stereos | What to Look For post to help narrow down which type of head unit you'd like.

Once you know what type of unit you need for your dash, you can find CarAudioNow's top rated Single Din Head Units, GPS Navigation and Multimedia & DVD Players and choose the best unit that matches with your needs.


We all know what speakers are and what they do. It's your car's door speakers and tweeters that dictate how clear, smooth and full your car stereo's sound reproduction is. Different manufacturers have different sized speakers, so matching the speaker size to your car's OEM hole-size is absolutely essential for an easy installation, unless you are set on changing the size with a manual configuration. But for those who want a clean and simple installation, check out Metra's website to find the correct size for your car. Simply type in your vehicle year make and model and you'll find the OEM size. Then, take a look at our Component Car Speakers | What to Look For post to better understand the common terminology and features of a good car speaker.

Once you've taken these steps to narrow down your search for the right car speaker, you can navigate to one of the many top rated lists that CarAudioNow has assembled of the Best Car Speakers, including:


Subwoofers are speakers that are meant to cover the lower end frequencies in your music. They come in three key sizes: 8″, 10″ and 12″. Depending on the type of music you listen to, you may be better off with a smaller 8″ subwoofer (or two), or just one 12″ subwoofer. Take a look at our Comprehensive Guide to Choosing the Best Subwoofer post to help narrow down which subwoofer size is best for you.

If you know which size you'd like to add/replace in your car, take a look at CarAudioNow's list of Top Rated Car Subwoofers to find the best!


Without sufficient power, subwoofers and speakers are worthless. You can't have a great sounding car stereo without the proper amount of power. Amplifiers are tricky to choose. Not only do you need to know how many channels you want the amplifier to have, you need to match the RMS power rating to the combination of speakers and/or subwoofers that you are going to power. Take a look at our post on Guide to Choosing the Best Amplifier to help you find the correct amplifier.

Then there's tuning your amplifier (if you're a do-it-yourself kind of person). We assembled a quick-guide to tuning your amplifier – Amplifier Tuning | Quick Guide to Tuning Your Amplifier

Once you know the type of amplifier you need, check out CarAudioNow's list of the Top Rated Car Amplifiers to choose the best one for your car.