Why is my car radio not working?

Diagnose car radio problems with our expert advice

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Why isn’t my car radio working?

Without any music or radio entertainment, driving your car, especially on long journeys, would be pretty soulless. Car radios and stereo systems are your best option to alleviate the boredom.

There are several reasons a car stereo can stop working or that any of its components could fail, causing the complete system to stop playing the music and entertainment you love.

What are the common causes of a car radio that’s stopped working?

You’ve blown a fuse

Risk level – Low

What to do – Find the faulty fuse and replace it.

The most likely cause of your problems is a blown fuse. Fuses are designed to be the first thing to break, to protect your electrical components. If your car radio fuse keeps blowing, don’t be tempted to replace it with a bigger fuse; you’ll risk blowing your stereo. There’s probably a short circuit somewhere—so find it and fix it.

There’s a problem with the wiring

Risk level – Low

What to do – Track down and repair the fault.

Tracking down a wiring fault can be a challenge in a car radio system. There are plenty of wires running from the main unit to the battery, the alternator, each internal speaker, and also to any auxiliary amplifiers or sub-woofers in the boot.

The speakers have blown

Risk level – Low

What to do – Replace them with a working set.

Speakers age over time and can eventually just stop working, but it’s more likely that they’ve blown from being played louder than recommended. As a speaker deteriorates, they’ll likely get quieter or start to crackle as they decline. These are typical warning signs that the speakers are on their way out.

Your tuner or amplifier has died

Risk level – Low

What to do – Repair or replace the faulty component.

If the power supply is intact, but either component refuses to turn on, they’ve probably died. If your stereo turns on, the CD or MP3 player still works, but the radio doesn’t—it’s usually the tuner that’s broken. A faulty tuner will, in almost all cases, require the complete unit replacing.

If it’s a faulty or blown amplifier, a specialist may be able to repair it, but it’s no job for a mere mortal.

The antenna is broken or disconnected

Risk level – Low

What to do – Repair or replace the antenna.

Antennas (or car aerials) are subject to plenty of abuse during their lifespan. Too many snap off after being forgotten entering a car wash, and many, over time, will corrode and fail in our glorious British weather. Check all connections to make sure it’s fastened securely, and the wiring hasn’t gone awry.

Your stereo’s security code is in operation

Risk level – Low

What to do – Check the car stereo owners manual.

Where a stereo has a security code, rendering the unit useless unless the correct code is input, a break in power (like a disconnected or flat battery) can activate those security measures until you pop the code back in.

If you’ve forgotten the code or never knew it in the first place (buying a used car), there might be an override function, but chances are, you’ll probably need to replace it.

The LCD is defective

Risk level – Low

What to do – Replace the screen where possible or the head unit.

Whereas old mechanical radios and stereos were incredibly robust, the latest electronic tech can be fairly sensitive. If your stereo plays, but the display doesn’t come on, if it’s not the brightness that’s been knocked off or turned right down, then it’s likely a dodgy LCD. If it can be replaced, that should be a cheaper option, but it’s more likely you’ll need a new head unit.

Are car radios universal?

Just about! While many car radios and stereos are built specifically for a make and model of car, there are thousands of upgrade and aftermarket options available that will fit the same slot in your dashboard. Universal car stereos should fit any car, as long as you choose the correct size for your vehicle.

There are 2 sizes: single DIN and double DIN. This is the size of the slot/panel in your car’s dashboard. Single DIN panels are 180x50mm, and double DIN panels are 180x100mm.

How do I know what size my car radio is?

The simplest way to find out is to measure it. If it’s 50mm tall, that’s single DIN; if it’s 100mm tall, it’s double DIN.

If you’ve found a single DIN stereo that you’d really like, yet your car has a double DIN panel, there are plenty of adapters available for precisely this situation.

Can you put a new car radio in any car?

As long as the model you choose conforms to your car’s dashboard, then putting a new unit in should be fairly straightforward (for a confident DIY car enthusiast). In many cases, they’re pretty much plug-and-play.

Do all car stereos have the same connectors?

The ISO 10487 standard was introduced in 1995 for head unit connectors in a car’s electrical system, so that helps. Where the wiring looks confusing, you can use a wiring harness to make the job a little easier. Without a harness, you need to make sure you match each wire to its corresponding partner to connect the power, speakers, and auxiliary amplifier if you have one.

Is it easy to change a car radio?

If you know what you’re doing, then switching a car stereo is a relatively simple procedure. If you’re not entirely confident it’s a job you’d like to take on, don’t panic! Here at Fixter, we’ve got thousands of mechanics ready and waiting to help.

If your car radio has gone quiet on you, one of our mechanics will find out why. Book in with Fixter, and we’ll test all the electronics that could be causing the problem. Once we identify the issue, we’ll explain how we can fix it (if we haven’t already!) and its cost.


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