Customizing your Automotive Electronics

Cars have long been the mainstay in American transportation. Our lives revolve around them! The average american spends nearly an hour a day in one. That’s 30 days of our lives every year! The single most important piece of technology that gets us through being trapped in our small metal cells is the car radio. Believe it or not, The radio hasn’t always been a part of Automotive History, and the role that it plays has evolved more than any other system throughout automotive history. 

The History

The first radio wasn’t installed in a vehicle until 1930! That’s 45 YEARS after the conception of the automobile. Installation was a behemoth of a job taking nearly 2 days and coming with its own separate batteries to power it. It wasn’t a complicated device with simple knobs as the controls and of course, requiring manual seek. For the next 10 years it remained relatively unchanged aside from the facial reorganization for new models. They all ran on a simple 6v system powered by the vehicle’s alternator. 

Post 1940 came the first big change for the car radio, Additional electric features that were becoming available on automobiles such as turn signals, and the standardization of 2 taillights were beginning to exceed the smaller 6v system’s capacity requiring the step up to the 12v system. The 12v system didn’t change much of the appearance or function of the car radio but the added power allowed for leaps and bounds in the sound quality and volume capabilities. This new technology combined with swing music, and horsepower provided the mixing pot from which the hot-rodding culture emerged. In fact, the 12v system provided so much more capabilities it opened the doors for the development of the modern radio, and is still the standard system used today.

Automotive Electronics

The 1950’s brought about the first use of an FM radio in an automobile closely followed by the introduction of the cassette player less than 14 years later. For the first time in history, people could listen to any music they wanted while on the go. This innovation was so monumental that it wasn’t removed from automobiles until 2010, 46 years later. The inclusion of a CD player made its debut in 1984 increasing once again listening ease, and driver safety by eliminating the finicky fast forward and rewinds necessary on cassette tapes. During the second stage of the car radios existence its appearance had completely changed. It was no longer an integrated piece of hardware worked seamlessly into the vehicle’s dash, it became a grey cluster stuffed with buttons and knobs as it tried desperately to include all its new features without sacrificing usability. The radio itself became easier to remove, replace, and customize as a segmented unit. But as the capabilities of the radio increased, so did the complexity with regards to wiring. We were moving into the modern era of vehicle electronics, an era in which it would experience exponential growth, and would no longer be restricted to the dash.

Modern Vehicles

Automotive Electronics

The concept of custom car electronics really began to blossom in the 1980’s with pioneers introduction of the world’s first CD player. This would be the first of many unrivaled innovations to be introduced that would drastically improve the Automotive experience. In 1990 the first GPS was installed in a car and gave rise to the wave of the future by negating the need for the “family atlas” under the back seat. CD Changers began growing in popularity leading to the infamous trunk tracker craze that swept the world in the late 90’s. The rise of the cell phone and MP3 player fed the growing need for Bluetooth in vehicles, and the first to do so hit the markets in 2010, just 9 years ago. Since that time heads up displays, steering wheel controls and many other enhancements have made it nearly irresistible to retrofit our daily drivers.

Automotive Electronics

Today the radio has completely evolved, now often sporting no buttons, full touch screens, GPS and Backup camera capability as standard, with wifi, bluetooth, and video capabilities coming optional. In addition remote start, keyless entry, and many other upgrades have become available to revamp any vehicle. With all these additional features the wiring behind the dash has become a foreboding mass of tangled string. Simple modifications can take hours or even days to complete. And miswiring can be fatal to certain vital systems. If you are considering upgrading or updating your ride, seriously consider hiring the help of certified professionals like those at Limitless Electronics and other certified electronics dealers. Their trained professionals will ensure that the job desired is done to the highest quality possible, and done in a timely fashion. 

Hardcore Do-It-Yourselfer? Hats off to you. Let’s talk for a minute on what to expect so that your first time goes off as smoothly as possible.

What to Expect

First off, you’re gonna need to gather the proper tools, supplies, and info on your vehicle. Here’s a list of what to bring:

  • Trim popper set
  • Wire puller
  • Ratchet set
  • Carpet glue
  • Wire taps
  • Wire strippers
  • Electrical tape
  • Wiring diagrams for your specific vehicle
  • Wire in the proper gage
  • Zip ties

With all that you’re ready to tackle almost any project! However, there are some things to be aware of and that should ALWAYS be done before working with any electrical systems in the car. First, make sure that the car has been turned off and that the key has been removed, and then ensure that you disconnect the negative side of the battery. Put the connecting wire in a position where it cannot come into contact with the battery terminal. Doing so is what prevents accidental discharge of the airbags while working on the car.

Once the battery has been disconnected depending on the project, you will likely need to remove seats, door panels, floor runners, and dash from your vehicle to be able to run the wire. If you’re considering soundproofing your vehicle, the time to do it would be at this point. Most projects will require the addition of a specialized wiring harness in the dash of your vehicle to provide access and power points for additional features. Beyond that the specifics of the project are completely dependant on the desired outcome, make, and model of your vehicle. Again, if you decide to move ahead with your project, please proceed with the utmost caution. Doing the work can be an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience, but if you ever get stuck or in over your head, please, don’t hesitate to call your local experts for assistance.

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