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7 Common Car Stereo Problems, Symptoms and Solutions

Purchasing high-quality components for car stereo is a good way of avoiding some common car stereo problems. How to diagnose car speaker problems is a crucial interest if it stops suddenly working. However, any car stereo will sooner or later experience problems. 

There are generally three major causes of car audio problems. Of course one is old age, and the problems thereof are inevitable, just like with humans, lol. The second cause is components that are not correctly matched, which inhibits production of high quality sound. The final cause, which happens to be quite common, is incorrect installation, sometimes known as the infamous “user error.”

Whichever of the three causes has led to your problem, you want it fixed. Fast.

Whether it is a receiver problem, a speaker-related problem or anything in between, we have you covered.  We narrowed down the long list of possible car stereo problems to the most common seven and set them out below. We include what we hope are simple, helpful troubleshooting and solution ideas for each of the common problem.  

static noise in car

1. Car Radio Not Working

Your car radio will fail to work properly when there is a problem in any of the power sources or in any part where current passes through. No power, no music. Some of the car radio has power but no sound. What could cause this type of issue?

Wiring is one of the issues that might cause your car radio to fail. The radio is connected to the power source and speakers through wires that are mostly found underneath the dashboard. If there’s a problem with the wiring, the radio will definitely not work. 

Blown fuses are another common culprit. Like many other electrical systems, car radios use fuses to prevent damage due to power upsurges. If the fuse is blown, the car’s audio circuit is broken and the radio cannot turn on.

Finally, don’t forget to consider that a ground connector fail might be the source of your audio woes. 

Symptoms to look for

  • Radio fails to turn on – wiring problem or blown fuse
  • Car radio turns off after a few seconds at irregular intervals – there’s either a power or ground connection problem.
  • Car radio display and sound goes on and off together – head unit might not be getting enough power
  • Radio goes off when negotiating a corner or passing a bump – a connector at the back of the unit is likely loose

What to do when car radio is not working

Check whether the fuse is blown using a multimeter. To do this, follow these steps:

  • First make sure that the system’s power is off.
  • Set your multimeter to ohms.
  • Touch the metal caps of the fuse with the multimeter’s testing leads and see whether or not a reading is recorded.
  • If the multimeter shows a reading, the fuse is not blown; if there is reading, your fuse has blown.

If you suspect a ground connection is the reason your car stereo isn’t working, check to make sure the connection is not loose or rusted. If either if the case, replacement or repair will be needed to get back on track with your tunes. 

2. Newly Installed Head Unit has No Power

If you are finding that power cuts out in your recently installed aftermarket head unit, it’s highly likely that the head unit is not receiving 12V.

Another cause for a powerless head unit could be that your amplifier has switched into protection mode. This can happen in one of two ways. One, the power produced by the alternator is too much for the amplifier and the amp has to protect itself from damage. Two, the battery is unable to provide the audio system with constant voltage.

more power

Symptoms to look for 

The most common symptom for this problem is the head unit is just what you would expect, the unit cuts out intermittently or loses power altogether.

What to do when your head unit has no power 

Use a voltmeter to check if the power wire is sending 12V to the head unit. It the power wire is doing so, then the problem is with the head unit itself. Hopefully that is not the case. Before you give up on the unit, check these possible solutions:

  • Change out the power wire
  • Check for blown fuses and replace if necessary
  • Check the battery 

3. No Bass from Car Speakers

We know it’s all about that bass, but what happens when you’re not actually getting any bass?

bass in car stereo

This is a car stereo problem that usually occurs when factory speakers are being upgraded or aftermarket speakers are being installed or repaired. What can cause speakers to lack bass?

For bass to be produced, speakers need to push air at the same time. The “no bass” problem occurs when one speaker pushes while the other pulls air. This mostly happens when the speakers are out of polarity.

Another reason for the “no bass” scenario is that aftermarket speakers are heavier and harder than factory speakers. These speakers improve the quality of your car stereo but eat up the bass of your factory speakers.

Symptoms to look for

You don’t hear any bass at any volume level.

What to do when your car stereo has no bass

Check whether the speaker wires are connected to the stereo amp and head unit appropriately. The positive (+) terminal of the speaker should be connected to the positive terminal of any other component, including the battery. Same case applies to the negative (-) terminal.

Another potential solution is installing an external amplifier. Some people opt to have a head unit upgrade to solve the no bass problem. The bottom line is that your car stereo needs something that puts in more watts.

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4. Unwanted Noises in the Car Audio System

Hearing mysterious noises from car audio system is a very frustrating experience. Nearly every driver has encountered car stereo noise at one time. While it may be a fun experiment to see if you can recreate the weird sounds your car audio is making, the bottom line is you want those weird sounds OUTTA THERE.

