• Understanding Car Radio Electronics for DIY Installation and Audio Repairs

    Car radio electronics have advanced in recent years. In fact, car stereo components are very specialized and most are not field serviceable. Older systems had serviceable parts that any competent bench technician could repair or replace. All modern car radio electronics are comprised of integrated circuits (IC chips) that are mostly proprietary, so the car stereo components typically need to be sent back to the manufacturer for repair.

    Individual car stereo components make up a car stereo system. The main unit (deck) is most commonly referred to as the radio. This device can actually be (exclusively) a radio, but is usually a combination of devices. Depending on the amount of money and features an individual is willing to pay, the deck can include some or all of the following:

    • Car CD player electronics
    • MP3 electronics
    • Blue Tooth electronics
    • Power amplifier
    • Cassette tape electronics

    In addition to these devices, a deck can also include specialized car radio electronics that can alter sound quality (graphic equalizer), and display information about the status of the deck or information pertaining to the music being played. All of these are packaged together as one car stereo component that simply needs to be mounted and wired into your vehicle.

    Some people choose to purchase a separate graphic equalizer, provided the deck does not already have one built into it, and/or a separate power amplifier. A graphic equalizer allows the user to raise or lower the volume of specific frequencies of the sounds to his or her liking. This is somewhat similar to the general tone adjustment we’re all used to, except an equalizer allows for more precise adjustments across the entire range of frequencies. A power amplifier is a separate component that only amplifies the sounds. It is used to power larger and/or multiple speakers, creating much louder sounds than could be realized with the deck alone.

    Car stereo components connect to the vehicle via a wiring harness. The harness is specific to the type of vehicle and manufacturer. However, the deck has a universal plug built into it that allows it to be wired to practically any vehicle in the market. The harness includes connections to power and dash lighting. There are connections for all of the vehicle’s built in speakers, a connection to activate the vehicle’s automatic antenna, a connection to the vehicle’s hands-free phone accessory and any other electronic options that your model vehicle contains.

    Generally speaking, there is very little that can be repaired by the do it yourselfer. Problems with sound could be as simple as the tape or CD unit needing cleaning. There are special cleaning disks and tapes that can be purchased and used. Sound problems with a single speaker could indicate that a speaker wire has come loose, or that that speaker has become defective. Poor radio reception may indicate a dislocated antenna cable, or an antenna that is not fully extended. “No Power” problems are typically due to a blown fuse.

    Installing car radio electronics is a job the do it yourselfer can accomplish, but anything more than simple repairs must be performed by a professional.