After a successful installation of a replacement headlight in my car last year, I’ve felt inordinately empowered about vehicular repairs (before you scoff, that headlight replacement took major effort as Nissan apparently intends headlights only to be replaced by gnomes, judging by the amount of space I had to squeeze my hand into).
So when the CD player in my car went out, I had an inkling that I might try replacing the head unit myself. And while I was at it, I had that passenger door speaker I blew over a year ago that I’ve had to adjust the balance to avoid hearing the annoying rattle on any songs with bass.
I wasn’t really serious until I was pricing the kind of head unit I wanted…and the costs it was going to take to install the damn thing. I had my eye on a unit that was about 1 step above the cheapest thing I could find. I could have gone with less if I’d compromised and gone without a CD player and done MP3 only. As it was, I found a deal on a unit that does radio, HD radio, CDs and Mp3s with direct control of my iPod AND on two new speakers for my front doors, all for less than $200. I was prepared to spend that much (particularly after shopping and looking for over 3 months with nothing but shitty radio to listen to commuting to work), but to have to shell out so much more for the install….
Things came to a head when I was facing down a 4.5 hour road trip. There was no way in hell I was about to make a drive like that with nothing but the evil Empire of US radio to keep me company. No, I had to have a new head unit.
And I would just have to install the damn thing myself.
If not for the instructions from Crutchfield (if you want to order car audio supplies, I highly recommend them–they provide instructions, help by phone, and they threw in some freebies like the face plate to match my unit to my car) and YouTube, this might not have been possible. But with those two things and a soldering iron from Radio Shack? It was a girl-power victory.
Disturbing, but neat fact: your car interior mostly snaps together like a kid’s toy (especially if you’re in the mid-to-low end compact or sub compact car range). I now know I can yank out half my dash with appallingly little effort and no sweat at all.
Also good to know: Just use the power drill. I tried to avoid it when removing some screws holding the old head unit, just using a hand screw driver. It wasn’t worth it. I wound up with a stripped screw and had to resort to a Dremel tool to get the thing out.
And soldering: Way, way, WAY easier than you’d think. First off, matching the wires may seem intimidating because there’s a ton of them, but, honestly, the shit is mostly color-coded. Once you’ve matched the colors, stripped a little of the plastic off the ends, twisted the bare wires together, then you just put the iron under the wires, the solder over the top and watch the magic happen. I’ll admit, I spent a bit of time watching YouTube for that one, too.
In the end, the only problem I had was that at first, when I got the dash all back together, the radio wouldn’t work. I had to go back in, only to find that the antenna was only half-plugged into the socket.
All told, I probably spent 4 hours actually working (not counting my time spent shopping and preparing with YouTube videos). I have a fantastic head unit, I can finally plug in my iPod (no more having to make CDs before a road trip!), and I have another victory in my war against my own ignorance about my vehicle. The empowerment continues.