You know you want the best car speakers, the only question is, how to fit them?
The thought of installing a car speakers can be quite intimidating. They're built into doors, sometimes the dashboard and maybe the rear parcel shelf. How do you get the old ones out and replacements in without damaging all that trim? And if you're upgrading to a component system, you'll need a way of mounting new tweeters high in the doors.
Fact is, car speaker installation is easier than it looks. All you need are a few simple tools and a little knowledge. We'll provide that know-how here, hopefully inspiring you to tackle this not-too-difficult project. The subsections that follow address:
- Vehicle-to-vehicle differences
- Parts needed
- Tools needed
- Replacing door speakers
- Adding tweeters
- Dash-mounted speakers
- Speakers in the parcel shelf
It would be great if car manufacturers could standardize they way they build doors and install speakers, but they don't. Every vehicle is different. As a result we can only provide generic advice on installing a component system. We will however address the most common place manufacturers like to place speakers: the doors, and also the parcel shelf and dash.
In addition to the speakers, consider buying two other items:
- A vehicle-specific wiring harness. This connects the speakers to the dedicated plastic plug on the end of the wiring loom in the car. The alternative is to cut the wires and make crimped or soldered connections.
- Speaker brackets or speaker adapters. These are for when either your new speakers are a different size to those already in the vehicle, or the mounting holes don't line up. How will you know if you need them? 6.5”, 6×9″, 5×7″ and 6×8″ are common sizes so you may not need them at all, but it may be that you can't tell for sure until the door trim is off.
The biggest challenge you will face is removing interior trim without damaging it. For that you need a set of special “pry” tools. These look like a flat-bladed paint scraper with a slot cut down the middle. Some are bent midway down, making them good for reaching into tight spaces up near the door hinge. Fortunately they're inexpensive and you can pick them up at your favorite low cost tools store.
Having alerted you to that requirement, here's a list of what you will probably need:
- Pry tools – flat and angled
- Cross-head (Phillips) screwdrivers (or bits for your drill)
- Small sockets – metric and inch
- Crimp tools (if you're not going the dedicated wiring harness route) or a solder gun and heat shrink sleeving.
- Craft knife (for cutting through foam or sealant.)
- Hole saw of the size needed to cut openings for tweeters, preferably with the finest tooth pitch you can find. (Obviously, not applicable if you're installing co-axial speakers.)
Replacing door speakers
Most modern cars have the speakers mounted in the doors. You may still find a few with them in the dash and others in the rear parcel shelf. Here we'll concentrate on those in the doors, and add some tips for dealing with those other locations. To start with we'll assume you're replacing the OEM co-axial speakers. In the section after this we'll address how to add tweeters, if you're going the component route.
- Park where you've got room to open both doors fully, then disconnect the battery.
- Study the door trim to find any securing screws. Remove any that are visible, others may be hidden under removable trim pieces, perhaps under the armrest.
- Remove the window controls. Most cars have switches in the arm rest and this panel can usually be popped up (being careful not to scratch any surfaces.) Then disconnect the wiring. If there's any possibility of mixing the wires, wrap masking tape round them and mark it up appropriately.
If your car has crank windows the handle has to come off. It may be held in place by a screw but more often there's a spring clip between the handle and door trim. Your pry tools should be good for removing this.
- Most cars have a “sail panel” covering where the door mirror mounts. This will likely need to come off before the door trim will lift away. Unless you see screws holding it in place use your pry tool to reach down the sides and pop it out.
- Remove the door trim. Start by sliding your pry tool between door and trim panel at the bottom corner. Slide the tool sideways until you find a retaining clip. Jiggle the tool to put the clip in the center slot, and pop the panel up. Slide to the next clip and repeat. Keep doing this until you can slide the tool the entire way around the perimeter of the door panel. (Not every panel is held on by retaining clips. You may find that after removing a few screws it will just lift up and off.)
Once the panel is free, carefully lift it away, watching for any cables going to the door release. If these get in the way just disconnect them cables. Sometimes it's enough to just turn the panel 90° and lean it on the door.
- Now the speakers are exposed, undo the retaining screws. If they are original the vehicle manufacturer may have used foam adhesive or sealant to help hold them in place: cut through that with your craft knife. Lift the speaker out and slide off the wiring connectors. There's almost always a fat and a thin terminal: the fat one is positive.
- Test fit the new speakers to see if the screw holes line up. If they don't you'll need to use a speaker adapter. Install that in the door before hooking up the new speakers.
(If you're installing a combination car speaker set, drop down to the tweeter section below now.)
- Make the electrical connections. If a purpose-made harness isn't available either crimp or solder and heat-shrink the wires. If you're concerned about whether you got the polarity right, reconnect the battery and play some music through them. You'll soon tell if they sound right or not!
- Tuck the wires away in the door making sure they won't rattle, then mount the new speakers in place.
- Refit the door panel. Sometimes it takes a good thump to seat the retaining clips. Reconnect switch controls and put that panel back in place. Install any screws you took out and put any other pieces of trim back. Then go to the other side of the vehicle and do it all over again!
Start by following steps 1 through 7 of the door speaker instructions above. Then do the following:
- Decide where you'll mount the tweeters. They should be as high and as far forward as possible to create the best soundstage, but make sure they won't interfere with the window operation.
- Mark the location on the inner side of the door trim panel and on any metal you'll need to cut in the door itself. Use the hole saw to cut the two openings. File sharp edges smooth and use touch-up paint on the bare metal.
- Install the mounting hardware supplied with the tweeters. (This will include a grille for the opening you've cut in the door.)
- Connect the wires from the audio system into the crossover. Hook the speakers up to the output side.
- Mount the external crossover box inside the door. You'll need a way of making this secure so it doesn't come loose and start rattling.
From this point the test and reassembly points are the same as in the door speaker section above. Resume at Point 8.
If you're lucky these will be covered by removable grilles. Take out any retaining screws or just pop the grilles out with your pry tool for access to the mounting screws. If you're unlucky the only way to reach these is from beneath the dash. That's a much harder project, unless there's a way to remove the entire upper panel.
Speakers in the parcel shelf
These are usually accessible through the trunk or liftgate. The biggest challenge may be contorting yourself into the shape needed to work on them. As with the door speakers, be sure to make good electrical connections.
Ready to start?
A speaker upgrade is an easy way to improve your automotive audio experience. Read our reviews to learn which we consider the best car speakers. In just a few hours you'll be enjoying music as the artists intended.