MP3’s on a stock car stereo. What are the options?

I have been pretty much in sync with the time as far as personal technology goes, so I think. I use CFL powered lights throughout the house, I abandoned paper news a while ago, I use smart-phone to keep me online on the go, and my music is all in MP3’s for a few years at least.

There is one big thing though that is terribly out of date. It is my car. There are a couple reasons really. It doesn’t break and I can’t convince myself to replace a perfectly working car. Any after market work usually requires special instruments and expertise and costs a lot, and as many of you know I am “cheap”. ;-)

So my Honda Accord ‘98 still has a cassette player instead of a CD, a rare thing these days. In my quest to turn it into a more comfortable place I have retrofitted it with a Blutooth enabled speaker (purchased at Sharper Image for all the Discover cash back I received) and a portable MP3 player which I connected to the car speakers via a cassette tape adapter.

Last week the cassette player died and I had to look for alternatives. The first thought that came in my mind was to buy one of those cheap FM modulators but I recalled that I already tried them twice and the sound quality in both cases was just terrible.

My second option was to install a more expensive FM modulator unit that connects directly to the car stereo antenna and has a manual switch to bypass the signal when not in use. I didn’t like the idea of having to switch off the thing every time I don’t want to use it. Besides, I would have to take off the stereo to install it which by itself is not a simple thing to do.

I then figured that since I have gone as far as consider removing my old stereo from the dashboard, maybe I should look into possibility of replacing it with something more up to date? I went to look at car stereo vendors. The thing I was looking for the first was support. Eventually I settled on Crutchfield and am I happy I did.

With all car stereos priced $129.99 an up Crutchfield will ship a vehicle specific receiver chassis, wiring, and instructions, everything free of charge. The thing that helped me the most was the helpline that is open every day till midnight (eastern time). I got to use it twice!

As it turned out installing a new car stereo is not a nightmare I feared it would be. My friend convinced me to pay $30 extra and buy a receiver with built in Blutooth and I am happy I did. I no longer need my old Blutooth speaker which I had a problem with since I was always forgetting to turn it off after leaving my car in the garage (my cell phone would then stop ringing when I am in the house). Another nice surprise is that the Blutooth will now stop the music or radio when I receive a call!

As I previously stated the folks at the support hotline were very helpful which really put me at ease with all the questions I had - and I had a lot. This was my first ever work on a car stereo. If you plan to do it yourself, buy from a vendor with a name in car electronics, unless of course you have somebody who has done it before and can offer you help.

A couple handy tips. Be careful with the screws to make sure you don’t drop them inside the dashboard. Use a magnet to keep them at the tip of the screwdriver. Another thing, you will need to connect wires. I had a soldering iron at home but you could also use a crimp tool and caps.

What was the most challenging work you have done on your car? Please share your story in the comments!

Photo credit to garrettmurray at Flickr

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