Car Radio Repair: Your Ultimate Guide

Don’t sit in silence.

An infotainment center.
Infiniti

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Unless you’re some sort of monster, or are trying to diagnose a weird noise, no one likes to ride in a car in utter silence. It’s unnerving and wrong, which is why automakers have #blessed us with rad and wonderful radios with thousands of watts. Tunes fill the cabin with drum breaks and harmonies, until the radio goes nuclear and you’re left in demoralizing silence.

Modern car radios have become quite complex in recent years with the advent of infotainment centers, 20-30-speaker full-car surround sound, navigation, and other functionalities. That means fixing them has become somewhat of a nightmare requiring the skilled hands of your local dealership. There are, however, a handful of fixes and repairs you can do at home in your own garage.

To get your ride bumping once again, The Drive’s crack team of audiophiles have put together a guide of the most common radio issues you may encounter and how to fix them. Who’s ready to party?

Changing the source on a radio.
Depositphotos

Changing the source on a radio. 

Car Radio Repairing Basics

Estimated Time Needed: 1-3 hours

Skill Level: Intermediate 

Vehicle System: Radio/Infotainment 

Everything You’ll Need To Fix a Car Radio 

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done. 

Tool List 

Parts List

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Adjusting the car's volume.
Depositphotos

Adjusting the car's volume. 

Here Are the Most Common Car Radio Issues and How To Fix Them

The Drive’s editors know your time is money, money is power, power is pizza, and pizza is, well, delicious. To reduce the time spent scrolling, here a list of the most common car radio issues and how to fix them.

Broken Antenna

A broken antenna is one of the easiest issues to diagnose and repair as you’ll hear intermittent radio signals or pure static. Here’s how to replace a whip-style and shark fin-style antenna.

Replacing a Whip-style Antenna

  1. Using your wrench, loosen the nut at the base of the antenna. 
  2. Remove and replace with the new antenna. 

Replacing a Shark Fin-style Antenna

  1. Shark fin antennas are connected to your car with glue, so you’ll need to heat the glue around the base of the antenna with the hair dryer. 
  2. Once the antenna is removed, disconnect the antenna from the car’s wiring. 
  3. Connect the new antenna to the wiring and peel away the glue from the new antenna’s base.
  4. Let sit until dry.

Broken Infotainment

As mentioned before, a broken infotainment unit is a hard thing to fix in your garage. You can try disconnecting the battery or holding the power button, but if neither of those work, you’re looking at a dealership visit. Here’s how to disconnect your car’s battery.

  1. Remove the key from the ignition.
  2. Pop the hood and locate the battery.
  3. Remove the negative terminal, it’s black and has a “-” minus symbol atop the terminal.
  4. After waiting 15-30 seconds, reattach the negative terminal.
  5. Close the hood and check to see if the reset worked.
A volume knob on a car stereo.
Depositphotos

A volume knob on a car stereo.

Broken Stereo

For those who have older cars, there are three common issues you might experience with your radio: bad backlighting, a stuck CD or cassette tape, or bad reception. Here’s how to fix them.

Faulty Backlighting

  1. Turn the car off, remove the key, and pop the hood.
  2. Remove the negative battery terminal. 
  3. Remove the stereo’s cabin paneling with the pry tool. 
  4. Disconnect the stereo from the car’s electrical harness.
  5. Once it’s been removed, find the backlight. If it’s burned out, you’ll need to replace it.
  6. After you’ve replaced the light, reconnect the stereo to the harness. 
  7. Replace the cabin paneling. 
  8. Reattach the negative terminal and test to see if it works.

Stuck CD/Tape

  1. Turn the car off, remove the key, and pop the hood.
  2. Remove the negative battery terminal. 
  3. Remove the stereo’s cabin paneling with the pry tool. 
  4. Disconnect the stereo from the car’s electrical harness.
  5. Once it’s been removed, see if you can access the stuck CD or tape. If you can, do your best to remove it without damaging the components around it. 
  6. Once removed, reattach the stereo to the harness. 
  7. Replace the cabin paneling. 
  8. Reattach the negative terminal and test to see if it works.

Bad Reception

  1. Turn the car off, remove the key, and pop the hood.
  2. Remove the negative battery terminal. 
  3. Remove the stereo’s cabin paneling with the pry tool. 
  4. Using your car’s dusty manual, find where the stereo’s antenna wire meets the stereo unit.
  5. Remove the stereo and trace the wire back to the wiring harness. If you find a broken lead, connection, or frayed wire, you’ll have to replace it. 
  6. Disconnect the stereo from the car’s electrical harness and replace the issue. You may need to get professional help here, as electrical pieces in the radio require finesse and experience.
  7. Once it’s been fixed, reattach the stereo to the harness. 
  8. Replace the cabin paneling. 
  9. Reattach the negative terminal and test to see if it works.
An infotainment display.
Depositphotos

An infotainment display.

Get Help With Your Car’s Radio From a Mechanic On JustAnswer

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs. 

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

FAQs About Car Radio Repair

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. How Much Does It Cost To Fix a Car Radio?

A. Depending on what’s wrong, as well as the newness of the vehicle and whether or not it has a basic radio or fancy-schmancy infotainment unit, fixing it can range between $100-$1,000. 

Q. How Do I Reset My Car Radio?

A. Most modern radios/infotainment centers can be reset two ways: first, by holding the power button down between three to five seconds, and second, by disconnecting the battery. You can determine the best course of action by consulting your car’s dusty manual, . You know, the one stashed in your glovebox. 

Q. How Do I Know If My Car Radio Fuse Is Blown?

A. You can check if your car radio fuse is blown by opening up the fuse box and finding the radio fuse. If it’s discolored, it’s likely blown. If it’s not, you can replace that fuse with an extra fuse and see if that’s solved your radio issue.

Q. What Can Cause Your Car Radio to Stop Working?

A. Many things! Electrical shorts, blown fuses, bad wiring, mice-eaten wiring, jammed discs or cassette decks, and even the general age of the car and its parts. 

Q. How Do You Reset Your Infotainment Screen?

A. Like your radio, you’ll either need to reset it using the power button or disconnecting and reconnecting the battery. 

Q. Can I Disconnect the Battery To Reset My Car Radio?

A. You can! Check out the question above. 

Wait, that’s the Grammy Award-winning Twenty One Pilots’ Car Radio, here’s the right clip.

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