How to Choose a Car Stereo Installer

Probably the biggest unsung hero in car audio is the installer. The installer spends his days bent over trunks, twisted into weird positions and lying upside in who knows what in order to install your equipment. I have a lot of respect for installers. Probably because I've been installing equipment since I first had a car. Unless you have a guide it can be a challenge to install your first system. If you don't feel up to the task then you're going to need to seek out a professional.

Finding a good installer is critical to getting a good installation. Ask around and you'll get plenty of horror stories of bad installs. I've had people in tears when I showed them what their last installer did to their car. Out of sight, out of mind is not the credo you want your installer to live by. Here's a few tips to help make sure your installer is up to the task:

  • What certifications does the installer hold? MECP is the most common. Look for at least "Basic Level" certification. Advanced (formerly "First Class") Installer is the next step up and the most common for experienced installers. Master Installer (Gold) is the highest level and the most difficult to achieve. There are less than 100 Master Installers at any given time so don't expect to find one.
  • How much experience does the installer have? If they've been installing at the same shop for several years then that's a good sign. Total years experience is also important but don't expect a twenty year veteran. Installers tend to be young and often move on to other ventures.
  • What training has the installer had? There are several manufacturers that will offer training to installers on site. See if your installer has completed any training of this sort or if they have attended one of the many installation specific schools. This can be a plus but neither is a substitute for install bay experience.
  • Ask to see the installer's photo album. Most shops and installers will keep a photo album (physical or digital) of the installs they do. This shows what they are capable of and may inspire some ideas for your own system.
  • If you don't know anyone who has used this installer than ask if they have any customer testimonial letters. It's good to see that others have used the installer and have been satisfied. Don't be too concerned if they don't have any. These are much more rare than the photo album.

In addition to finding a good installer you also need to make sure that installer's shop backs up their work with some kind of guarantee. This is like a warranty on installation. It's your assurance that if they don't do their part that they will make it right or at least give your money back. Make sure you get it in writing. And I would always make sure they agree to a noise free installation. A good installation doesn't have noise so if you're paying for the job then they owe you a noise free installation. Noise suppressors are not a solution either. If they can't give you a noise free guarantee then find another shop. A good installer is able to eliminate noise in their installations. Here's a few other questions to ask about the installation process:

  • How is installation charged? Is it by the job or by the hour? Most shops will have a flat fee for the common installations like head units, speakers and amplifiers. Custom work will usually be charged by the hour. $50-100 per hour is the industry norm but that varies widely by area.
  • Will my factory components be returned to me? The answer should be yes. If it's not then make sure they understand that the answer is yes or you'll take your business elsewhere. You'll need that equipment if you plan on taking your stereo with you when you sell your car. If nothing else you can sell it on eBay for a couple of dollars.
  • Do you use wiring harness adapters? This will make re-installing your factory stereo much easier and is just a generally good practice.
  • How do you make wire connections? Make sure they use solder and heat shrink or crimp connectors.
  • What type of insurance do you carry? This will protect you in case your car is damaged while in the install bay or if the installer accidentally sets off your airbag. If they don't carry insurance then you might have to take them to court to get reimbursed.

If you're looking to install a competition system then you'll need to find an installer with experience in this area. Don't let an installer "cut his teeth" on your vehicle. That's what their friends' and their own cars are for. You want to find someone with a history of winning vehicles. This can be tough so be prepared. The best place to find one is at the car stereo competitions. Find system installations that you like and ask who installed them. This is especially true of the competition winners. When the same name keeps coming up you'll know you found your installer. Find out what shop they work for and go there. Ask to speak with the installer and let them know what you want. Most installers would rather work on a competition vehicle than the typical "deck and four" installation. The competition vehicle is where the installer's skills can really shine.

One final note about installers. Because they're under appreciated you can score points with them by doing what few people do. First you need to meet with them. Introduce yourself and let them know what you're looking for. Smile, treat them with respect and give them your phone number so they can reach you if they have any questions. Don't rush them unless you want a rush job. If you really need to have the car finished sooner than normal then you might want to offer them a tip if they can get it completed sooner by working overtime. Do this discretely and out of earshot of other employees. If you can afford it you might consider offering them a tip if they do a good job as well. This is probably overkill for a head unit installation but on a full system you might want to consider offering them a little something extra. A few extra dollars spent ($20-100) could help guarantee that everything is done right. You'll be remembered for sure and any future installs will be a priority for the installer as well.


The Car Audio Help DVD catalog includes five different videos covering many areas of car audio installation and custom fabrication. Topics range from basic system installation (head units, CD changers, amplifiers, speakers, etc.) and mobile security (car alarms and remote start) to subwoofer box design and fiberglass fabrication. If you're interested in custom fabrication and car audio installation be sure to check out what we have to offer.

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