Installing a Subwoofer to a Factory Stereo: A Beginner’s Guide

If audio quality is important to you, a factory stereo may not meet your expectations. Car manufacturers often prioritize other features and a factory sound system is typically not a priority. To achieve better bass and sound quality, an aftermarket system is recommended.

Installing a new aftermarket sound system can be daunting, both in terms of cost and the amount of work required. An alternative is to install a subwoofer on your factory stereo, which can provide improved bass without the need for a major investment.

A subwoofer can be installed in an afternoon, and by keeping your factory stereo, you can maintain the familiar controls.

Before diving into the step-by-step guide for installing a subwoofer, it is important to understand the difference between active and passive subwoofers. We will cover this in more detail before starting the installation process.

Car Stereo With Adjustable Volumes

Subwoofer Showdown: Active vs. Passive

You have two options when it comes to subwoofers for your factory stereo: active (powered) or passive (unpowered). Both will improve your sound system, but it’s important to understand the differences before you make a decision.

Active Subwoofer

An active subwoofer, also known as a powered subwoofer, has its own power source, typically a built-in amplifier. This means you don’t need to install an additional amplifier, which simplifies the installation process. However, because of the built-in amplifier, active subwoofers are best used in systems with only one subwoofer. This means placement is more critical.

Passive Subwoofer

A passive subwoofer, also known as an unpowered subwoofer, does not have a built-in amplifier. If you’re installing a passive subwoofer, you’ll need to connect an external amplifier to your sound system. This is an additional step, but it does provide more flexibility, as you can add multiple subwoofers to the system. Passive subwoofers are also typically more compact and less expensive than active subwoofers, which can be a benefit when working in a small space like a vehicle.

Now that you understand the differences between active and passive subwoofers, you can use this guide to walk you through the process of installing either type of subwoofer to a factory stereo.

DIY Installation: Adding a Passive Subwoofer and Amp

First, let’s take a look at passive subs. If you’ve got a small vehicle, you’ll appreciate saving space with a smaller sub.

Step 1: Powering Down: Disconnecting the Battery

Before working on your car’s electronics, disconnect the negative terminal of the battery to ensure that there is no power in the system. This will keep you safe from electrical mishaps.

Step 2: Finding the Perfect Spot: Placement of the Subwoofer

Locate a suitable space for your subwoofer and its housing. Common places to install subwoofers include the rear of the vehicle or under the rear seats.

Step 3: Power Up: Securing the Power Wire

Connect the positive terminal of the power wire to the battery, and route it to the amplifier. Locate a gap in the vehicle’s firewall to run the wire into the cab. It is recommended to cover the portion of the wire that is exposed to heat from the engine with flex loom tubing for protection.

Additionally, make sure to install the fuse that comes with your wiring kit as close to the battery as possible. This will protect the system in case of a power surge from the battery. Finally, connect the power wire to the amplifier.

Step 4: Ground Control: Grounding the Amp

Use a short black wire to ground the amplifier to a metal surface in the vehicle. Avoid grounding to painted or plastic surfaces. This step improves safety and reduces interference that can affect audio quality.

Step 5: Connecting the Stereo and Amp

Remove the factory stereo and locate the wiring harness behind it. Identify the speaker wire and tap into it. Connect the speaker wire to the amp. A shortcut method is to use posi taps to connect the speaker wire.

Step 6: Power and Ground Connections to the Wiring Harness

Connect the power wire for the amplifier to the wiring harness. This will allow the amplifier to turn on and off with the stereo. Additionally, connect the ground wire from the amplifier to the ground wire in the wiring harness.

Step 7: Speaker Wires to the Line Output Converter

After connecting your speaker wire to the wiring harness, run it to the terminal on the line output converter (LOC). This is necessary as most factory speakers lack pre-amp outputs. Connect the RCA connectors to the LOC, and then run them to the amplifier. To avoid signal interference, run the RCA connectors on the opposite side of the vehicle from where the power wire is located.

Step 8: Finishing Touches: Connecting the Amp and Subwoofer

Connect the RCA cables to the amplifier and use heavy-duty speaker wire to connect the amplifier to the subwoofer. Once you reconnect the battery, your new subwoofer will be ready to use.

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Easy Installation: Adding an Active/Powered Subwoofer

If you prioritize sound quality, consider installing a powered subwoofer. It offers a deeper and richer sound than an unpowered subwoofer.

The installation process is similar to that of an unpowered subwoofer, with the added step of connecting the built-in amplifier to power and grounding the subwoofer to the vehicle. Additionally, you will need to run the RCA wire from the factory stereo and plug it directly into the subwoofer.”

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Safety First: Precautions to Take

Before installing a subwoofer into a factory stereo, it’s important to take safety precautions to protect yourself and your system.

  • Always disconnect the battery before working on your car’s electronics. This can be done by disconnecting the negative terminal.
  • To protect your car’s electronics, ensure that wires are bent gently rather than sharply.
  • To test your system, start with the gain at a lower volume. Cranking the volume too high too quickly can overload the system.
  • To prevent voltage fluctuations and extend the lifespan of your subwoofer, consider adding a capacitor to the system. This should be installed next to the amplifier and grounded with the same wiring.

Bringing it all Together: Wrapping Up

If you want to improve your car audio quality without installing a full aftermarket sound system, consider adding a subwoofer. Installing a subwoofer on your factory stereo is simple with the right equipment and a step-by-step guide. This will add more bass to your sound system without sacrificing any of the factory features you enjoy. Keep it simple and enhance your audio experience with a subwoofer installation.

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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