Last updated on July 11th, 2021 at 09:08 am

The Best Car Stereos should reflect the latest in digital audio technology. For example, compatibility with smartphones and the most common internet radio apps. Smartphones are really the single and only medium for listening to music in cars at this point, so a head unit that supports connected devices and comes standard with certain features is a must. This includes:

  • USB port to charge and connect your media or smartphone devices.
  • Bluetooth technology to stream music and make handsfree calls.
  • Integrated music app functionality like Pandora and Spotify.
  • + more

The best head units shouldn't just output high quality sound, they really should incorporate the latest trends in digital tech to simplify how you listen to your music, navigate to where you're going and make wireless phone calls. In our list below, you'll find our top pick car stereos that embrace the swift changes in audio and digital technology. We're frequently updating all of our lists, so check back for updates as new products get released and added!

Who Is This Review For?

There's a number of reasons why you could want or need to upgrade your car's head unit. One of the most common is to integrate Bluetooth connectivity to enable wireless calling and music streaming. But you might also:

  • Want to enable streaming and easy control of music through Pandora or Spotify on your head unit.
  • Need to upgrade your car stereo due to compatibility issues with your smartphone or wireless device.
  • Just want a new, fresh look and the latest technology.
  • Need to replace a head unit that recently broke or is experiencing issues.
  • Want to improve the quality of the music that you listen to.

The list is endless, but regardless of the reason, the head unit you choose should really best fit the combination of your own personal needs.

Looking for a different type of head unit? Check out these lists!

Best Car Stereo & Head Units List

1. Best Overall Pick: Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS

DEH-X8800BHS front main image
DEH-X8800BHS front angle view
DEH-X8800BHS Rear view with rca inputs and usb wire

Key Features

  • Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
  • Output: 14 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 13 Band Equalizer
  • 6-channel preamp outputs (4-volt front, rear, subwoofer)

Latest Prices

Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS Quick Review

When you're looking for a head unit, power, function, and aesthetics are all important factors to consider. Across the board, it’s hard to beat the Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS.

But there’s more to this CD receiver than what meets the eye. Granted, its appearance is nondescript and traditional. As soon as you turn on this stereo is nothing short of amazing. Starting with the aesthetics, the X8800BHS gives you the option of dual-zone color illumination, allowing you to customize the text colors on your screen. This gives you have an extensive color combination range of over 210,000. In addition, the unit has a 10-level brightness control, helping you create the perfect visual setting.

In terms of audio, the Pioneer DEH-X8800 delivers solid. Some of the key features of the X8800 include:

  • Built-in Dual Bluetooth, you have:
  • Wideband Handsfree 1.6
  • Audio streaming
  • Access to Siri Eyes Free, Pandora, Spotify, Android Music Support

But there are other features that complete the system which makes the Pioneer DEH-X8800 great. Including:

  • Built-in MOSFET amp
  • AM/FM/CD, and HD Radio with 100% free subscription on selected stations
  • MIXTRAX for DJ-inspired technology
  • FLAC playback
  • Compatibility with several audio files such as WAV, WMA, AAC, and MP3
  • 13-band Equalizer with 7 preset curves
  • 3 pairs of preamp outputs.

The system also has a remote control, giving you control of the head unit without laying a finger on it. It's compatible with most steering wheel controls, has a 12-month warranty, and is CEA-2006 compliant. Toss in that the fact that you can link two phones to the unit at once and the ability to use Guest Mode for a third phone. You’ll understand why on the top of our list. Truth is, you don’t need anything else to create a great in-car experience!

