July 25, 2005

I installed a car stereo!

For most of a beautiful Saturday afternoon I installed a new car stereo to the Honda. Previously it had a factory tape player + radio and if it worked properly I would have never considered replacing it. But the unit kept losing power sporadically, sometimes leaving me with an entirely silent commute. Even worse was when it would work for a couple of minutes and then drop out in the middle of an interesting news story. Unacceptable.

So I figured I'd try my hand at installing one myself. Since I'm pretty klutzy and know diddly about cars you may be forgiven for wondering what was going through my head. My approach is similar to software: stereo replacement is one of those things non-gearheads can fiddle with (~skins). Maybe not as easily as oil/air filters (~configuration options), but the fiddle-ability should be higher than heavy-duty car work (~modify + recompile).

So, some impressions. I did start taking photos but stopped as I got more frustrated. (Plus: I'm lame.) I'll post to flickr the final results later today.

  • While the instructions from Crutchfield were straightforward, and the wiring diagram was excellent, a couple things were really annoying.

    1. They tell you to remove thick plastic tabs from the model-specific adapter with a utility knife. Maybe it's me but slicing through a 1/4" thick piece of fairly dense plastic with a razor blade just didn't work; the tension placed on the blade made me very nervous that it would slide off the plastic and right into me. So I got out the Dremel and roughly sliced though the tab (mmmm, burning plastic...), then shaved off enough with the utility knife to make the edge smooth.
    2. They tell you you'll need a deep socket but never explain how it's used because you don't actually need it. (Maybe it was left in from an earlier draft?) This was only mildly annoying in the way that finding extra screws after assembly is unsettling.
    3. The diagram of the screws attaching the stereo harness to the car was wrong (or at least really misleading), so I spent an awkward and painful hour trying to figure out how to get the wrong couple of screwbolts out. Thanks to a different guide I found out about two other screwbolts that were quite easy to remove.

      There's another interesting parallel with my software experience here: when you're implementing a new system and you're not familiar with its terrain you may find yourself struggling mightily with implementation details. With software I have a pretty good sense about what's reasonable and unreasonable struggling -- in the event of unreasonable struggling I usually figure I misinterpreted something or skipped important instructions. I don't have that sense with cars so it winds up taking many times as long as it should.

      </li> </ol> </li>

    4. I learned how to solder, probably incorrectly. When you're putting the wires from the stereo together with the wires from the harness adapter (the other end of which plugs into your model's plug) the Crutchfield instructions say that you can crimp them together and cap, but they strongly recommend soldering them. Unfortunately most of the soldering instructions on the web were on a smaller scale, creating a joint from a wire to a PCB. But I went ahead and tried anyway.

      I couldn't get it to work correctly -- everything tells you you're supposed to touch the iron to the wire and the solder to the wire; the solder will eventually start melting as the wire heats up. But it never melted! So I did what everything tells you not to do and touched the solder to the iron which, after some trial and error, made it melt nicely over the joined wires. I need to watch someone who knows what they're doing to know what I was doing wrong.


    5. A Murphy's law I now know: If you drop a screw it will land in the most inconvenient place possible, such as between the floor rug and the car frame, and it will slide into an impossible-to-reach nook. So be sure and cover any gaps with cloths or sticky-side up tape.
    6. Fortunately the wire colors of the wiring adapter matched the wire colors of the stereo. I triple-checked to make sure because I was afraid of something like a Stroop effect.
    7. </ul>

      The relief I felt when first plugging in the stereo to the car's wiring and hearing sweet static come from all four speakers: awesome.

Next: IDEA: How did they do that?
Previous: My first online interview