Installing a Car Stereo

About 10 years ago, I bought a Parrot CK3100 to install in my 2003 Toyota Highlander as I wanted to be able to answer the phone while driving if my wife called me. I was unable to figure out how to install it, so I returned it. I think about a year later, I bought the car kit again and tried again.

This time, however, I was determined to install it. It turns out the tricky part of installing the car kit was the factory amplifier I had, so I decided to put in a marine speaker and put it under the center console. The install was still tricky, but I managed to get it working.

The car kit worked OK, but the audio quality was never great due to the location of the speaker as well as the type of speaker. It survived a number of phones from different manufacturers and worked decently with my iPhones. However, in the last year or so, I’ve found the connection less than stable and would fail to connect quite often. It was annoying, but I didn’t think much of it.

Last week, I had a business trip where I had to drive to Orange County (I haven’t driven for work in years). On the way up, I used Navigon for navigation; normally it routes the navigation audio through the car kit, but due to the connection issues, it didn’t work well. So I turned up the volume and it continued to navigate. However, Navigon crashed and I didn’t want to pull over to figure out where to exit. I used Siri to navigate to my destination and all was good (a bit hard to hear as the audio was coming out of the phone’s speaker, but doable). On my way home from the trip, my wife was texting me about road conditions and since my car kit wasn’t working, I had to put in a headset and used Siri to read the messages.

When I got back, I wanted to find a solution to this and started looking at new stereos (something I’ve never done in my life) and found an inexpensive Pioneer one. I’ve always heard good things about Crutchfield and their support. I ordered the unit along with all the install pieces. I spent the time waiting for the stereo to study the install instructions and they were as clear as mud. I am an engineer, so how hard could it be?

Since I had a factory amplifier, Crutchfield had a Scosche SLC-4 Line Output Converter as a recommended install accessory. Using the included wiring harness and line output converter, I wired everything up and thought it would be a piece of cake (I soldered all the connections, used shrink wrap tubing on the connections, and tightened the screws on the SLC-4.

The rest of the install was pretty easy and I was pleased with my work until I turned it on. There was static (not a hum) on the speakers and even a connection from my phone (to rule out the radio noise) didn’t help. I checked all the connections and nothing helped. I studied the diagrams again and took a chance hooking all the ground wires together; the diagrams had the ground for the amp separate from the chassis ground so I had connected the ground for the Line Output Converter to the amplifier ground. What I didn’t realize is that the amplifier needed to be grounded to the stereo. After this change, the stereo worked great!

There is a reason there are so many installers for car stereos; there are far too many combinations to have instructions for all of them. While the Crutchfield instructions were an OK start, they are definitely not for the novice. I was just lucky because I have a basic understanding of electronics as well as being determined.

I’ve learned a bit and am extremely pleased with my handy work. I’m also amazed at how inexpensive car stereos are and how much they do these days; my new stereo does everything my old one did (OK, it doesn’t have a CD changer that I never used nor a tape deck that I didn’t use either) and has all the pieces of a Bluetooth car kit.

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