Pros
  • Fully packed with essential and extra stereo features
  • Great audio quality
  • Ability to link 2 phones to the unit at once and use guest mode for a third phone
  • Simple-to-use interface
  • Possible to customize the text colors on the screen
Cons
  • Limited to android and iOS devices

2. Runner Up, Overall Pick: Kenwood KDC-BT778HD

Kenwood KDC-BT778HD front view screen on
Kenwood KDC-BT778HD angle view of the screen
Kenwood KDC-BT778HD rear view of inputs and RCAs
Kenwood KDC-BT778HD rear view with wires and wire harness

Key Features

  • Single-DIN chassis
  • CD/ Multimedia receiver
  • Front, Rear, Sub outputs, 4 volt
  • 22 watts x 4 RMS
  • Front USB, Aux input
  • Bluetooth 4.3, includes a microphone for hands-free answering and calling
  • HD radio, Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM-ready
  • Detachable faceplate

Latest Prices

Kenwood KDC-BT778HD Quick Review

The Kenwood KDC-BT778HD is definitely one of the best single din CD receivers on the market right now. It combines the technology you really want with a powerful head unit that offers optimal upgrade opportunities. It’s also a good looking stereo with customization features useful for making the installation look seamless.

Kenwood builds this CD receiver with built-in Bluetooth you can use for hands-free calling and music search. You can wirelessly connect up to five phones simultaneously for road-trip random DJ-ing. You can use the Kenwood app to turn your smartphone into a remote control. Drivers will enjoy built-in Alexa and broad iOS and Android compatibility.

This single-din stereo from Kenwood is a powerhouse right out of the box. It features a factory-rated 22 watts RMS per channel and includes three sets of four-volt pre outs for powering front, rear, and subwoofer channels. The front USB and AUX input make connecting MP3 players convenient.

The KDC-BT778HD has a 13-band digital equalizer for tuning the system to your car. Variable color LED backlighting also lets the driver customize the stereo to match dash lighting. The front-loading CD, HD radio tuner, Pandora and Spotify compatibility, and SiriusXM-ready options give you plenty of ways to play music files in the car.

Pros
  • Excellent sound quality and power
  • Simple, aesthetic design
  • Friendly user interface
  • compatible with most factory steering wheel audio controls (adapter required)
  • Alexa voice control
Cons
  • Faceplate does not detach

3. Best Looks Pick: Sony MEX-N5300

Sony MEX-N5300BT front view
Sony MEX-N5300BT front angle view
Sony MEX-N5300BT color red and orange
Sony MEX-N5300BT color yellow green
Sony MEX-N5300BT front color blue and purple
Sony MEX-N5300BT side view of chassis and unit
Sony MEX-N5300BT rear view with RCAs and inputs

Key Features

  • Single-DIN chassis
  • CD/ Digital media receiver
  • 20 w x 4 RMS, 55 w peak
  • Front, Rear, Sub outputs, 2v
  • Front USB/ AUX input
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • Sirius XM-ready
  • AOA 2.0
  • 35,000 color dual-zone display
  • Touch-to-connect NFC technology

Latest Prices

Sony MEX-N5300BT Quick Review

The Sony MEX-N5300BT is another top quality single-DIN CD and digital media receiver. It's predecessor, the N5200 made our top list for 2020 and now it's latest version still tops out charts. Sony packs a ton of features that are actually useful into one of the best-looking car stereos on the market right now. Sony gives you a 35,000-color dual-zone adjustment that makes the display and buttons look like a factory stereo.

Bluetooth control is built-in and lets you make hands-free calls, change tracks, and even search by songs by title or artist. The stereo can connect two phones simultaneously through the Bluetooth connection. A really slick feature is the NFC wireless pairing- just touch your compatible smartphone to the volume knob and you’re paired up.

Front-facing USB and AUX inputs let you stream music files from MP3 players. Sony rates the stereo for 20 watts per channel with a peak of 55 watts. Two-volt outputs for front, rear, and subwoofer channels let you customize your setup. A 10-band digital equalizer gives you control over how your music sounds.

The N5300BT is SiriusXM-ready and is compatible with Siri Eyes Free and Android Voice Control for over-the-speaker command of music, navigation, and messages. Android Open Accessory (AOA 2.0) lets users stream music from popular smartphone apps using the USB input.

