Auto Improvement: How To Install Car Speakers

Replacing car speakers or installing new ones isn't difficult, and new speakers can sound vastly better than the old ones.

Whether your car's speakers are blown or just sounding puny, new car speakers can be easy to install. Car stereo decks (radio/tape player/cd player/etc.) have a built-in amplifier that powers the speakers. In most cases, your stock deck has an amplifier strong enough to power speakers that will sound dramatically better than your old ones.

The tools necessary for this project will depend on the complexity of the installation. It could be as simple as a couple of screwdrivers, but you will most likely need a wire stripper and electrical tape. Other tools that could be useful, depending on your installation, are a soldering iron, Allen or Torx wrenches, an offset screwdriver set, and a door panel tool.

The first priority is to decide which speakers you want to replace. Some cars may come with anywhere from two to six speakers. Usually you'll want to replace pairs of speakers unless you're adding a separate subwoofer. Your speakers are probably on the back package shelf, in the doors, or on the dash. Just look for speaker grills if the old speakers aren't working. You can usually see the front of the speakers through the grills, but if not, most grills can be removed easily with a screwdriver. Measure and write down the speaker sizes.

Some car speakers are in more inaccessible places, so if you're having trouble getting to the speakers to measure them, then you might want to call a professional. One great resource is Crutchfield, and the primary advantage to using them is that they have online and print-based guides that help you look up your vehicle. For almost any vehicle, their guide will tell you what size your car speakers are and which of their speakers will be easy replacements. Better yet, if you order from Crutchfield, they include an easy to follow installation guide, and if any adaptor brackets or wiring harnesses are needed, they supply those for free, too.

If you don't have the money to replace all your speakers, you can either replace the pair of speakers that sound the worst or replace the biggest set of speakers. Replacing the largest set of speakers will be somewhat more expensive than replacing a smaller set of speakers, but the results are likely to sound far better. For example, say all four of your speakers are blown, distorting badly on bass notes. You measure them and find that you have 4 inch front speakers and 6 x 9 rear speakers. Unless you pay top dollar for really great 4 inch speakers, it isn't likely that you'll hear too great of an improvement by replacing them. However, there are plenty of inexpensive, high-quality 6 x 9 speakers on the market, and replacing that set will yield much better-sounding results.

The next decision is which speakers to buy. The easiest method is to replace a pair of speakers with a pair that is an identical size. However, sometimes the magnet on the back of the speaker may be too much bigger than the old speaker, or perhaps part of the front of the speaker sticks out too far for the old speaker hole. If you're buying speakers from a local store, it's helpful to measure all the speaker and hole dimensions and take the measurements with you to buy the new set.

Another buying decision is whether you want regular replacement speakers or "component" speakers. Component speakers usually sound better than regular speakers, but they are typically more expensive and almost always more complicated to install. Component speakers have separate speaker cones for the tweeter, midrange, and bass, while regular car speakers combine them. Most component speaker installations involve a lot of custom work, so we'll assume you're replacing your car's speakers with regular, identically-sized speakers.

With your new speakers in hand, the first step of the installation process is removing the old speakers. Hopefully, this will be as easy as unscrewing four screws. If you meet difficulties at this step, here are some hints:

If the screws don't have regular or Phillips heads, but they have small hexagonal or pointed star-shaped holes instead, then you need either an Allen wrench (fits hexagonal hole) or a Torx-screwdriver (fits star-shaped hole). Allen and Torx wrenches usually come in sets, so make an approximate measurement before going to the store.

If the screws are in a difficult place to reach, such as close to the windshield, then you may need a stubby screwdriver or an offset screwdriver. An offset screwdriver is shaped like a "Z."

If you have to remove door panels to reach the speakers, the installation becomes more difficult, but it can still be done. If you have manual (non-electric) window cranks, it's helpful to have a door panel tool. This is a flat piece of metal about three inches wide with a wide slot in the middle that goes around your manual window crank to help remove it. After you remove the window crank, remove any screws around the door handle or anywhere else. The door panel usually has plastic friction fittings holding it in place. The door panel tool has an L-shaped section on the handle that is handy for prying the door panel loose from the metal door. Once the door panel is removed, the speaker should be unscrewed and removed.

Once the old speakers are removed, their wires should be disconnected. Some speakers have a plastic clip several inches away from the speaker connecting the speaker wires with the longer wires that run to the stereo deck. If you don't see a plastic clip, pull or cut the speaker wires away from the old speakers. There are two wires for each speaker, and they should be separated close to the speaker. One wire is probably red (positive), and the other is usually red with a black stripe (negative). If they are not marked, then look at the old speaker terminals for the (+) and (-) that denotes positive and negative, then mark the wires accordingly.

After the old speakers are removed and their wires disconnected from the car's wiring, you should install the new speakers. Hopefully the replacement speakers will be an exact fit, and you can simply place them in the holes and screw them in. If they don't fit exactly, you may need to use a utility knife or a coping saw to enlarge the holes. If the holes are too big, you can fill in the extra room with cardboard or thin plywood cut to fit.

The final step is to connect the new speakers to the car's speaker wires. If you bought your speakers from a company such as Crutchfield, then there is probably a free wiring harness included that you can simply plug into the old wiring harness. If there wasn't a wiring harness, or you don't have a connecting harness with your new speakers, it's still easy to connect the speakers. Connect the positive and negative wires to the proper (+) and (-) speaker terminals. If you have a soldering iron, you can solder the car speaker wires directly to the new speaker terminals. An easier method, though it's less secure, is to strip back an inch or so of the car speaker wires, wrap them around the appropriate speaker terminals, and then wrap the connections with electrical tape.

Now the new speakers should be ready to play. If they don't work, try reversing the polarity on the speaker wire connections. Also, make sure the car stereo has the balance correctly adjusted. If you're only replacing one set of speakers and the other set is blown, you can always turn the balance to play only the new speakers.

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