12 Easy Steps...
...For Installing Satellite Radio
|Check if your stereo accepts an external adapter.
Many after-market car stereos, and a few factory radios, accept an external
module that adds XM or Sirius radio to your built in car stereo. Check your
stereo manual and see if it is XM ready or Sirius ready. If so, this is the
easiest and cleanest way to add XM or Sirius to your car stereo system. You
likely just have to buy and plug in a module, and then install an antenna.
Your existing car stereo then controls the satellite radio receiver. The
only drawback is that the satellite control features might be on buttons
that are shared with other functions. If so, the end unit might be a big
complex, might use very small buttons, and it might be difficult to learn
where the functions are without taking your eyes off of the road.
If your existing stereo does not accommodate a satellite radio adapter, then
you need to purchase a stand-alone satellite radio.
|Check if your stereo accepts RCA line level inputs.
Check to see if your stereo has RCA line level input jacks. You can check
your manual, or look at the unit. You may have a set of RCA jacks on the
car stereo itself, or on a short pigtail, or on an electronics box that is
attached to the stereo. If you have line level inputs, you can directly
connect most satellite radios to your stereo using an audio cable. This
avoids having to use an external FM modulator and having to tap into the FM
antenna. If you do go this route, ensure that the satellite radio that you
purchase has a cable for RCA line level out. This will normally be a
mini-1/8 inch stereo plug on one end, and two RCA plugs on the other end.
If your existing stereo does not have RCA line level inputs, then you will
need to use an FM modulator. This will likely be an extra charge accessory
for the satellite radio that you pick. Some satellite radios broadcast
through the air to the FM antenna. In practice these do not work well
because they often get drown out by over-the-air stations. Other radios
offer the option to use a modified cassette tape to feed in the satellite
radio signal. This is not an option if you don’t have a cassette tape
player (some factory radios are CD-only). In addition, the sound is not as
good using this method, and it can cause excess wear on your cassette deck.
|Pick your platform.
Next, pick either the Sirius or XM Radio system. Refer to the guide 12 Easy
Steps To Choose Between Sirius And XM Satellite Radio. In the case where you
are adding a module to your existing car stereo, there may only be one system
available for your in-dash unit, so your choice may already be determined for
you. The platform that you pick does not substantially change the
installation and set-up process.
|Pick your radio.
Once you have picked between Sirius and XM Radio, and you know how you are
going to connect to your existing car stereo, you need to pick the satellite
radio of your choice. Pay attention to the features, number of pre-selects,
configuration of the remote control, and the quality of the display. Some
displays are hard to read in any light conditions, other are so bright that
they might distract you at night. Finally, some units have fans or power
supplies that whistle, which might annoy you when you play your system at
low sound levels.
|Pick an installation spot.
This is probably the hardest part of the whole installation. Most cars have
little room on the dash to put the radio module, and few people like wires
running out in the open. At the same time, one doesn’t want to drill holes
in the dash of a nice car, it really hurts the resale value. Then again, you
want the radio in a place where you can read the display and easily get at
the controls while driving. The big question is how much work do you want to
do. For example, satellite radio works great when mounted on top of the dash.
However, to make it look good, you will have to take the dash apart to fish in
the wiring. This is a lot of effort. In contrast, you can mount the radio on
the console, and the wiring is easy to conceal behind the console and under
the dash. Keep in mind that most of the satellite radios have displays that
emit a lot of light. As a result, I recommend that you keep the radio mounted
low and out of your line of sight, especially if you do a lot of night
driving. I suggest mounting the radio on the console, on the driveshaft
hump, or on a customized bracket mounted to the console or under the dash.
|Connect the ground.
The ground wire is the black wire that comes from either your satellite radio,
or your FM modulator unit, or both. Find a good solid metal brace under your
dash, and attach these black wires to that brace. You can often use an
existing screw under your dash to use as a ground. Loosen the screw, slide
the spade lugs from the wires under the screws, and tighten it back up. I
have found that screws under the glove box door are good ground connection
|Connect the power.
The red wire that comes from either your satellite radio, or your FM
modulator, or both, need to connected to switched 12 volt power. You will
likely need a volt meter, or at least a test light to find a good connection
point. There are often lugs available in your fuse box for connection of
switched 12 volt power. If not, then one of the wires going to the radio
will be switched 12 volts. Make sure that the wire you pick really is
switched 12 volt, and that it is not connected to the light dimmer. Cigarette
lighters look like good power sources, but they are normally live all the time,
not switched. Once you find a power location, ensure that you make a secure
connection. Insulate it with black tape to ensure you do not get any
accidental connections to ground or other wires. Make sure that the fuse for
the satellite radio is as close to the power source as possible, you want the
fuse to protect the wiring as well as the radio.
|Run the antenna line.