Pros
  • Attractive stereo with fantastic color tuning
  • NFC connectivity is convenient and works great
Cons
  • Bluetooth pairing isn't as intuitive as it should be in
  • No HD radio
  • 2v preouts

4. Best Sound Quality Pick: Pioneer DEH-80PRS

Pioneer DEH-80PRS front main view
Pioneer DEH-80PRS angle view of screen
Pioneer DEH-80PRS rear with RCA outputs
Pioneer DEH-80PRS remote controller

Key Features

  • Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
  • Output: 14 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 16 Band Equalizer
  • 6-channel preamp outputs (5-volt front, rear, sub — switchable to high, mid, low)

Latest Prices

Buy on eBay.com $349.99
Buy on Crutchfield.com
Buy on Amazon.com $298.49
Last Amazon price update was: July 24, 2021 10:23 am

Pioneer DEH-80PRS Quick Review

In the market for a head unit with a solid performance and wicked sound? Definitely consider Pioneer DEH-80PRS. We place the 80PRS among the best car stereos today still because of it’s simple yet powerful features. It's been on our list for a few years not, and it still rivals even the newest models that boast more modern functionality.

If you are like most music lovers, you would want a car stereo with a full sound. One that's built with high quality parts and components. You also want one that's carried by one of the most respected names in the music stereo industry. The DEH-80PRS is just that.

The Pioneer DEH-80PRS is not without its goodies. For instance, you have Android support and hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, which recognizes compressed audio files. It boasts clean sound thanks to the Pioneer 40later circuit board, which reduces the internal noise with copper foil. Combined with a set of 3 24-bit D/A converters to capture the low, mid, and high ranges and you have outstanding clarity.

We were impressed with the 16-band EQ which allows for independent output adjustment on both the left and right channels. And when tested the Pioneer DEH-80PRS, we noticed that it has Auto Time Alignment so you avoid static and garbled audio.

Aside from Bluetooth to access your apps, you also have:

  • CD playback
  • 2 Rear USB outputs
  • 2 Rear aux inputs
  • SD card slot

The Pioneer DEH-80PRS is already great out of the box. But it could even be greater when you spend time tweaking it to your satisfaction. What makes this unit quite spectacular and one of the best head units is the customization options you have in adjusting the audio. And being able to customize without having to run to your nearest Pioneer dealer. It’s user-friendly and designed to last for a great many years!

Pros
  • Simple, classic design and with plenty of features
  • Quality material build
  • Appealing aesthetics
  • Compatible with most factory steering wheel audio controls though an adapter is required
  • Subwoofer level control
Cons
  • Time alignment and DAC needs improving
  • Menus and display are hard to read for some
  • A little difficult to navigate while driving
  • Expensive

5. Best Features Pick: Alpine CDE-172BT

Alpine CDE-172BT angle view
Alpine CDE-172BT front view of screen
Alpine CDE-172BT in box
Alpine CDE-172BT rear view of RCA outputs and inputs

Key Features

  • Single-DIN CD receiver
  • 18 watts x 4 channels RMS
  • Compatible with KTP-445 hang-on amplifier for 45 watts x 4 RMS
  • Plays CDs
  • Front USB and Aux-in
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • Made for use with iOS devices
  • AOA connectivity for Android streaming and control
  • Multi-function rotary knob
  • Detachable faceplate
  • Compatible with third-party steering wheel control converters

Latest Prices

Alpine CDE-172BT Quick Review

The Alpine CDE-172BT is an affordable head unit that has features you really want in a convenient to use package. The Alpine-signature rotary knob does more than just turn up the volume- use it to control your tracks, switch inputs, and numerous other features with a simple turn. The rotary knob makes the 172BT one of the easiest units to use without getting distracted by having to look for buttons.

Built-in Bluetooth is a vital feature of any modern head unit, so Alpine gives you the most modern, advanced Bluetooth connectivity possible. Syncing your Android or iOS device has never been easier than this. You can make phone calls, get directions, and change tracks with simple voice commands.

