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12 Easy Step Guides

12 Easy Steps...

...For Installing Satellite Radio

Step #1

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.

Step #2

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.

Step #3

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.

Step #4

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.

Step #5

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.

Step #6

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 points.

Step #7

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.

Step #8

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.

Step #9

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.

Step #10

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.

Step #11

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 your work.

Step #12

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.

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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