Symptoms to look for

There are numerous sources of unwanted noises but here are some of the most common ones:

Alternator whine: This is the most common car stereo noise. It often happens when ground for either the head unit or speaker’s amplifier is poorly chosen. Poor condition of the charging system as well as connections between the audio system components and the battery can also result in alternator whine.

Symptom of alternator whine: You hear a noise that fluctuates with the RPMs of your vehicle’s alternator. Alternator whine rises and falls with engine speed in a pretty annoying way. You’ll know it when you hear it!

Accessory pop: This noise is normally associated with a particular electrical event. Usually, accessories like headlights, windshield wipers, turn signal and brakes draw high current and can cause a voltage spike that then travels to the audio system. That is what causes the “pop”.

Symptom: A sharp pop sound is heard when you turn on or off high current car accessories like the ones listed above.

Speaker popping and crackling: These rice krispy sounds are often caused by breaking down due to old age, poor input quality or a bad radio connection.

Symptom: Speaker crackles when the engine is turned on and when the car is in motion.

car stereo

Getting rid of unwanted noises from car stereo

For alternator whine, find the component that’s producing noise and re-ground it.

A clean, bare chassis metal is the ideal grounding source. You will also want to ensure that the charging system is in good condition. All connections (battery posts, alternator connections, head unit, amplifiers, signal processors, and ground strap) should be secure.

To eliminate noise due to accessory pops, add a small bi-polar capacitor between the power wire of the accessory producing noise and its ground. The capacitor will then absorb the power surges thus preventing their transfer to the car’s audio system. Sweet, right?

If there is speaker popping and crackling, swap the channel and check whether the noise is still present. If the crackling happens  no matter what channel the radio is on means that the speaker is broken and has to be repaired or replaced. Sorry. 🙁

5. Sound Suddenly Cuts Off

Sound cuts normally occur when the amplifier is getting overheated or a speaker wire has become loose. Amplifiers typically generate lots of heat, especially when music is played at high volumes for long periods. To manage this amount of heat, the amplifier needs to be getting enough airflow.

Because, be honest, we all play our music at high volumes for long periods. That’s part of the fun.

Symptoms to look for 

This problem is signified by sound from your car speakers suddenly cutting off and coming back after a short while. 

What to do when your car stereo suddenly cuts off

If your car speakers stopped working, you have to follow a process. To solve this problem, ensure that there is enough airflow where the amplifier is mounted. The airflow keeps the amp cool at all times and should prevent sudden sound cut offs. It’s also a good idea to check your speaker wires to make sure they are properly connected.

6. Car Stereo Becomes Too Hot

Faulty wiring is the major cause of car stereo getting unusually hot. Your speakers could be incorrectly wired, or wires that are supposed to run separately have been combined.

There is no problem with the system getting warm since various electrical devices heat up while in use. That is to be expected. However, generation of too much heat could be an indication of a malfunction. It is important to note that abnormal buildup of heat can be dangerous. The heat can damage various parts of the car stereo and even cause a fire.

hot stereo

Symptoms to look for

Um, the car stereo becomes too hot to touch when on…. 🙂

What to do when your car stereo becomes too hot

You probably need to check the entire installation and wiring of the car audio system. If you do not find any installation or wiring faults and the stereo still runs hot, the ultimate solution might be servicing the entire system.

7. Car Stereo Problems Due to Poor Grounding

What happens if you don’t ground a car stereo is a very important question to ask. The majority of non-equipment related audio problems result from poorly chosen ground points. Apart from alternator whine, poor grounding can cause the amplifier to clip.

Poor grounding can cause the amp to cut in and out. When the car stereo is turned up, the amps pull more current. If the system has an unreliable ground, the amp cannot pull the needed current. This normally sends the amp into clipping.

Symptoms to look for

Alternator whine and the audio system produces crappy sounds.

What to do to ensure proper grounding of your car stereo

As you check the integrity of other connections, always remember that grounding is of utmost importance. If you install a large car audio system, it will require a bigger ground. Also important to remember is that grounds should be on the car’s chassis.

Many people make a mistake of using the negative battery post as a ground for the car audio system. This is a terrible idea as the entire ripple from various items including the alternator travels through this point. Using it a ground invites all the noise from these items into the sound system. You definitely do not want that.

Keep Your Car Stereo (and Yourself) Humming Along

The stereo is the heart of your car’s sound system. Without it, your in-car entertainment is rarely enjoyable. For music lovers, especially, driving a car without tunes is unimaginable. The bottom line is that lack of proper maintenance can result in your car stereo having problems like those described here. To ensure your sound system is working the way it should, consider a full diagnostic of the system.

When you know how to identify and solve common car stereo problems, you reap the best reward of all, superior sound and a quality ride. 

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