The LCD screen is a high-contrast design that makes reading the text faster and easier over conventional head units. The buttons for voice command and source are on either side of the knob, making it easy for the driver to find them without looking away from the road ahead. It’s an easy to use head unit perfect for road warriors who want a convenient distraction-reducing car stereo.

Playback features include iPod and iPhone compatibility and Android Open Accessory (AOA) that allows you to easily play music from your compatible smartphone using Bluetooth and a USB connection. The CD slot is through the detachable faceplate, so you don’t have to remove the face or operate a mechanism to switch discs. The tuner even has RBDS information, so your stereo will display artist, track, and album information on screen.

Pros
  • Clean and clear music clarity
  • Plenty of fine tuning audio adjustments
  • Highly compatible with external devices
Cons
  • FLAC files not supported via USB
  • Not the most user friendly menus
  • Look is becoming a little dated

6. Multi-Device Bluetooth Pick: Pioneer DEH-S6220BS

Pioneer DEH-S6220BS front
Pioneer DEH-S6220BS angle view
Pioneer DEH-S6220BS chassis side view
Pioneer DEH-S6220BS rear view with inputs and RCA outputs

Key Features

  • Single-DIN chassis, CD receiver
  • Dual zone illumination with 210,000 colors
  • Built-in Bluetooth for hands-free calling and track selection
  • Compatible with Apple and Android smartphones
  • Includes Pandora and Spotify, ready for SiriusXM
  • MOSFET amplifier, 50 w x 4 peak
  • Front, rear, and subwoofer outputs, 4 volt
  • Front USB and Aux-in
  • Detachable faceplate
  • MixTrax technology for custom DJ-inspired playback

Latest Prices

Pioneer DEH-S6220BS Quick Review

Pioneer made sure to cover as many playback options as possible while crafting one of the most modern and attractive car stereos and somehow kept the price down with the DEH-S6220BS. Dual zone color control and more than 210,000 color combinations means you’ll love the way your interior looks when you install the S6200BS.

Pioneer also sets you up for a great listening experience by providing built-in Bluetooth and ready-to-use access to Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM. The S6220BS is compatible with most Apple and Android smartphones so you can play your music the way you want. Your device connects with a USB and Bluetooth using Pioneer Smart Sync, giving you full artist and album information right on screen.

A built-in MOSFET amplifier gives you great power, too. Pioneer rates the S6200BS at 50 watts peak by four channels. Front, rear, and subwoofer 4V outputs also let you add amplifiers to your system easily.  Pioneer’s exclusive MixTrax technology even lets you easily set up a DJ-inspired playlist of your favorite music complete with remix effects.

On top of all these fantastic features, the built-in Bluetooth connection lets you make and answer phone calls hands-free. You can use your voice to search for tracks, change playlists, and do lots of things without picking up your phone. And the head unit will automatically connect to two devices simultaneously so that you can stream music or talk from either one that's connected. The Pioneer S6200BS is an excellent way to add playback options you don’t have while providing distraction-free access that will keep you safe and may even help keep you from getting a ticket.

Pros
  • Excellent connectivity options built-in
  • Beautiful dual-zone color options
  • Excellent sound quality
Cons
  • Some users report the display isn’t bright enough in the sunshine

7. Best Budget Pick: Boss Audio 508UAB

Boss Audio 508UAB front view
Boss Audio 508UAB angle view of screen
Boss Audio 508UAB side view of chassis
Boss Audio 508UAB rear view with RCA outputs and inputs
Boss Audio 508UAB box

Key Features

  • Single-DIN CD receiver
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 50 w x 4 Peak
  • Front USB and Aux-in
  • Built-in microphone
  • Wireless remote
  • 2-volt front and rear outputs

Latest Prices

Buy on eBay.com $54.99
Buy on Amazon.com
Last Amazon price update was: July 25, 2021 2:24 am

Boss Audio 508UAB Quick Review

Sometimes it’s nice to install a budget-friendly stereo in your car. There are always drawbacks to low-cost options like lack of features or low quality construction. But, there's always a market for one and in many cases our viewers are asking for at least one low budget option on our list. If you are looking for a less expensive way to get great features and sound in your single-DIN dash, you should check out the Boss Audio 508UAB. It’s got all the important features and a wallet-gracing price tag.

