Totally Wired: Aftermarket Car Stereo (Radio) Wire Colors Guide

Take a look behind your car stereo and you’ll see a tangled mess of wires.

And while the crisscrossing wires might put you in mind of a Spaghetti Western, you don’t have to be quick off the draw to install an aftermarket car stereo.

Aftermarket Car Stereo Wire Colors

Thankfully, the wild west days of speaker wiring are long gone. Historically, brands were freestyling their wiring so that wiring color varied across the industry and even sometimes between different models from the same brand.

But there’s a new sheriff in town and wiring color has gotten cleaned up. Nowadays, wiring color has been standardized making it much easier to install your aftermarket car stereo.

So let’s take a look at car stereo wiring, and how a wiring harness makes this a simple job that anyone can do. Saddle up, cowboy.

The Good News: Standardized Wiring

The CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) has standardized wires across the industry, so a wiring harness from big-name brands will always follow these color codes. These brands include:

  • Sony
  • JVC
  • Kenwood
  • Alpine
  • Jensen
  • BOSS
  • Pioneer

With standardized wiring, installing your aftermarket car stereo couldn’t be simpler.

Types of Wiring

There are four types of wiring found in an aftermarket stereo wiring harness – for grounding, for power, for the speakers, and for the amplifier and antenna. Some newer harnesses will have additional wires for things like the parking break – but not all will.

  • The ground wire will be black.
  • There are three power wires: yellow, orange, and red.
  • There are a total of eight speaker wires, four for positive and four for negative.
  • They’ll always be a block color for positive and then the same color with black stripes for the corresponding negative, and they go to the left front, left rear, right front, and right rear speakers respectively.
  • You’ll find one or two wires for the antenna and the amplifier. The antenna wire will be blue while the amp wire will be blue and white.
  • And lastly you might find a few wires for the parking break, speed sensor and other gadgets. These can be brown, light green, light purple and pink. Don’t worry if you don’t have them on your harness – you can still follow all these instructions without them.

Aftermarket Car Stereo Wiring Diagram / Wire Color Reference Chart

Here’s a car stereo wiring reference chart to keep you right:

Wire ColorTypePolarityDescription
RedPower+12V Ignition (Switched)
YellowPower+12V Memory (Clock, Tuner)
BlackGroundingRadio Chassis Ground
BlueAntenna+Antenna Power
Blue / White StripeAmplifier+Amplifier Turn ON
OrangePower / Illumination+Dash Light (Illumination)
Orange / White StripePower / Dimmer+Dimmer Wire
GreySpeaker+Right Front Speaker
Gray / Black StripeSpeakerRight Front Speaker
WhiteSpeaker+Left Front Speaker
White / Black StripeSpeakerLeft Front Speaker
PurpleSpeaker+Right Rear Speaker
Purple / Black StripeSpeakerRight Rear Speaker
GreenSpeaker+Left Rear Speaker
Green / Black StripeSpeakerLeft Rear Speaker
BrownMisc.+Audio Mute (Not Used Frequently)
Light GreenMisc.Parking Brake
Light VioletMisc.+Reverse Gear Trigger
PinkMisc.+Vehicle Speed Sense (PWM)

Using A Stereo Wiring Harness

Out with the old, in with the new. But with an aftermarket car stereo, it’s not quite as simple as that. When you rip your old car stereo out, you’ll leave behind the factory harness.

To make life simple, a stereo wiring harness can help to fit your new stereo to the factory harness. This new harness effectively acts as an adaptor for your new stereo and your old vehicle, so you have an installation process as smooth as the tunes on your stereo.

There are a few types of wiring harness to choose from – and you need to opt for a harness that fits both your vehicle and your new aftermarket stereo. So strap in, let’s take a look at the range.

Extension Harness

You won’t always find the stereo connector in the dash. Sometimes, the connector is a long way from the stereo location, and it can even be found in the boot.

In these instances, you’ll need an extra few feet of wiring to hook your aftermarket stereo up. Extension harnesses give you all the wiggle room you need.

Amplifier Bypass Harness

You’re upgrading your sound system because factory stereos are low quality – but what about the factory amp? If you’re looking to upgrade your amp along with your stereo, then an amplifier bypass harness will help you to hook up.

Programmable Harnesses

Just because you’re upgrading your stereo doesn’t mean you should lose the stock features that came with your vehicle. Entertainment, communication and navigation systems are often integrated into the stereo and these systems, such as Uconnecti in Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeeps, can be adapted to your new stereo with a programmable harness.

Alarm Retainer Harness

Other essential electronics can also be built into the stereo – including the car alarm. The alarm retainer harness adapts the alarm system to work with your replacement stereo unit, so you can keep your vehicle secured.

Installing An Aftermarket Stereo With A Wiring Harness

Wiring harnesses make the installation of an aftermarket stereo a breeze. And with your standardized wire color guide, you really can’t go wrong.

You’ll simply match up the correct color wires, and then you’re ready to plug in and go. However, before you get started I’d recommend looking at the manufacturer’s guidelines for the wiring. Although stereo wiring is pretty much standardized, it doesn’t hurt to double-check your manufacturer hasn’t gone rogue.

Now for connecting the wires. Splicing and soldering is the best way to go – but if you don’t have your solder, there’s a handy shortcut.

Butt connectors let you quickly connect your wires, and can get you hooked up in seconds. For stereo wire, which is usually 14- to 16-gauge, the blue connectors are your best bet. Butt connectors aren’t quite as reliable as soldering, but for ease of use they can’t be beaten.

Once your stereo is all wired up, you just need to assemble the dash kit and replace everything in the dash.

Installing An Aftermarket Stereo Without A Wiring Harness

So, you’re a DIY fanatic and a wiring harness sounds like cheating? If you insist…

Or maybe you can’t find a wiring harness that fits your vehicle and aftermarket stereo combo. In that case, we’re going to have to do the wiring manually.

You’ll make life a lot easier by having a pigtail – that’s a connector already attached to the wiring. If your aftermarket stereo has a pigtail, you can connect the stereo’s wires through that.

If you don’t have a pigtail, and don’t feel like buying one, you’ll have to connect the pins to the head unit directly. Without a wiring harness you can’t rely on the color guides, so find a manufacturer’s wiring diagram for your head unit before you connect.

Wrapping Up…

Installing an aftermarket stereo doesn’t have to be a headache.

Wiring harnesses are designed to make life simple, and they’re surprisingly affordable. Even premium harnesses designed to let you keep your factory upgrades are worth every cent.

And gone are the frontier days of car stereo wiring. Now law and order are the order of business when it comes to installing a head unit.

So saddle up, and get that aftermarket stereo installed.


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Robert Muñoz

I’m Robert, a US-based auto electrician, auto mechanic, trained engineer and fanatic about all things motor vehicle. After studying engineering in college I returned to my original passion - car mechanics - and I ran a garage for a number of years serving my local community. Through my garage, I got involved in numerous road safety campaigns in my local area until eventually, I decided to share what I've learned with the world. Know more about me... You can follow me on LinkedIn.

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