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So you're really excited that you just picked up the latest Englbert Humperdink CD but can't listen to it in your beat-up old Cutlass because it has no CD player? A friend gave you a great MP3 disc full of electric cello music but the CD player in your Sentra won't play MP3 discs? Well my friend, I think it's time you look into upgrading your vehicle's audio system. You might even be able to save yourself some money by installing it yourself.

I know what you're thinking, "Aretelio, I'm totally incapable of tearing my car apart and re-wiring a new stero into it! That would only be possible if I had your immense skillset."

Ok, sure, the task may seem a bit daunting, but it's no harder than building a computer. Actually, I think it's easier and I'll explain why soon enough.

The hardest part is always choosing what to buy. Your 'head unit'. Head Unit is the term we use to refer to the thing that goes in your dash. The thing you put your tapes or CDs into. Do you want Satellite radio? Bluetooth audio and/or phone? iPod controls? USB inputs? DVD pyaback? Pre-amp outputs? Yes, you can put all of that functionality into your 1975 P.O.S. for a lot less than you think. But I'm not here to sell you a stereo.

The next thing you'll want to figure out is how to get your old stereo out. That's usually not too difficult either. Have faith in your ability, young one. If you can turn a screw driver you can take out your old radio. Easier yet would be to get your stuff from Crutchfield because they give you all kinds of nice freebies. One of those freebies is a master sheet of instructions that explains how to remove the stereo from your vehicle. It shows you where the screws are located, where to pry so you don't break plastic and so on. After you tell them what you're driving obviously. (They also check to ensure that the radio you want will fit into your vehicle.)

After that's done all that's left is wiring your new stereo into your vehicle. This is where most people get off the car stereo train. They think, "Oh no! Look at all the wires! What goes where? ZOMGWTFBBQ!" Relax. Seriously. If there's one thing that an industry did correctly it's the aftermarket automitve audio industry. I don't know if there's an acronym for that, or what. Regardless, it doesn't matter what type of head unii you've bought, be it a Pioneer, Alpine, JVC, Jensen, Eclipse, Sony, Blaupunkt, Clarion or any other of the myriad of aftermarket radios out there; they all share one common trait. All the wiring that comes out of the back of each of those head units is color coded. They all follow the same color coding. Across the board. The 12V constant wire on the Pioneer is yellow, as it is on the Alpine and the Jensen and so on. The 12V switched power wire is red on the JVC, as it is on the Sony, the Alpine, etc. Speaker wires are purple, green, white and grey.

By now you're saying, "Phew, that's great, but now that I know that how does it make intsalling a stereo any easier? Now what?"

Well, this is where you take the head unit's harness and combine it with the vehicle's factory harness adapter. This little jem is what plugs into the vehicle's harness so you don't have to modify the highly expensive vehicle harness. The wires coming out of the adapter are exactly the same color as what's coming out of the new head unit. It's as simple as matching up colors, connecting the harness to the stereo, then the vehicle, sliding it in place, putting everything back together then listening to tunes. (By the way, Crutchfield throws those adapters in for free too. Now I sound like I'm getting paid by Crutchfield, but I'm not.)

It's really not as difficult as you might think.

Now I'll show you pictures of how the process goes. Obviously the instructions and illustrations I'm about to post will only apply to you if you have a 2002-2004 Nissan Xterra, so don't expect them to work on your 1995 Tercel. This is just to give you a visual on how the process works.

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First, you pick your stuff out and have it shipped. Wee! Getting stuff in the mail is fun!

For this project I chose a Pioneer DEH-P6000UB head unit with built in iPod controls, XM radio and optional Bluetooth capability. (For XM to function I need to intall a seperate tuner, an XM-to-Pioneer adapter and an XM antenna. Installation of these items is NOT covered in the photos.)



Ok, so now that I've made a complete mess of my living room I have to go out and tear my dash apart. Me being male (and working for Nissan for the past ten years) I instantly throw the instructions away and tear into my dash and console.

Note: It should be said that you should disconnect the negative battery terminal under the hood. If you don't, you could risk damaging your..blah, blah, blah. I almost never do this and after hundreds of installs using multiple amplifiers and even capacitors (yes, capacitors) I've never seen an electrical system damaged. It's a 12v system people, relax. Better safe than sorry, I guess. Oh and be careful around airbags, too.


Let's get started...

You've got to pry up on the front of the gearshift trim to relase the clips from their little hidey-holes. (Removing the shift boots from the trim is gigantic pain in the rear. I chose to simply push it out of my way.)



This exposes the two screws retaining the lower half of the dash trim we're removing. You can see them directly in front of the shift and four-wheel-drive levers. The inner ones, just to clarify. Remove those two screws and put them somewhere safe. As in, where you won't lose them. How about the cupholder? It's right there! (Please, do not eat them.)



Next we'll remove the two screws retaining the upper part of the dash trim. They're located directly beneath the heater controls and above the CD player. (Look how ugly that thing is!) Remove them and put them in the cupholder, your stomach or where ever you put the bottom two screws.



