4 Common Aftermarket Stereo Problems

Although aftermarket stereos vary in quality, features, and aesthetics, they all come with common issues you may encounter during or after installation.

Botch install

Before you go out and buy an aftermarket stereo, remember that knowledge is power. Just being aware of the issues caused by aftermarket stereos goes a long way. After reading the following four common problems you may encounter, you'll get to make an educated decision on whether to buy one.

1. Tricky or Pricey Installation

Not all wiring systems are created equal. Unless you know your car’s wiring system like the back of your hand, you may be better off hiring a professional to handle the installation. A "small" wiring mistake can have tremendous consequences, especially when you get behind your vehicle's dashboard.

However, professional install isn't exactly 'cheap', and a lot of aftermarket stereos go from reasonable to expensive if you have to pay a pro.

Still, it's often cheaper to pay for help than to fix a repair.

2. Risk of Damage to Vehicle Electronics

A lot of newer vehicles have a fairly advanced stereo system that plugs into the vehicle's main communications network (a CAN bus system). This means that your stereo and your engine computer are basically* on the same circuit. A big installation mistake can impact every system connected to the vehicle's network.

Aftermarket stereo

*This isn't 100% correct, but it's fair to say that an improperly installed stereo can impact the entire vehicle's operation.

3. Incompatibility With Stock Vehicle Features

Most aftermarket stereos are designed to be somewhat universal - the same unit will fit in more than one type of vehicle. Sometimes, this means that the aftermarket stereo won't support stock features without an adapter of some kind. For example:

  • Steering wheel controls for the radio will usually require a special adapter in addition to the stereo itself.
  • Reverse camera systems can often require an adapter
  • Built-in auxillary inputs will usually require an adapter as well

Again, all of these little costs add up, so it's important to think about them before you install an aftermarket head unit.

4. Warranty Issues and Returns

First, if you install an aftermarket stereo head unit, returning it can be difficult. Returning electronic parts is difficult because they can be damaged if they're improperly plugged in. At the very least, you're looking at a restocking fee. Worst case, you won't be able to return the unit if the packaging is opened.

Second, you want to think about your vehicle's factory warranty, and how an aftermarket stereo will impact it. While installing an aftermarket part will not invalidate your warranty (that's a misnomer), it can impact the warranty on a specific affected system.

If, for example, you install an aftermarket stereo and your vehicle's speakers stop working, the dealer might refuse to repair the speakers under warranty. The same thing often applies to systems behind the dash...if you install a new stereo and the dash lights stop working, that might not be covered.

To be fair, these issues aren't likely if the stereo is installed correctly. But it's something to keep in mind.

Aftermarket Stereo Buyers Beware

Adding it all up:

  • Installing an aftermarket stereo isn't always easy or cheap
  • Improper installation can result in an expensive repair
  • Many aftermarket stereos require special adapters to work with your factory features
  • There are warranty and return issues to think about when you go aftermarket

And a pretty good argument can be made for keeping your vehicle's factory stereo system. It's not a stretch to say that a "cheap" $150 aftermarket stereo can cost you $500 by the time you buy all the parts you need and pay for install.