By on August 17, 2009

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 [email protected]]

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19 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Audio Accord for the Ancient Honda...”


  • avatar
    John Horner

    Crutchfield.com should be able to fix you up in a jiffy. They include a physical and electrical mounting kit customized for the vehicle with most new head units. By getting a new unit you will probably automatically get a CD player w/MP3 and/or WMA file compatibility and a place to plug in your iPod if you so choose. While you are at it, get a unit which supports the new over-the-air HD digital FM.

    Something like this will fix you up for $100 including the install kit:

    http://www.crutchfield.com/p_158GT330/Sony-Xplod-CDX-GT330.html?tp=5684

  • avatar
    krazykarguy

    ^^^ My thoughts exactly. ^^^

    Crutchfield is A+ for car stereo stuff.

  • avatar

    Seems like a perfect opportunity to head to the local dismantler. Can probably find a pulled stock head unit that will come with a guarantee for cheap.

    Car-Part.com has literally scores of them available for under $50 US.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    I will add a vote for Crutchfield.
    Used them numerous times. Great product, great support for adaptors and installation.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    $15 for replacement stereo (guaranteed to work) for our Forester from the local Pick and Pull.

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    Keep in mind that you can also get a radio from a junkyard. I know that Accords aren’t exactly as common as Tauruses in junkyards, but it is still an option. At a junkyard near my house, I can get a new radio for $20. That is probably your cheapest and easiest option.

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    I will also +1 Crutchfield. Another solution is eBay. I used to buy stereos for the used car lot on eBay for $65-$70 and then $30 worth of wiring and dash kits would get them ready to install. A new stereo will add capabilities that a junkyard unit won’t, like MP3 capability and possibly even an AUX input on the front panel. I know it’s a high mileage daily driver, but I see no reason you shouldn’t enjoy a little tuneage during the commute! Good luck with whatever you choose to do.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Crutchfield is where you want to buy from if you want an easy replacement. I recently replaced my double-DIN radio in my 2003 Jetta with a single-DIN Clarion from Crutchfield. All I had to buy on my own was some automotive wire connectors. Everything else was included in my Crutchfield order. It was the easiest radio install I’ve done out of about 5 in total. Plus it was under $90 with shipping. I bought the Clarion DB285USB but it’s been discontinued. I’m happy with that particular model though mainly for its USB capabilities.

  • avatar

    +1 to any radio you purchase with a USB + Audio Input interface. No need for CD’s at that point if you already own a portable MP3 player of some kind or have some extra USB sticks laying around (and if not, you can get them free online sometimes if you hawk sites like techbargains).

    Add the bluetooth connectivity for hand-free cel-phone speaking that some other radios offer and it’s hard to pass up a $120 head unit that does all this.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Another Crutchfield fan here… I’ve been using and recommending them for years, including building some competition level systems that would knock your socks off.

    Grab a new head unit with whatever features float your boat (USB/iPod/Sirius, etc). Then like Sajeev said swap out the factory speakers if you care at all about how your tunes actually sound.

    Since you said “low cost” I will not even go into amplifiers and subwoofer choices even though I personally don’t consider an audio system complete without a least one small (8″) sub to fill in the bottom end.

  • avatar
    LennyZ

    Definitely get one with a USB input. After installing my radio with USB input CDs became almost obsolete. I ripped all my CDs to mp3 and use memory sticks. They’re easy to load, take less room and can hold lots of music. I’ve used Crutchfield in the past and I’ve gotten very good service.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Crutchfield is a great resource to find what fits your car, but I usually find what I want on Crutchfield and then go looking for that same item cheaper elsewhere (found the $150 headunit I wanted for $50 on craigslist!).

    Also, getting an adapter to connect the new stereo’s wiring harness to your car’s harness is great to have, but it’s super easy to just splice the wires if you don’t have the adapter. The wires are all color coded, so you just splice like to like. Get a crimper and connectors (available at most auto parts stores or radio shack). Disconnect your car battery before connecting to prevent blowing a fuse.

    crimper: http://www.electronix.com/catalog/images/84-207.jpg

    connectors: http://www.raptortechnique.com/images/glo_plug_repair01.jpg

  • avatar
    conswirloo

    I picked up a cheapy head unit from amazon for 50 bucks. SD slot, CD, USB, and IPOD interface.

    The ipod interface is a bit kludgy(I haven’t figured it out yet, but haven’t read the manual either).

    But for 50 bucks, I can’t complain.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Many car audio places have piles of the stock heads they pulled from cars they were installing new units in.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    It’s worth mentioning that Crutchfield isn’t the cheapest way to get a car stereo. But you do get great advice and customer service for the extra money. They do a great job of determining if the parts you order will fit together, determining if you need any extra parts, and determining if they’ll fit your car. They’re also very good about returns.

    One problem I’ve had with two low-end ($100-ish) stereos (Sanyo and Sony) is that the detachable display will start to flicker after a couple of years in the dash. Has anyone found a solution to this kind of longevity problem?

  • avatar
    JLD2k3

    I second the idea to use Crutchfield to find what you want, then go find it cheaper elsewhere. I saved ~60% when I built an entire system by using eBay instead.

  • avatar
    TR4

    OEM replacement from junk yard or e-bay is probably cheapest/easiest if you can live without modern features like aux jack/mp3/USB. OEM units are usually better quality/more durable; the after market units have lots more blinking lights.

  • avatar
    Slare

    @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…

  • avatar
    Tecant

    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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