Car Stereo Installer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotIf you love cars and music, there's a career in tune with your interests!

Car stereo installers are called on to enhance, add to or totally replace the sound systems in vehicles. This may include CD players, amps, speaker boxes, woofers and tweeters.

The newest stereos (head units) are able to handle MP3s, USB devices and SD cards.

There's a range of systems that installers may work on. Some customers only wish to spend a few hundred dollars, others a few thousand. For others, the sky is the limit.

For an installer to be successful, they must be extremely knowledgeable about their field. Speaker boxes must be perfectly customized, grounding wires must be installed in the right place and the wattage must be calculated exactly. Otherwise, the stereo will not perform to its full potential. Attention to detail means everything in this career.

Since technology is constantly changing, an installer must continually learn.

"One of the biggest trends I see is using your portable player in your vehicle -- iPod, Zune, whatever MP3 a person has, they want to use it everywhere," says Theresa Hephner. She's a former car stereo installer. She now works as the national accounts director for a car stereo manufacturer in Tempe, Arizona.

"This means either replacing their factory radio with one that will hook up to the MP3, or having an interface installed with the factory radio that accepts the MP3 output," she says. "The use of MP3 in the vehicle is starting to lift amplifier, speaker and subwoofer sales, too, because once a person plugs their MP3 into the vehicle, they really want it to sound good."

"Cassette is dead; CD changers are dead," says Ian Walls. He owns a car stereo store.

He says most stereos are still able to play CDs. However, the next generation is going to be 'mechless.' This means stereos won't have CD drives -- they will only play digital music.

Unfortunately, this means a decrease in sound quality, at least until digital devices improve, say Walls. Digital music may be convenient, but the quality isn't as high.

"It will take quite a while (to get rid of CDs)," says Walls. "Some of us are still going to insist on the best quality sound we can get."

Car stereos are getting fancier and more complicated. So those with good technical training are in demand.

"Due to the updated and integrated technologies in newer vehicles, the demand for skilled technicians is higher than in previous years," says Vince Edwards. He's an installer and sales manager at a car stereo store.

Walls says that people are less likely to be able to install their own stereos these days. That's because stereos are more complicated and more likely to be integrated with other devices.

For example, the stereo often includes other electronics, such as the chime for "door ajar" or "keys in ignition." The stereo may also include warning circuits for things like ABS brakes and airbags. If you remove the stereo, you might be removing other important functions!

Some car stereo installers become managers after a few years. Others eventually open their own shops. And some end up going back to school to become journeyman electricians.

Don't expect to work just nine to five. Generally speaking, you have to stay until the job is done. At times, you might have to work evenings.

"It's not something where you just punch in or punch out," says Carlos Zambrano. He's a former car audio installer. He now works for a training school in New Jersey that teaches installation. "If you're stuck on something, sometimes they demand more of you, [so] you might have to stay later. But it's something, if you're in the field, you're going to enjoy doing."

Zambrano visits high schools, car shows and career events to spread the word about opportunities in car stereo installation.

"Most of them want to start a career, or build a hobby, or they just want a career change," says Zambrano. "We explain that if you like cars and you like music, then this is the field to be in."

At a Glance

Set up audio equipment in cars

  • Customer service is extremely important
  • Be prepared to put in some long hours
  • Professional certification will serve you well