• Pater

Upgrade Your Car Radio in a Few Easy Steps

Updated: Aug 9, 2019

Skill Level: Intermediate

All of us are looking for creative ways to save money, from researching the best deals when shopping online to buying in bulk at warehouse stores. But did you know that you can save hundreds of dollars a year just by doing simple car maintenance and repairs yourself rather than taking your car into the shop? Not only do you save on labor costs, but you also avoid time-consuming trips to the dealer or mechanic. In fact, I’ve found that most of the vehicle maintenance I do myself, from oil changes to brake maintenance, takes less time that I would have spent driving to and sitting at a dealership or service center. You also know exactly how your vehicle is being treated. Many of these repairs can be done using tools that you probably already have or are inexpensive to buy.

Beyond maintaining your vehicle, there are often times when your vehicle doesn’t quite operate like you want it to; maybe it’s outdated, or it’s a model with basic features. Perhaps you have a minivan with a malfunctioning CD player - what are you going to do when your two year old is throwing a fit and you have no way to play their favorite sing-along CD? Or, perhaps your older vehicle doesn’t have bluetooth capabilities, making it difficult to make hands-free calls. Luckily, your car radio system is an easy upgrade. Even you if don’t need the latest and greatest technology, you may still be looking for something new, especially since there are countless aftermarket radios out there with a lot of great features at affordable prices.

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Mater drives the kids around in a 2011 Jeep Liberty Sport, which I purchased in cash in 2015 from a private seller while I was still in graduate school on a graduate stipend. It only has the most basic features, and therefore lacked Bluetooth capabilities. In most states, it is now illegal to use a handheld device while driving, so I had to make my phone calls during other times of the day, which was not a very efficient use of my time! I finally decided to upgrade to a better radio system when the illumination display of my OEM double din radio began to cut out in hot and humid weather—a regular occurrence in the summer! Although I was accustomed to performing basic car maintenance such as oil changes and spark plugs by myself, I thought replacing the radio would be an expensive and complicated endeavor, and one that I kept reading online is best left to a professional. However, as an avid DIYer with basic electrical and mechanical experience, I thought I would give it a try myself. Turns out, it was a quick and easy project which took less than 2 hours of my time and cost $100 less than if I had paid someone to do it for me. So for anyone who needs to replace their failing car radio system, is looking to upgrade to take advantage of new features, or is curious about how a car radio is wired, read on.

Here’s a list of what you’ll need to install a new radio in your vehicle. The bolded items are vehicle specific, so you’ll have to do some research to find one that’s compatible with your vehicle - I’ve linked to the ones that I used for my Jeep Liberty.

I chose to upgrade my system with the double din, Bluetooth-enabled Pioneer FH-X731BT since it received a lot of good reviews, was an affordable price, and had all the features I was looking for.

I also needed to purchase an adapter harness, an antenna adapter cable, and a dash kit, all of which enables the aftermarket radio to communicate with your specific vehicle and properly fit into the dash. Therefore the parts will vary depending on which vehicle you own. Metra is a leading producer of these adapters, and for my Jeep Liberty I purchased the Metra XSVI-6522-NAV Non-Amplified Non-OnStar Harness, the Metra 40-EU10 Antenna to Radio Adapter Cable, and the Metra 95-6511 Chrysler/Jeep Double Din Dash Kit.

The instructions that came with the radio and adapters were easy for a beginner to follow, but there are a lot of pieces, so it can be a little overwhelming. Here, I’m showing the steps for installing in a 2011 Jeep Liberty, but I expect the process is very similar for other Chrysler vehicles, and the overall installation process should be relevant for any vehicle. Although it took me about 2 hours in total to install the radio, most of the work was spent connecting the wires and harnesses to the aftermarket radio, which can be done outside of the vehicle in a more compatible (and comfortable) workspace.