Next, we need to remove the dash trim to gain access to the screws that retain the old head unit. The only thing retaining the dash trim is a couple of clips. Just grab the top of the trim at the bottom of the heater vents and give her a tug. It should break loose. Attention Muscular People: Do not pull as if you're life depends on it. You might potentially damage the wiring for the 12V Power Outlet or the Hazard switch that are both still attached to the back of the dash trim. Unplug both of these and set the dash trim somewhere out of your way.







Ok, now that we've removed the dash trim we have access to the screws that retain the factory head unit. Just look at this thing. Useless. It doesn't even play CD-Rs! (At least I don't think it does. I didn't try and I don't care anyway!)



Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Self, that factory head unit is twice the size of the one I'm putting in. What's going to fill the open space and gaps when I install the new, sleek and stylish head unit?

I could go on and on about DIN and double-Din but I'm not.

Patience grasshopper, patience. Read on.

See my fingers? Pointing at a couple of screws? Remove them. There are total of four. Two on the driver's side and two on the passenger's. Put these in the other cupholder. Or your stomach, I don't care.



Since those screws are out you can now extract the pitiful excuse for automotive audio from the vehicle. Pull it out slowly so you don't risk screwing up harnesses and whatnot. The back of this unit has a connection for the antenna (which also happens to be the Ground for this particular model) and two other harnesses. Give the antenna wire a tug and remove it from its socket. Depress the release tabs on the two vehicle connectors and pull them from the back of the radio.



Hooray! You're, like, kind of at the halfway point. You should now have a gaping hole in your dashboard and pieces and parts laying everywhere! Pray to God you don't lose some of screws or step on a trim piece!

Just kidding! You'll be fine! Keep reading.

Remember before when you asked youself about the difference in size between the old and new head unit? Well, it's time to introduce the bracket that will hold your new head unit. It attatches to your dash utilizing the facotory mounting locations. These bracket kits range from $15 to $25 (usually free from Crutchfield!) and most times are used in multiple applications. For example, the kit for your Chevy Impala will most likely be the same kit you'd get for a Cavalier and might also work on a Corsica. You get the idea.

This is the kit for the Xterra---I mean Nissan SUVs--I mean Mercury Villagers---oh, you know:



It's a moral imperative that you glance at the instructions for these stupid things. Most of the time you've got to remove certain tabs from certain pieces, throw whole pieces away, etc. I take back my earlier comment about what was the most difficult aspect of car stereo install. These brackets suck. Just take your time, read the instructions and you might end up with the pieces you need for your particular vehicle.



And, if you continue to follow the heiroglyphic-like instructions you might even get the bracket together!



This is the point where I take the bracket out to the vehicle and do a dry fit. Make sure the mounting holes line up, see of there's any places that may need trimmed for a better fit. You know, better to see if everything fits now rather than later.

Looks good to me, notice the extra little storage cubby at the bottom? Huh? That's what I did with that extra space! More storage!



Take the bracket out of the dash and head for the box containing your new head unit. You need to locate the metal bracket that your head unit fits into. The head unit is most likely already inside the bracket so just slide the bracket off using the release keys or whatever method you're supposed to use.

You should have something like this sitting in front of you:



Slide the metal head unit bracket into the vehicle bracket. Be aware of any orientation marks; it's awfully difficult to read a display that's upside-down. A lip at the front of the bracket should stop it when it's inserted the whole way.



We've got to make sure the metal bracket is firmly secured inside the vehicle bracket. This is done by bending metal tabs. Find a couple that look like they might hold the bracket in place and bend them outward!!



Remember! Outward! Bending them inward would prevent the head unit from sliding into it's bracket, duh! Don't be overzealous when bending either. We don't necessarily want the metal tabs gouging into the plastic. Bend as many tabs as you can to firmly secure the metal bracket. In this case, bending two up top and a couple on the buttom snugged this bracket into place.



Set your bracket aside, you're done with it. Phase 976, completed! Go have a beer, or continue on....

We'll talk about joining the two halves of harnesses now. There are several ways you can do this:



You could use butt connectors; simply insert the two halves into the connector, crimp and you're done. These are fairly easy to use, but can sometimes be a gigantic pain in the ass if not crimped properly. Especially when you find out a wire wasn't crimped tightly enough and managed to slip out of the connector after you've installed the head unit. As in, no power or the left speaker doesn't work...

You could solder the connections; this requires a bit of skill, but is guaranteed to give you a good connection and, with a bit of shrink tubing, gives you a nice professional look.

You could be getto and use electrical tape; but you're not, because twisting wires together and taping them is stupid and you'll most certainly run into problems down the road. No one wants to take their dashboard apart twice for no better reason than carelessness.

Me? I don't do any of those. I like to combine the ease of butt connectors with the guaranteed connection of soldered wires. Mercedes-Benz uses connectors I refer to as SolderButts. I'm sure these are available at Radio Shack or other like stores, but I know that they're three feet from my desk and, as they're a bit more expensive than normal butt connectors, discounted!



They look like regular butt connectors with a band of solder in the middle. Put a wire in either end, apply heat until the solder activates and you're done. You've got a water-tight, soldered connection that'll last forever. Well, maybe not forever.
 

