Buying New Car Audio Equipment

There are several places that you can buy your new gear and they each have pros and cons. Read this chapter and decide which is the best for you.

Specialty Shop

Specialty shops are usually independent stores that are dedicated to car audio or both car audio and home audio (and maybe performance parts). You should find the most knowledgeable sales people at these shops. A specialty shop will usually have a handful of brands that they carry. They'll have around 4-5 top brands and maybe 2-3 cheaper brands. If you're completely green to car audio then this may be the place for you to go. The staff should have experience in the brands they carry and can help you select the product that is right for you.

Pros:

  • Should have the most knowledgable staff
  • Will be more likely to do any custom work you have in mind
  • Should be authorized for the brands they sell
  • Will have more of the specialty brands that are only available through retail channels

Cons:

  • Prices may be higher here. Expect to pay at or near retail prices.
  • Limited selection. May not carry all of the brands you want.

Mass Merchandiser

Mass merchandisers are stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City and similar large chains. They will carry a wide range of products including car audio, home audio, computers, music and maybe even home appliances. They will carry several top brands but will not carry some of the specialty brands. The prices are usually favorable and their buying power allows them to run specials that can be extremely enticing. Their service varies by store and usually depends on the department manager. The sales people and installers may not have as much experience as those working in the specialty shops and custom work may not be possible. This is another store dependent factor. Mass merchandisers can be a good choice for simple installations such as head unit and speaker replacements.

Pros:

  • Good selection of products
  • Good to excellent prices

Cons:

  • Experience and abilities of staff varies among chain's stores
  • Often push extended warranties heavily

Mail Order

Mail order is any retailer that sells product through the mail, by telephone or over the Internet. Some of these retailers are top notch with excellent support while others are real "fly by night" operations. One that I can recommend without hesitation are Crutchfield.

Crutchfield has been around the longest and are also the largest. They offer excellent sales and technical support. I've never found their sales people to be pushy in the least even though they do receive a commission. I believe they are the best value for anyone purchasing a head unit because they will include the wiring harness adapter, dash mounting kit and antenna adapter (if needed) with your purchase. Speaker purchases get adapter plates and wiring harness adapters included. They also send you a copy of their vehicle specific MasterSheets which will tell you how to take your current stereo out and install your new one. They're five dollars if you don't order your stereo from them and I highly recommend picking them up. They will prove invaluable when you start wondering if you took all of the screws out of the door or where the panel fasterners are attached. New customers can receive $20 off their first order of $200. If you would like the coupon code for this discount please send an email request. Crutchfield also has a few "almost hidden but not quite" deal sections. Here is a list of those Crutchfield deal links.

There are numerous other mail order companies out there with some being good and some being down right terrible. I wouldn't recommend shopping purely on price. Make sure you're dealing with a reputable business by asking around and even checking the Better Business Bureau in the company's home state. One of the resources I check is the Audio Mail Order Survey. I don't know how current it is kept (it looks like 1998 was the last update) but a lot of the larger "back of the magazine" companies are rated there. Be sure and read the comments people write by clicking on the company's name. You'll also notice that there are votes tabulated for each company. Stay away from those companies that have a lot of poor or very poor ratings and few good or very good ratings. There's a reason for this. These companies will often have a whole bag of dirty tricks they use. They'll lie, lie and then lie some more. They're rude and will even insult you right on the phone. And you're trying to give them money! It's unbelieveable how they keep the doors open. Keep in mind they often have outrageous shipping charges too. I'm talking $30-35 for a head unit which should cost less than $10 to ship. That's how they make up for their low prices. And IF you are able to return a piece of equipment you'll probably be charged a 15-20% "restocking fee". So on a $200 head unit that's $40 plus the $30 they charged you for shipping and then the $10 it cost you to ship it back for a total loss of $80. This is why it pays to deal with a reputable company.

Pros:

  • Prices are often lower then other sources
  • Will usually have a large selection of brands
  • Internet stores are open 24 hours

Cons:

  • Reputation of the company may not always be the best
  • May not be authorized for the brands they sell
  • Shipping charges can negate some of the savings
  • You'll probably have to install it yourself as most shops won't install equipment you buy from other sources

eBay and Online Auctions

Ebay is a good source for picking up almost any kind of car audio equipment. Many of the online and offline retailers will sell product through online auctions as a way of both generating additional sales and for liquidating excess inventory. Ebay will have the best selection simply because it is the largest online auction site. The competition on online auctions can be pretty fierce among competing sellers so the price will often drop to near wholesale levels. You'll have to do your homework and make sure you know what the "street price" is of the equipment you're looking for. Otherwise you might end up paying more for the unit once shipping charges are included. If the seller does not specify the shipping charges then find them out before the auction ends. Sometimes the listing will state something like "Buyer agrees to pay all shipping charges". Some sellers will jack up these charges in order to make a little more profit on the deal. For tips on using eBay check out the chapter on buying used equipment.

Pros:

  • Competition will often drive the price to near wholesale prices
  • Will have a large selection of brands
  • Low starting bid auctions may not get many bids and you can pick the equipment up below cost

Cons:

  • Reputation of the seller could be questionable (check their feedback rating)
  • May not be authorized for the brands they sell (equipment may be "as is", no warranty)
  • Shipping charges can negate some of the savings (some seller's artificially inflate the shipping prices)
  • You'll probably have to install it yourself as most shops won't install equipment you buy from other sources
  • Seller may require a money order rather than a credit card

Who Should You Buy From

Before you sink your hard earned money into a manufacturer's equipment, test their customer support. Email or call them and tell that what equipment you're looking at. Ask them what kind of enclosure you can use for X woofer or if Y amplifier will power your system effectively. This not only applies to the manufacturer but also to the place you intend to buy your equipment. If they won't be helpful before the sale then you can imagine what their support will be like after they have your money. I'd play by the three strikes rule. Even the best companies have poor employees so if you don't talk to someone helpful by the third try - they're out. Never forget that you hold the purse strings so you call the shots. No one can force you to buy equipment from them. The modified golden rule states, "He who has the gold makes the rules". You've got the gold so you decide who gets your money. Don't reward companies that provide poor service. Demand better.

Tell It to the FTC - Toll-Free

If you have a problem that can't be resolved with the seller (whether it be local, mail order or online auction) you can report it to the FTC. The FTC has made it easy for consumers to report fraud to the law enforcement agency through a toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The line is staffed by counselors from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Eastern time, Monday through Friday. The FTC probably won't get involved on your behalf but reporting the incident can help others. Always try to work it out with the seller first though. Sometimes it's just a misunderstanding or you'll get a bad employee of the company. Also, buy with your credit card so that you can get them involved if necessary. That's the best way that I've found to protect purchases.

Buying New Car Audio Tips

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