Bluetooth is an essential feature, and the Boss 508UAB gets it right with A2DP technology providing wireless streaming of audio from your smartphone apps. That means you can run Pandora or Spotify wirelessly and use your voice to answer calls using the built-in microphone.

A front-mount USB and Aux-in port make it a snap to play music from MP3 players or thumb drives. It even plays CDs, which many more expensive head units don’t. Front and rear outputs let you build your car audio system how you want. Boss even includes a wireless remote that’s handy when you don’t want to reach for the radio.

Power ratings from Boss are 50 watts x 4 channels peak. You may think that audio quality suffers when you buy an inexpensive head unit, but the 508UAB may surprise you. Playback using Bluetooth or MP3 is quite good and is comparable to units costing twice as much. While the head unit lacks some features for connectivity, like built-in Pandora and Spotify, and SiriusXM compatibility, the Bluetooth connection is excellent and allows easy media selection.

Pros
  • Good sound quality and features for the money
  • Bluetooth quality is good and streaming works flawlessly
  • Stylish faceplate and design
Cons
  • Basic, no-frills stereo with limited tuning capabilities
  • No on-screen control of Pandora, Spotify, or other streaming apps
  • Won’t display the clock when using Bluetooth
  • Can’t customize the button or screen color
  • No dedicated subwoofer output

Comparing Specs

There's a few simple, but important specs to head units that will make a difference:

  • Power output: For those of you who would like to power your speakers directly from the head unit, this is important.
  • Pre-out voltage: For the people who will amplify their speakers, this is important. The higher the voltage, typically the better.
  • Equalizer bands: May or may not be important to you, but for the audio enthusiast this will give you the granularity to tweak your sound at all frequency levels.

We put together a few quick charts to help you easily compare across the units that are on our list.

Power Handling

Preout Voltage

Equalizer Bands

What size is my dash?

If you haven’t already asked yourself this question, you may want to confirm it before you buy a head unit. In general, there are two common types of head units on the market that fit the majority of vehicle dashboards: Single-DIN (SD) and Double-DIN (DD). Double-DIN openings are the larger of the two. If your car has a double-DIN opening you can typically fit both single-DIN and double-DIN units in it. You'll just need to purchase the correct dash kit. If it's a single-DIN car stereo, you'll only be able to fit a single-DIN receiver. In this list, we primarily focus on single-DIN units. To find out exactly what size dash your car has, check out our interactive list of vehicles in our Dashboard Size: Find Your Vehicle article!

How We Tested

In order to find the best head unit for our list, we read through hundreds of reviews across the industry and combine users' opinions with our own first-hand tests. There are many important factors that we consider when rating and reviewing each car stereo. Including:

  • Style (Looks, Design)
  • Display Type (LCD, Dotted, LCD Text, etc.)
  • Features (Bluetooth, Smartphone Compatibility, Equalizer, etc)
  • Power Ratings (Peak, RMS)
  • Price
  • Expandability (# of RCAs, XM/Sirius Read, Steering Wheel Control Ready, etc)
  • Quality (Materials used, manufacturer, etc)
  • Online Reviews (From multiple vendors such as Sonic Electronix, Crutchfield, Amazon and more)

The result from our research and testing is a list of the top rated and reviewed head units. And in addition to our list of best rated products, we provide a price comparisons from multiple vendors to help you find the best deal. But in the end, like anything, the best car stereo is one that meets your specific needs and one that's compatible with your car.

Looking for a Head Unit with even more features? Check out CarAudioNow's Best In-Dash Car DVD Players for units that you can watch your favorite movies on. Or our Best In-Dash GPS Navigation Players to add GPS Navigation AND movie watching to your dash! We also recommend upgrading your car's speakers with your car stereo with one of our Best 6.5″ Car Speakers.