I started the installation by attaching the dash kit to the new Pioneer radio. There are multiple holes on each side of the radio so that the radio can fit most any vehicle using the correct dash kit. For the Jeep Liberty, the dash kit consisted of two pieces which were attached one to each side of the radio with 3 screws.

Next, I connected the adapter harness (NAV interface) wires to the aftermarket radio wire harness. I did this by stripping approximately half an inch from both ends, twisting the exposed wires together, and then wrapping the connection with electrical tape. Make sure that none of these wires are connected to the vehicle when completing this step to avoid electrical shock. It's best to do this step outside of the vehicle where you have more space and can sit comfortably.

Both the aftermarket radio installation instructions and adapter harness instructions clearly identified each of its wires, and I found that the colors of the wires coming from the Pioneer radio matched almost identically with the wires of the XSVI-6522-NAV adapter harness. The XSVI-6522-NAV wires also had labels printed in the wire insulation near the harness, making it very easy to verify that I was indeed connecting the correct wires. The wire colors corresponded to the following:

  • Yellow – radio 12 volt battery power

  • Black – radio ground or chassis wire

  • Red – radio ignition wire

  • Orange (Orange/White) – radio illumination wire

  • Blue (Blue/White) – radio antenna turn on wire

  • White – left front positive (LF+) speaker output

  • White/Black – left front negative (LF-) speaker output

  • Gray – right front positive (RF+) speaker output

  • Gray/Black – right front positive (RF-) speaker output

  • Green – left rear positive (LR+) speaker output

  • Green/Black – left rear positive (LR-) speaker output

  • Purple – right rear positive (RR+) speaker output

  • Purple/Black – right rear negative (RR-) speaker output

There are also light green, blue/pink, and green/purple wires that are used for aftermarket radios with navigation, which the Pioneer FH-X731BT does not have. But if your aftermarket radio does, you would connect those wires as well. Since I didn’t use them, I taped the ends off with electrical tape to prevent them from accidentally coming in contact with other wires. Note that the wire colors may be different for you depending on which aftermarket radio and adapter harness that you use for your project.

Once the wires were connected, I attached the antenna adapter, wire harness, and microphone output to the aftermarket radio. The NAV interface attaches to the 12-pin harness with the speaker output and power wires running to it (not to be confused with the 12-pin steering wheel control (SWC) harness. My 2011 Jeep Liberty Sport does not have SWC, so the 12-pin harness labeled “SWC Harness” was unused.)

Now, you are ready to move to the vehicle for installation. In the 2011 Jeep Liberty, the dash cover is held in by four pins. You will probably encounter something similar. Using a putty knife or small pry bar, create a small opening around the dash cover so that you can pull the cover off with your hands. The pin locations are shown in the image below.

Once you get the dash cover removed, disconnect the A/C, hazard light, and 12V outlet wires. There are four screws holding in the radio (two on each side), which you can remove using a Phillips head screwdriver. Disconnect the wire connections from the vehicle to the radio to remove the old radio from the dash. Once the old radio is out, you can connect the harnesses of the new aftermarket radio to the vehicle in reverse order. The connections are shown below.

Vehicle connections with the wire harness (center) and antenna adapter (right). The NAV is on the left.

I also had to remove a metal bracket that held the original radio in place inside the dash in order to get the new one to fit, since the newer radio was slightly taller than the original. However, the new radio stays in place even without the metal bracket. The installation instructions suggested installing the microphone either on the visor or on the steering column. I decided to install it to the right of the steering column, which made it very easy to run the wire through the dash and to the connection on the back of the radio. But you can put it wherever it makes most sense. You can conceal the microphone wire by threading it through the dash.

Before replacing the dash cover, ensure that the new radio works by turning the ignition to the on position. Once you confirm it works, reattach the A/C control, hazard light, and 12V outlet wires to the dash cover. Then slowly reinsert the dash cover pins into their slots, ensuring that you hear all four pins click into place. And there you have it - a new upgraded radio for your vehicle for less than $200!

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