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7 Common Problems, Symptoms, and Solutions for Car Stereos

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7 Common Car Stereo Problems, Symptoms, and Solutions

The car stereo can be a tricky piece of kit, and one that is not always simple to figure out. I know that in the past, when mine broke down, I would be left scratching my head and wondering how I was ever going to get it working again.

Over the years, my knowledge has expanded (mostly thanks to the many mechanics that have repaired them), and I am here to share a few of the common problems, symptoms, and solutions for your broken-down car radio. 

#1 The Car Radio Has Stopped Working 

This is defined as a failure to work correctly despite being hooked up to a power source. Often, this is caused by issues with the wiring, usually with those that are underneath the dashboard.

However, the fuse in the car stereo blowing can also be a primary cause of failure. Here are some of the signs to look for if your car radio isn’t working properly:

  • Radio not turning on (wiring issue or blown fuse)
  • Radio turns off randomly (grounding issue or general power problem)
  • The display of the car radio and sound go on and off together (head unit likely not getting enough power)
  • check
    Radio switches off when turning a corner or going over a bump (connector is likely loose)

Knowing what the likely causes for your radio not working are, there are a few things you can do. The first of these is checking to see if the fuse is blown using a multimeter.

In order to do so, make sure that there is no power going to the radio and set your multimeter to ohms. Then, touch the metal caps of the fuse with the testing leads to see if a reading is recorded.

If there is a reading, it means the fuse is not blown, and no reading means that you are going to need a new fuse. The second thing you can do is check for wiring and grounding issues.

If the grounding wire is loose or rusted, it will cause radio failure and needs to be repaired or replaced. 

#2 No Bass from the Speakers 

The clear symptom for this issue is that you aren’t hearing any bass from the speakers, and it is a problem that usually occurs when factory speakers are being upgraded, or aftermarket models are being installed and repaired.

This can cause them to be out of polarity, which affects the way in which bass works. Put simply, bass is created when the speakers push air at the same time, but if there is no bass, it means that while one is pushing air, the other is pulling it.

It could also be that your speakers are heavier than factory ones, which does improve the overall quality of the sound, but also means that there isn’t any bass.

The first thing you should do to try and resolve this issue is checking to see if the speakers are connected to the stereo amp and head unit correctly – ensuring positive is attached to positive, and negative to negative.

You could also use an external amplifier as this will allow for excellent bass, but you will need to make sure your radio can cope with the extra wattage. 

Also Read: Build Sound System for Car

#3 New Head Unit Has No Power 

After installing your new head unit, you may find that it has no power or cuts out irregularly. If this is happening, then it is highly likely that it is not receiving the 12v of power that it needs to work properly.

However, it could also be that your amplifier has switched into what is known as protection mode for two reasons. The first of these is that the alternator is producing too much power, causing the amplifier to switch off and protect itself from potential damage.

Secondly, it could be that the battery is simply unable to provide a constant level of voltage to the stereo. You can use a voltmeter to check that the wire is sending 12v of power to the head unit, and if the wire is doing so, then you know the problem is with the head unit.

However, if you find that the wire is not sending the required voltage, the solution is very simple. All you need to do is get the wire changed. You should also check both the battery and fuse to ensure these are in good working order as well. 

#4 The Car Radio Has Overheated 

You know your car stereo is overheating when it is hot to the touch, and this can cause it to break down completely as well as put it at risk of catching fire.

It could be caused by wires that are supposed to be separate becoming intertwined or touching, or the speakers themselves could be wired incorrectly. As this is a very severe and potentially dangerous situation to be in, it is important to get it looked at right away.

You will need to check the entire installation and wiring of the audio system inside your vehicle. If there are no issues and the stereo is still hot to touch when running, you will need to get the whole vehicle serviced to check for any other issues within it. 

Further Reading: Best Car Speakers

#5 Strange Noises from the Radio System 

This is probably the most stressful experience when you are in your car, because strange noises could be an almost endless list of issues ranging from minor to major.

However, we have gathered some of the most common reasons your stereo might be making some uncomfortable sounds. The alternator whine is the most common stereo noise that is encountered.

Usually, it is the result of a poor quality or poorly connected head unit or amplifier. If the charging system and connections are damaged or worn, this can also cause the noise to occur.

The noise will rise and fall with the engine, and fluctuates with the RPM of your car’s alternator. To fix this, you need to find the component that is making the noise and re-ground it. Chassis metal is the ideal material to use for grounding.

The accessory pop is defined as a sharp popping sound when you switch on a high current car accessory, or even just press the buttons.

It is often associated with a number of electrical items in your car, including the headlights, windshield wipers, turn signals, and brakes. A bi-polar capacitor is the best fix for this as it is able to absorb the power surges quite effectively to keep things running smoothly.

If the speaker is popping and crackling, this is just a sign that your stereo is really old and starting to show signs of wear and breaking down.

Similarly, it could also be caused by a poor radio connection, and so the only real solution is to purchase a new radio and install it, or a new antenna for better signal. 

#6 Car Radio Sound Cutting Out 

Typically, this is defined as the sound cutting out (stopping) and then restarting again after a period of time (either short or long). It is usually caused by the amplifier overheating or a loose speaker wire.

The reason for the amplifier overheating could be that it is not getting enough airflow, because they get incredibly hot when running and so need to be cooled down in order to work.

All you need to do is ensure that there is enough airflow for efficient cooling, and also to check and see if there is any loose wiring that needs to be secured. 

#7 Poor Grounding and Stereo Problems 

This is a pretty common issue, and you would be surprised by how many car stereo systems have poorly chosen ground points. This can also cause the amplifier to clip, a lot like the alternator whine we mentioned earlier.

You’ll know if you have poor grounding because you will either hear the aforementioned alternator whine or the radio will be producing really bad audio. This is the most important aspect of the wiring, as it is there for safety and smooth running.

The bigger the audio system in a car, the bigger the ground is going to need to be, and it should always be on the car’s chassis. Before doing any work with the grounding, get a full diagnostic for your car and seek professional advice for installation. 

To Conclude 

Hopefully, this has given you a good look into the work of car stereos and the issues that might occur when you have them.

However, even if your radio is making a terrifying set of noises, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t be fixed, and there are a number of ways to get things back on track.

This guide should be able to guide you through the most common issues and solutions, and we would love to know your thoughts and how you got on – so leave us a comment about it below. 


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