Installation - Getting Started
Installing a car audio system doesn't take a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, however, there are things you should know and be familiar with, in order to save yourself from the frustration, grief and agony of an installation gone wrong. Here you will find guidelines, helpful information, tips, and dos and don'ts to help you install your system professionaly, leaving music to your ears, money in your pocket and a smile on your face. :-) It isn't possible to cover every aspect of installation or each type of install, as every vehicle will be different. If ever in doubt, consider taking your car to a local car audio dealer/installer for advice, or let them install your equipment.
Safety is First
- READ THE MANUAL: You know those first few pages of manuals that seem to always be skipped over? Those pages contain important information on correct installation procedures and safety concerns. Much of it may seem like common sense, but you may learn something new, and avoid a disaster!
- WATCH WHERE YOU'RE DRILLING: Drilling into the gas tank, hydraulic brake lines or into a power harness is NOT good! Before deciding on a location for an accessory such as an amp, be absolutely certain of what's on the other side.
- WEAR SAFETY GLASSES: You won't soon forget a small piece of metal landing in your eye from drilling.
- DISCONNECT THE BATTERY GROUND (-) CABLE: Prevent yourself from ruining your car's electronic components or a new deck by eliminating the chance of creating a short circuit.
- USE PROPER FUSES: When installing a system, a power cable run from the battery must be fused within 16 inches (cable length) of the battery. See the chart at the bottom of this page for the proper size fuse to use for your system. Always replace fuses with the same type and rating. If a fuse keeps blowing, there is probably a short circuit somewhere, don't try to bypass a fuse.
- USE APPROPRIATE GAUGE WIRE: The more current your system requires (and longer the cable runs) the thicker the power supply cables need to be, in order to handle the current efficiently. Remember, you can always use a thicker gauge cable than required, but never use a thinner gauge cable than is recommended. Doing so will not only decrease the performance of your amplifier and system, but it can also overheat the wires, causing a fire. See the chart at the bottom of this page for recommended wire gauges. (The lower the gauge number, the thicker the wire)
- USE COMMON SENSE: Don't pry or hammer something to "make it fit". Don't short capacitor or battery terminals to see what happens. Don't use the gas tank as a distribution block. Don't use 18 gauge wire to power a 500W amp. Got it?
- GIVE YOURSELF TIME: Rushing yourself almost always leaves room for mistakes, frustration, and a sloppy install. If you're installing an entire audio system, give yourself at minimum 1-2 days.
- USE THE RIGHT TOOLS: You wouldn't brush your teeth with a screwdriver, likewise, don't use Phillips or flat head screwdrivers on hex screws, metric sockets on SAE nuts, adjustable pliers for a crimping tool, 10 gauge connectors for 18 gauge wire, etc. If you don't have the proper tool, you should either buy it, or take your car to a qualified installer.
Proper tools are essential for a professional installation - not to mention it saves time and is easier on the nerves. Below are some of the more common tools for a standard installation:
- Wire Strippers
- Wire Cutters - you may need something heavy-duty for 4-1/0 gauge wire.
- Terminal Crimpers - may be inclusive with strippers/cutters. A special type of crimper is generally required for anything larger than 8 gauge (usually a hammer type crimper or a crimper which resembles bolt cutters).
- Wire Connectors/Ring Terminals - make sure the size of the connectors matches that of the wire.
- Phillips/Flat Head Screwdrivers - be sure to have the right size screwdriver to avoid stripping a screw head.
- Car Repair Manual - an indispensable tool when it comes to the disassembly of your console and door panels, or finding a wiring diagram, etc. Chilton's and Haynes are both excellent manuals and can be found at your local auto store or library. Save yourself the headache of breaking fasteners because of a hidden screw.
- Digital Multimeter (VOM) - test your connections by using the ohmeter, check for correct polarities before connecting equipment etc.
- Pliers - regular and needle nose.
- Electrical Tape/Nylon Ties - any exposed connectors/wires should be taped to prevent a short circuit. Also, wires should be bundled to keep them away from moving parts, and for the sake of appearance.
- Tape Measure, Ruler, Pencil - it is tempting to hold a speaker or amp in place while drilling a hole. If you want to get your holes straight though, it is highly recommended that you measure, mark, then drill holes. It is also very frustrating to slip and drill a hole right through your speaker!
- Center Punch (and Hammer) - punch an indent where you're going to drill. It keeps the drill bit from "walking" which will better align your holes, and just looks nicer than having little trails all over the place.
- Power Drill/Drill Bits - preferably cordless. Make sure you have the right size drill bits. Start with a small hole when drilling screw holes. You can always make it bigger, but you can't make it smaller.
- Other Tools - you may need other tools depending on your install. A jig saw, tin snips, nibbling tool, trim pry bar (for door trim, etc.), allen wrenches or star bits, a socket set, grommets, flashlight, file, etc. Look over your vehicle and find out the tools you need BEFORE you start ripping things apart.
General Installation Guidelines
- Plan out your installation before anything. Will an amplifier fit where you want it to, will the screws have clearance on the opposite side? Will cables be clear of moving parts and mounted as to avoid strain?
- Be familiar with technical terms. If you don't know what something means, look it up in our Glossary.
- Remember, once you drill or cut a hole, there's no turning back. 1. Make sure there are no obstructions when accessories are mounted. 2. Be absolutely sure of your measurements.
- Make sure you have enough wire to leave some slack. It will make disassembly much easier if the need arises.
- All screws should be hand tightened. You may think your installation would go faster with a power screwdriver, until a screw head gets stripped or your bit lodges into your speaker cone. Care should also be given to the equal tightening of screws on speakers, especially when the frame is mounted on a padded surface, as speaker frames can be twisted and distorted, which will knock the voice coil off center and ruin your speaker.
- To reduce line noise, plan to route speaker wires and RCA line-in/out wires away from high current/high noise wires. (i.e. away from the cables which power your amp(s), power window/antenna motors, ABS brake system, engine computer signals, etc.)
- Always observe proper polarities. While reversing polarity in regards to a power supply will quickly be evident, speaker polarity might not seem like such a big deal, but it is, especially when it comes to powering your subwoofers. When one speaker is connected with the opposite polarity of another speaker, it is termed "out of phase". While one speaker will be pushing, the other will be pulling, in effect, cancelling each other out. This leaves a very dull and unimpressive bass.