And, be sure to take a look through our Easy Guide to Installing a Car Stereo if you do decide to purchase and install yourself!

What to Look For

Every car requires a unique combination of car stereo components to sound great. A car stereo may sound excellent in one car, but sound terrible in another. Additionally, the limitations in size and wiring configuration make selecting the best head unit even more difficult for you.
A quality car stereo will give you the features you love while conforming to the environment of your car and create an excellent reproduction of the music that you love. With the right car stereo, you'll be able to custom tailor frequencies to your car, integrate your favorite music/media device, connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and much more.
At CarAudioNow, we use multiple key criteria when rating products in our top lists. Below is a list of criteria that we take into consideration while choosing the best car stereos for your vehicle.

Power Ratings

Power ratings are extremely important feature to con

sider while choosing a car stereo. Without an external amplifier, the power output of the car stereo is what dictates the power of your speakers and ultimately the power of sound. There are typically two power output ratings that are given with car stereos:

  • Max Power Output: Max power rating is the maximum amount of power that the car stereo can emit for short periods of time. It is the maximum amount of power that will be sent to your speakers (without an external amplifier)
  • RMS (Continuous) Power Output: RMS power rating is the amount of power that the car stereo can emit at a constant or continuous rate. This is the most important power output rating.

Along with power handling and output, the level of control of the output sound's shape is also very important. This control is typically made through a built-in equalizer (EQ). It will allow you to tailor the shape of sound, raising or lowering the level of certain frequencies in order to best optimize the output sound for the environment of your car. The higher the number of bands that the car stereo's equalizer has, the more you will be able to customize the frequencies and shape of your music and sound.

Display

Display features play a huge role in how stylish and user-friendly car stereos are. High end car stereos will have a high LED pixel count, and give customizable features like color and brightness in order to match the color of your interior.

Playback

Playback can be defined as the methods that your car stereo is capable of playing back audio. CD, DVD, MP3, HD Radio, Pandora, Auxiliary (Aux) Ports, Bluetooth; these are all examples of playback types that the a single din head unit should typically have.
You will want to make sure that the playback methods that you intend on using is consistent with the playback features of the car stereo. Otherwise, you may be stuck with a head unit that doesn't play your music in the format that you have it. Here is a breakdown of the most popular playback features we recommend you look for:

  • HD Radio: HD Radio is the same radio stations that you listen to, but with a higher audio quality and more metadata than tradition radio. Metadata includes titles, artists, albums and more.
  • CD Player: CD players will play your favorite CDs in multiple formats, including CD,CD-R/RW, MP3, AAC, WAV and WMA.
  • Auxiliary (Aux) Port: Auxiliary ports allow you to connect any music device that you may have using a headphone connector. Typically, the best car stereos will have an auxiliary port on the front of the unit (in our opinion).
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth music allows you to connect to your music on a smartphone or other bluetooth enabled device, playing all of your music wirelessly from your device via a Bluetooth connection.
  • USB Port: A USB port will allow you to connect your music devices via a USB connection. It will allow you to listen to your favorite music from your device, while charging it for endless listen time.
  • XM Radio: XM radio is satellite radio such as SiriusXM, that allows you to connect and listen to thousands of channels of radio via a satellite connection. This increases the coverage of radio that you have, however requires a paid subscription.

Smartphone Integration

All of the top reviewed head units will allow you to fully integrate with your smartphone, enabling the best features such as Pandora and Spotify while allowing you to answer phone calls without touching your smartphone. With recent legislation prohibiting you from using your phones while driving, it is becoming increasingly important for the best car stereos to fully integrate with your smartphone. Additionally, they will come with microphones with noise-canceling technology that will hone in on your voice and eliminate road noise.