Find a good location for the satellite antenna. It needs to go on the highest
point of the car. It will work near the edge of the roof, but may work better
in the middle. You can run the antenna wire through a door opening or through
the trunk lid opening. Opening and closing a door on the antenna wire should
not hurt the wire. If the wire looks pinched, then you may want to try
something else. If there is more than a few inches of antenna wiring on the
outside of the car, use some type of sticky tie down clamps to make sure that
the wire is secure and will not flap in the wind. If it does flap or vibrate,
it will quickly fail.
Once you have the antenna wire inside the car, you have two choices. You can
do a high quality permanent install, or you can do a more temporary install.
The permanent install would be to remove the back seat and rocker panel
covers, and route the antenna cable under the carpeting. This will ensure
that the wire is not damaged by feet or other items in the car. The more
temporary method is to run the wire through the gap at the edge of the seats,
or between the seats, and under the floor mats. This works best of a vehicle
that has a single user. If you have kids in the car, especially the back
seat, then spend the time to do the better install.
Some users, especially those in the northern latitudes, and semi-truck
drivers, may want to use a more powerful external antenna, such as those
available from Terk. In doing so, you may find a mismatch in the antenna
connectors. Older radios and antennas used two connectors, one for the
satellite, the other for ground stations. Newer units carry both signals
on a single connector. Adapters are available to convert between the two
connector types. If you have a two connector antenna, make sure you
connect both connectors.
|Connect the modulator.
The FM modulator converts the audio coming out of your satellite radio up to
an FM station frequency. To make this work, the modulator has a connection
for your car radio antenna, and a cable the plugs into your in-dash stereo in
place of the car radio antenna. If you are lucky, your car will have a splice
or junction in the car radio antenna wire behind your glove box door, or under
the dash. If you are not as lucky, you may have to reach behind your in-dash
radio, or even pull your in-dash radio out to get at the antenna wire. Pull
the antenna wire out of your in-dash radio, and plug it into the modulator.
Then plug the antenna feed from the modulator back into your in-dash stereo
where the antenna wire was just removed.
Once your modulator is connected up, you need to mount it under your dash.
These boxes are light, so you can often tie it up with cable ties, or use
black electrical tape to mount the modulator. Make sure that it doesn’t
rub on anything, and that it doesn’t interfere with your heater controls.
Make sure it is snugly mounted so it doesn’t fall out or rattle.
|Install the radio.
Now that you have all the wiring connected, it is time to mount the radio.
It is possible to use double-side sticky tape to mount the radio unit to your
dash, either on the front of the dash, or on top of the dash. Your install
kit may also come with an industrial style sticky tape to mount a bracket to
your dash for the radio to fit into. If neither of these work, you may have
to drill holes to mount the mounting bracket. Make sure that you can swivel
the radio and position it as you want prior to doing any drilling. Drilling
into the console or floor is also an option. Be careful if you drill into the
floor that you do not drill into anything under your car, such as a gas line,
brake line, or your transmission. If you still cannot mount the satellite
radio the way you want, consider checking into custom mounting brackets and
posts at electronics stores and car parts stores. Finally, you may find that
you need to make a custom bracket. Home Depot sells aluminum bars that are
1/4 or 3/8 inches thick by 1-1/2 inches wide. These can be cut, bent, and
drilled as needed to make any kind of bracket for your satellite radio.
Once the radio unit is mounted, dress out the excess wiring. This includes
routing the wires neatly between components, securing the wiring with wire
ties, and wrapping up the excess wire lengths and stuffing it under the dash.
Make sure that there is just a little slack in all of the wiring to accommodate
vibration of the various parts. Also make sure that no wires run across sharp
edges or the pointed tips of screws. Finally, make sure that the wiring is
clear of both the driver and passenger feet to avoid accidental damage.
|Activate the radio.
Once you have installed the radio and connected all of the wiring, you need to
activate your radio. First, ensure that you have a good solid signal. Do
this by turning on the satellite radio, and turning on your in-dash stereo.
You should be able to hear the preview channel loud and clear. If not, check
your signal strength (it is a menu option). You may have to pull out of your
garage to get a better signal. Once you have a solid signal and can hear the
preview channel, follow the instructions in your manual to get your radio ID
number. This is normally a menu option. Leave your radio turned on. Then
call your satellite provider. They will walk you through the activation
process. Once completed, they will send a signal down to your satellite
radio to activate the hardware. While they say this will take 5 to 15
minutes, it might take as long as an hour. You can tell that your radio is
active if you are able to change to other satellite channels with the up and
down buttons. Once active, your radio may take up to 30 more minutes to
populate its internal channel map. It is good to give your car and sound
system a road test while this is happening to ensure that you have a good
solid install, and that there are no new noises or rattles as a result of
|Set your presets.
Once you are familiar with your radio, you will develop a set of favorite
stations. Please do take the time to program these stations into your preset
channel buttons. It is dangerous to take your eyes off of the road to adjust
your radio unit, even if you are doing it with your remote control. It only
takes a split second of inattention to cause an accident. Having your presets
set to your favorite stations allows you to set your most commonly used
stations with a single button push, which you should be able to do without
diverting your attention off of the road.