How feasible is it to replace a car stereo yourself (in a '01 Nissan)?
May 12, 2014 12:17 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I just purchased her mother's old 2001 Nissan Pathfinder. The stereo it has is tape deck (!) which technically works and a CD player that doesn't. It has no aux input, which is unfortunately all we actually want.

I'm wondering how feasible it is for us to buy a new, simple deck and replace it ourselves. We don't need to change the speakers or anything else, just the deck. I tried Googling about his a little bit, but the information is all over the map. Sometimes it seems you need to do soldering and cable splicing but other place it seems to be just pull out the old deck and plug in the new one.

I'm relatively comfortable with electronics and have tools, but if we're talking like cable-splicing and soldering levels of work, it's almost certainly not worth my time (considering I'll probably do something wrong at least once) and I'll just pay someone to do it.

As a bonus question, what's a good brand of stereo deck to look at? Again, as long as it's got an aux in and a volume knob, that's all that matters. Don't care about a nice screen, radio, CDs or anything else.
posted by Nelsormensch to Technology (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Check out - they will hook you up with all the bits you need on top of the deck you buy, and I'm pretty sure they will tell you if soldering is involved or not. And just get the cheapest deck with an aux input as long as it has decent reviews.
posted by MillMan at 12:22 PM on May 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Crutchfield is your friend. They'll have harnesses and mounting plates and everything you need.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:23 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can definitely DIY. No soldering or splicing required - just get crimp connectors. You just put in both wires and squeeze the ends shut with pliers.

It's much easier if you get a harness adapter. That will connect to the plug in your car and give you a set of color-coded bare wires. You then connect those to the ones from your new stereo using the aforementioned crimp connectors.
posted by O9scar at 12:29 PM on May 12, 2014

It's very feasible. I've done it in my 2000 Accord and my parents' Accord of similar vintage and lower trim package.

There may be a few online tutorials or videos on YouTube that could help, but for the most part it's pretty straightforward.
posted by Madamina at 12:30 PM on May 12, 2014

Unlike FM transmitters, cassette to aux adapters sound fairly decent. I have seen one case of a tape deck mechanism that didn't like the fake cassette though. They're cheap enough that it might be worth a shot.
posted by rfs at 12:31 PM on May 12, 2014

Nthing Crutchfield.

And it's generally pretty easy--the hardest part is usually taking the dashboard apart enough to get the old radio out. You won't have to solder/splice if you have the appropriate wiring harness adapters, which Crutchfield will prompt you to buy, or just wire nuts or similar, but, seriously, just get the adapter.

I would not recommend the cheapest deck--maybe the cheapest deck from a company you've heard of. Alpine, Kenwood, Pioneer, Sony, somebody along those lines. And you only want to do this once, right? So you might consider spending a few more bucks to get front USB and Bluetooth in addition to the AUX input, just to try to future-proof a little. Maybe even phone-control features or XM, if you think you might be into one of those things someday.
posted by box at 12:32 PM on May 12, 2014

If it's the stock stereo, then I'll nth Crutchfield and a harness adapter. If not, there might be some crappy rewiring behind the current deck, which puts it into "probably not worth your time" territory.
posted by holgate at 12:42 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, Crutchfield is the way to go. They will give you outstanding installation instructions, and if you run into any problems, you can call them up and speak to super-helpful people. (and they are US-based; no outsourced call centers)
posted by misterbrandt at 12:42 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the idea that you should try a casette adapter first. If that doesn't work, you'll be OK putting it in yourself.
posted by jsturgill at 1:06 PM on May 12, 2014

nthing the advice upthread. I also recently wanted a bare bones unit with an aux in (though I also wanted USB charging capability) and the cheapest such unit I could find on Crutchfield was the JVC KD-X200. I have never owned such a crappy stereo. The interface is also terrible and unintuitive - these manufacturers must use their C-game designers on their cheap decks, I guess.

My point being that even for a bare bones unit like you want, spend a couple bucks extra for a unit that has a decent interface and controls if you're planning to keep it for a while.
posted by homesickness at 1:11 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, Crutchfield! You put in the make/model of your car and they'll tell you what systems are compatible and what wiring harnesses and bezels you need. Then they'll send you the exact instructions you need to install it into your car.

I installed one in my Subaru Forrester. When it came time to install the steering wheel remote control there was a little bit of confusion as to what wires I had to connect. I called them on a Saturday afternoon, they picked right up, and the tech emailed me pictures of the exact wires I needed to connect, complete with annotations as to what to do.

In 25 years of being in IT and dealing with all levels of tech support, my experience with Crutchfield was the single best tech support experience I've ever had.

So, yes, go to Crutchfield.

Also see if anyone has put a video on YouTube about how to remove whatever dash panels you might need to remove. That can be tricky to do.
posted by bondcliff at 1:17 PM on May 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding not going for the cheapest stereo, but holding out for one that's well-regarded for its user friendliness. I went with a cheap one, and regret it. It sounds fine and has the features I wanted, but the interface is so awful and unintuitive that it has become one of those minor daily annoyances that contributes to the miasma of world-weariness that hangs continuously over my head.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 1:44 PM on May 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've used cassette adapters and found them quite satisfactory. Looking on Amazon I see that the cheapest ones are under two bucks, and some are 20 bucks, but they look like basically the same thing. OTOH the Pioneer car stereo I have now is one I got from Crutchfield (some years ago) and my brother and I installed it without much difficulty. They give you really useful documentation and all the support you'll need.
posted by in278s at 1:55 PM on May 12, 2014

I see tape adapters at goodwill all the time, if you are thinking of trying the adapter route first. If it costs a buck and still sounds great, then Bob's your uncle?
posted by MansRiot at 2:18 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bondcliff is right, "my experience with Crutchfield was the single best tech support experience I've ever had."

On a recent install on a Taurus I had to call them on three separate occasions (if you had said "I bought my Mom's Taurus I would have told you to run screaming from doing that install). Every time someone picked up within a minute and talked me through stuff in far more detail than they should have. I think most of them used to be audio installation techs--or still were in some capacity.

Plus, after pricing things out, Crutchfield was still cheaper than any other vendor. Call them up and see!

And, one nice thing about newer headunits is that they have usb ports that'll let you charge devices like phones on them. Might be worthwhile to you.
posted by beep-bop-robot at 2:22 PM on May 12, 2014

Oh right duh, I completely forgot that those cassette adapters exist. I'll give that a go and if it sounds like butt or our deck just keeps spitting it out, I'll hit up Crutchfield. Thanks all!
posted by Nelsormensch at 2:38 PM on May 12, 2014

Cassette adaptors are great. The sound quality trade-off is not noticeable to me. I was upset when my most recent car had only a CD player. You can probably pick one up at your local big box store, or you could a few years ago.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:41 PM on May 12, 2014

My tape deck died (due to a failed forty-cent rubber band, grrr!) and so now I have a couple of spare cassette adapters. MeMail me if you are interested.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:30 PM on May 12, 2014

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