Expandability

Expandability is what allows you to connect external components to your car stereo. The best car stereos will have at least three 4volt RCA outputs (Front, Rear, Subwoofer), Audio/Video (AV) input/outputs, rear view camera inputs (with compatible displays) and a microphone input.

How to Install a Car Stereo

Installing a head unit or replacing one can range in difficulty. Personally, I've spent as little as 30 minutes replacing a head unit, all the way up to 4 or 5 hours for the same job on a different car. There's a number of variables that can dictate how difficult and time consuming the task really is:

  • Dash and trim components – In our experience, the most difficult cars are typically german. Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen. The dash and trim components are very stubborn and tight and difficult to remove.
  • Wiring – Wiring can vary from car to car. This really depends on the number of features that the car has. For example OnStar on GM cars, or just an OEM amplified stereo. These are the things you need to know prior to wiring your car and ordering the adapting harnesses (we'll get more into detail on this soon).
  • Mounting the new head unit – This can be especially difficult if you choose to DIY. However, in most cases you'll find that there are adapting ‘Dash Kits' from providers like Metra and Scosche that will simplify the mounting and installation of the stereo.

At the end of the day, there are cars that I'd recommend upgrading or replacing a stereo, and cars that I would not recommend. In this guide, we'll not only walk you through the process of deciding whether you should upgrade your car's head unit we'll walk you through the process if you decide to do it!

Should I Upgrade My Head Unit

Before you buy and install one of our recommended best car stereos or gps navigation units, you need to ask yourself the following questions to determine IF you should upgrade or replace your stereo and what kind of stereo you should upgrade it with.

  1. First question – Does your car already have an aftermarket head unit? If this is the case, your installation is greatly simplified because the wiring and mounting is already done. All you have to do is replace it. Note that you may have the change out the wiring harness that connects into the back of the unit. In this case, just cut and match up the wires color for color.
  2. Will upgrading my head unit cause my vehicle to lose any features/functionality? Many of the new vehicles have interdependent systems that rely on the stereo. For example, my Ram 1500 has settings for whether the horn chirps when I lock it, whether the locks automatically lock after a certain period of time, if the lights stay on after I lock the truck. All of this is controlled through my factory head unit. Many vehicles have this. If your car has features like this that are dependent on the head unit, I'd recommend keeping the stock stereo. If you're looking for more sound, you can do it without upgrading your stereo.
  3. Does my vehicle have multiple screens? In some cases cars have multiple screens that are interlinked. For example on many Hondas there is a head unit, then there's a display screen that displays information from the head unit like the radio station or the CD. Replacing the stereo may render the display useless. There are cases where adapters have been made, you'll want to research whether it has before you decide to replace your head unit. Or, if you don't care go ahead!
  4. Why am I upgrading my car stereo? If you want a subwoofer, or louder speakers, a head unit isn't your only option. If you want features that you currently don't have, like Bluetooth or an AUX input, there's also adapters for that. Figuring out if a replacement stereo is the best option for your needs is key.
  5. How large is my stereo opening? There's two main sizes in head units: 1DIN and 2DIN. 1DIN is the smaller of the two. It can fit in both 1DIN and 2DIN openings. 2DIN is larger and is typically dedicated to units with a touchscreen and larger screens. Here's an example of what a 1DIN (left) and 2DIN (right) look like:

If, asking yourself all of these question, you still feel it's necessary to buy and install a new head unit, here are the next steps!

Recommended Tools for Installing a Car Stereo

1. Removing the Head Unit

Well, the first step to installing your new head unit is to remove the old! To do this, we recommend you pop the hood and disconnect your battery before anything. This way, you don't short any fuses. Finding a blown fuse can be time consuming and frustrating so take our word that this will save you time in the long run. Once you have done this, start to remove the trim from around your stereo to access the mounting screws. I've found the trim removal instructions from Metra to be very helpful when you do this. In many cases, trim needs to be pulled in a certain direction to prevent cracking or breaking it. Metra does a great job at helping you visualize how to pull your trim off and where. Go to http://metraonline.com/, scroll down to the vehicle fit guide and enter your car. Once you've done this, click on one of the dash kits (this is the piece of plastic that you'll mount your head unit into. It replaces many parts of your trim to make a seamless fit for your new stereo). If you haven't already bought one of these dash kits, we HIGHLY recommend you do. It will simplify your install by 10 fold. Once you've selected one of the dash kits, click on the PDF link under the “Documents” on the left. You'll find full instructions for removing your trim step by step!