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Rather than hold your hand and waste time taking pictures of me inserting wire ends into plastic tubing, then applying heat I'll just fast forward a bit...

At some point, however you decide to connect your harness together, you'll start with something like this; the two white connectors will be connected to the vehicle harness, the black end will connect to the new head unit and the other wire is the power for my XM tuner:



After you connect all your wires together you'll have a mess of wires and connectors that look like this:



You'll notice there are some wires that aren't connected. These are for optional things like a power antenna, which I don't have; or power to the factory amplifier, which I don't have either.

Now is a great time to go plug your head unit into the vehicle and make sure everything works. I like to verify that each speaker works, etc...you know try it out.



Since we know that everything works we'll take the harness inside and make it look pretty. Get yourself a roll of electrical tape, start at one end and wrap it up. This way you're less likely to have wire's break or possibly short onto something. It just makes your life easier. Oh, and feel free to leave external amp turn-on leads and whatever else you might need in the future outside of the wrapping:



Professional, huh!?

After that it's just a matter of installing the vehicle bracket in place of the old factory bracket, connecting your harnesses and antenna, sliding the head unit into place and reassembling your dash.

Viola!



In this install I ran an iPod cable into the glove compartment and installed my XM antenna (which required pulling many trim panels from the rear to the front of the vehicle) and the XM tuner and adapter. These add-ons required a bit more time and a little more knowledge of the vehicle, but for the most part weren't difficult; just more time consuming.

I started this at home and finished at work. It was too damn cold to tear the interior apart to run the antenna. I was all about taking pictures of the XM install but I left my camera in the car over night and it killed the battery. I had to keep turning it on and off to get that last picture of the installed head unit.

Sorry, but I wasn't going to postpone the install for pictures' sake!

There it is, installing a car stereo, Aretelio-style. Thanks for reading.
 

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Good job! Excellent write-up and that's a sharp HU too!

This will come in handy once I get ready to replace the stock RF changer for a new HU and cb.

Thanks for the time and effort :rrg:
 

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Thanks for the write up! Very thorough and entertaining! Good work-James

P.S.-this is for 2002-2004
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
soccerbrace said:
Thanks for the write up! Very thorough and entertaining! Good work-James

P.S.-this is for 2002-2004
Oops, you're right....my bad...

*changed*

I have a component set of Pioneers for the front. It took me a bit longer than I had estimated to run the XM antenna wire, so I bagged the speaker install.

I'll do a seperate write-up on those.

Stay tuned.
 

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sweet....dont u hate it when ur take off is alittle too fast and the cds come falling out of the pocket? or is that just me?
 

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I think that's just you, that or i suck off the line. I have my iPod in that little cubby/pocket, and when i'm driving over things, i hate when it falls out in the way of the transfer case knobs and the stick.
 

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Brett89 said:
I think that's just you, that or i suck off the line. I have my iPod in that little cubby/pocket, and when i'm driving over things, i hate when it falls out in the way of the transfer case knobs and the stick.
There is a little jelly like thing you can get Brett. It has an adhesive backing and the contact surface with the ipod makes it stay in place. It cost like $5 at any parts store.
 

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Inspired me to go ahead and upgrade from stock. Went and bought a
http://www.kenwoodusa.com/Car_Entertainment/In-Dash_CD_n_DVD_Receivers/1-DIN_CD_Receiver/KDC-MP438U
and an ipod
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000JLKIHA
To go with it.
Did the wiring in best buy's parking lot. Biggest pain was trimming that generic ass mount. But it looks and works fine now.
method: twist and tape. went and bought some butt connectors that you crimp and heatshrink that I'll install later when I do some more dash mods.

Did this on an 01'. Was a lot less hassel as far as the dash goes, but trimming was a bitch.
 

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This was an excellent write-up. I eventually will upgrade my stereo, but for now I want to be able to play my ipod. Is there a 3.5mm jack on the back of the factory radio to plug it into?
Thanks
 

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do you have the rockford fosgate? do you have 1st gen or 2nd. oh welcome to cx lol good to have you here. there is , somewhere around this forum, somebody that supposedly hooked a aux jack into there sotck cd player somehow
 

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I have three plugs on the back of my stock headunit...i know that two of them will hook up to the wiring harness i just bought but what about the third...what is that for?
 

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I have three plugs on the back of my stock headunit...i know that two of them will hook up to the wiring harness i just bought but what about the third...what is that for?
I believe that's the harness input for an optional Nissan CD changer.
 

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has anyone installed a flip out screen im thinking of getting one just wondering about clearance with the deck sitting back so far
 

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Dude, This is an awesome How-To. It will no doubt help many as it did me. Coming from an ASE electrician, Your install is EXTRA CLEAN! I love it, I can't stand to tear into something someone has just stripped and black taped together!!! <Nice Work>
 

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upgrading my CD player tomorrow.

where did you guys find your install kit and wiring harnesses at?

dont wanna go on a search.

Best Buy?
 

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Yea. Best Buy sells em.
 
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