Piston Slap: The Audio Accord for the Ancient Honda

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Greg writes:

I have a ’95 Accord with 200,000 miles. As it runs well, I hope to drive it for a while more, but the radio has nearly died. What is the best solution for low-cost replacement audio? The other quirk is that in warm weather the speakers fade in and out. Do I have to replace the speakers and the wiring too?

Sajeev answers:

All of those problems normally stem from fried circuits in the head unit (the dashboard part of the stereo), so don’t worry about speakers. Wait ’til after the replacement stereo fails to fix that problem.

If you’d like better sound quality no matter what, replace the factory speakers: their cones are somewhat fossilized by now, anyway. And high (higher?) quality replacements are dirt cheap.

Back to the head unit: you have two options, both cost about the same: rebuild your current stereo through a variety of mom-and-pop types of shops on the Internet (or locally), or buy the following from an electronics store, WalMart (if you think they are good for America) or an online vendor like Crutchfield.

You will need:

– A universal single DIN head unit, your choice of brand and features. If you aren’t picky, there are plenty of good ones for less than $100.

– The wiring adapter that mates a universal head unit to your Honda’s dashboard wiring harness. Not only is the price right (under $20 for a basic model) but it prevents the associated risk of tapping and splicing the Honda wiring to install a non-Honda stereo.

– A hunk of black, vacuum-formed plastic to accept a universal head unit, and drop in exactly like the factory Honda stereo. This is another $20 well spent.

I am a big fan of high performance audio systems with a stealth bomber-like appeal. So I reckon the $100-140 you spend on aftermarket stereo parts is better off with a remanufactured head unit which looks good, does the job well enough for most people**, and easily spits out data to an aftermarket equalizer, amplifier and speakers, if so inclined.

**Assuming this car came with a factory CD player, cassette owners shall beg to differ.

[Send your technical queries to mehta@ttac.com]

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Slare Slare on Aug 17, 2009

    @Luke42 - buggy detachable face displays are fixed 99% of the time by simply cleaning the contacts. Even if you never remove the face, there is always some play between the two and the contacts get dirty/oxidized. Some are very easy to get to and a simple pencil eraser job will work. Some are pretty small and require a little more effort. But I promise this is usually the problem, even if they don't look dirty. Crutchfield is indeed a class act, and while they are not usually the price leaders, they can actually be very competitive when shopping for a low cost stereo (say in the $75-150 range) because their shipping is reasonable and they include (usually) all the extra accessories. $20 coupons can be found with a little googling, and their clearance or special purchase prices can be quite good. Once you add everything up, you may be surprised, and you'll also know you have legit warranty and vendor support. The same cannot always be said of eBay or other online shops. However in this case I think a salvage factory radio is probably best if you are happy with the features and only have a little while left with the car. But not everyone lives in an area where this is an easy option, and eBay prices can fluctuate wildly. Probably not worth it if you start getting over $40 or so. Otherwise, I can't imagine living without MP3 support, even if it is just on burned CD's or ideally through a USB stick or ipod input. Once you've gotten used to putting ~150 songs on one burnt CD it's hard to go back. Not to mention USB sticks or ipods. Only talk radio folks should live without it...

  • Tecant Tecant on Aug 17, 2009

    Before replacing a dying factory car stereo, I'd ask, where do you live? If you live near a high school or in any neighborhood where car break-ins are common, I would stick to a factory brand unit from the junkyard or get a new factory unit. Third party / after market units make your car a target for a smash & grab. We learned this the hard way. I know some stereos have removeable faceplates, but you have to remember to remove it every single time. My daughter forgot once and her stereo was stolen. If car break-ins are not an issue where you live or work, then you have many choices. My 1998 Camry still has its original cassette deck. I couldn't give that stereo away. I use a $10 mp3-to-cassette adapter to play music from my iPod. On a long trip my son and I used his iPhone to stream Pandora.com through the stereo. One of my neighbors never locks his car. His thought is: take whatever you want, just don't break the damn window. Of course, he leaves nothing in his car worth stealing.

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