Your head unit will be mounted in one of two ways:

  1. Bolted to the dash with brackets and screws. This is the more difficult option to removing and where the Metra instructions will be extra helpful.
  2. Secured with mounting sleeve and spring clips. For this type, you'll want to purchase our recommended stereo removal keys.
sleeve-and-spring-vs-bolted-stereo

Sticking and Stubborn Dash Trim

It's worth noting that removing trim is probably one of the more difficult tasks in removing your car stereo. You're going to be lucky if you don't hit at least one trim piece that isn't a pain. In these cases, you really want to use a trim removal tool to wedge in between the gaps and gently work your way around the trim piece. Patience is key because once you break a trim piece, there's no turning back. Start in a corner and work your way around the piece.

Once you've removed your trim according to the instructions, dismount your factory stereo and disconnect the wiring on the back of the unit.

2. Wiring Your New Stereo

If Metra or Scosche carries a wire harness for your vehicle, we highly recommend purchasing one along side the dash kit. Again, you can use the same link from Metra (www.metraonline.com) to find the one for your vehicle. In the case that you can't find one, you'll need to do a little research on the web to find a list of stereo wire colors on your harness and match them up with the corresponding ones on the car stereo harness. You can find a diagram here of aftermarket car stereo wires. This will help you match the aftermarket up with your factory ones.

If you find that there is a custom wire harness for your car, it's very simple, just match up color for color the wires from your aftermarket head unit harness to your custom wire harness for your car.

Connecting the Wires

There's two options for connecting the wires that you can use:

  1. Soldering – For all of the professional installs that I have done I would solder the two together. This ensures a permanent connection that will never short over time. It's more time consuming though. Here's how you do it:
    1. Strip the two wires 1/2 inch back.
    2. (Optional) Place 1 1/2 inch of shrink wrap on one side at least 4 inches behind the end of the wire.
    3. Overlap the two exposed wires and twist the two together until they are interconnected.
    4. Using a soldering iron or a soldering torch, heat the wire and feed in your solder slowly until it absorbs into the wire.
    5. Let cool and test the solder job by tugging on the two wires.
    6. After the wires cool, move your shrink wrap back over the soldered area. If you didn't use shrink wrap, apply electrical tape.
    7. Do this for each wire until all have been connected.
  2. Connectors – You can use butt connectors or crimp caps as well. This is a much more efficient way to connect the wires but in many cases I've seen these fail after a few years on the road. In any case, you'll either crimp the two wires together in a clamp by placing the wires in and clamping down on the crimp clam. Or your use but connectors to insert both ends into the connector and clamp both sides.

3. Installing the New Head Unit

Now that your wires are all completed you're ready to install the head unit. Connect all of the wires first. Ensure that there are no exposed wires that may be in contact with any part of the vehicle. We recommend connecting your battery and testing the stereo out prior to fully installing it back into the dash.

Once you've tested it (and it works!) you'll want to add the mounting brackets to your new head unit. If you have a dash kit, use the ones that come with the kit. If not, use the ones off of your factory stereo. If you have the dash and mounting kit, follow the instructions in the manual. If not, you'll need to test where the new head unit sits, and adjust your factory trim to make it fit. This is normally a difficult task. I'd recommend using a Dremel to make cuts and adjustments to the plastic.

Slide the stereo into the opening in the dash, ensuring that the wires behind are tucked and not pinched. Sometimes this may take a few times when the vehicle has a tight dash opening. Tuck the wires back into an opening behind the unit.