Gearhead Diary: The gift that keeps giving

PHOTO BY MATT BARTMANN I should have stopped as soon as I saw this mess. I did not stop.

Matt Bartmann
mbartmann@northfortynews.com

Somebody must have had a good Christmas! Somebody got a whole batch of automotive electronics to play with. New stereo, amps, remote control thing with Bluetooth and hands-free phone operation, etc.

Somebody did not, however, get professional installation of these devices.

While on the road recently, our trusty old car finally said it’d had enough. It broke, and being without time and most of my tools, we decided to get a new used car.

Not being near a big city, the choices were limited. We settled on a cheap, older SUV. The car ran and drove fine, and it had fewer miles than our old car. Plus, everything worked.

Except the stereo.

“You just need to install an amplifier,” said the nice young man who sold us the car. “It’s all wired, and it all hooks up under the passenger seat.”

“No big deal,” I thought to myself. “I’ll just undo the wiring for the amp and have a regular stereo.”

There was a time in my life when I really did like having an obnoxiously loud stereo in my car. Not anymore. I do like being able to play tunes while driving, though.

So, with my limited tools—two screwdrivers, my pocketknife, metal shears, and a cheap volt meter—I set forth to undo that which had been done.

Getting the dashboard apart was easy enough. I pulled the stereo out, and, “Oh, dear” was what I grumbled. Spaghetti mess of wires.

I should have stopped.

I didn’t.

There were 2 orange cables, each with one gray and one white wire, 3 sets of RCA-type audio cables, and a good number of miscellaneous wires, all of which disappeared under the carpet. Also, two little electrical box things whose job I did not know—some relay that controlled something or other.

Under the passenger seat, I found the ends of two of the RCA cable sets, heavy gauge power wires, and what I suppose were all the speaker wires. All gray and white and unlabeled.

I just needed to find the wires under the dashboard that connected directly to the speakers, and hook them to the appropriate wires that came out of the main stereo unit.

It should have been easy.

Ah, well. I was already past the point of no return. So I carefully started sorting what I thought went where, identifying the factory wiring, and removing electrical boxes that I knew not what they did.

After a while, I realized that the only way to fully eradicate the car of all extraneous wiring required removal of the front seats and all the carpet.

I didn’t do that.

I did, however, eventually find the original wires that connect to the front speakers. Enough to make the stereo produce sound. Good enough. I put the dashboard back together and called it a day. Or rather, 3 days. Three days of thinking about the best next step, and a lot of staring at a spaghetti mess of wires and shaking my head.

PHOTO BY MATT BARTMANN
Some, not all, of the stuff disconnected or removed from behind the dashboard, and the tools used for the project.

I don’t actually know if this young man had received all this stuff as a Christmas present. It doesn’t really matter.

If you, however, are inclined to give the gift of “upgraded” auto sound to somebody, please, spring for professional installation, too.

Somebody will thank you for that gift later.

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