Car Audio Upgrades for an OEM System

Upgrading OEM Systems

If you don't want to go for a completely aftermarket system in your vehicle you can upgrade portions of your factory stereo. The biggest improvement that can be made is a change of speakers and/or the addition of a subwoofer system. The quality of the speakers in a factory system are usually the lowest quality available. An unfortunate problem since speakers have the greatest effect on the overall sound of your system.

Most factory speakers are cheap paper cones with maybe a whizzer cone attached. Upgrading to a quality set of component speakers or even an average coaxial set would be a big improvement. If you have a premium factory system (Bose, JBL, Mark Levinson, Infinity, etc.) you may run into some problems. These systems are typically made to function as a unit. There will be built in equalization circuits, factory amplifiers and non-standard impedance speakers. You may be able to change out the head unit with the proper premium adapter ($50+) but changing the speakers may be out.

A subwoofer system, whether it be an all-in-one amplified tube subwoofer or an amplifier and subwoofer combo will add a lot to the enjoyment of your factory system. The small speakers in a typical factory system just aren't capable of producing the sub-bass notes present in most music. Look for an amplifier that will accept speaker level inputs to avoid paying for an adapter separately.

Head units can be changed out with a factory wiring harness adapter, giving your system the extra features of an aftermarket system. If you do a head unit upgrade I'd recommend changing out the speakers as well to get the best sound from your new head unit. Some factory head units are better left intact though. These are the ones with built-in steering wheel controls and other features that you may want to keep. Reintegrating them into an aftermarket head unit installation could be done by the right installer but it wouldn't be cheap.

FM modulated CD changers are another popular item that can be added to factory systems, especially those without factory CD capabilities. The sound will not be as good as a direct connected CD changer but it will be better than cassette quality. Some factory head units have the ability to control a factory installed CD changer. The trouble is a factory installed CD changer runs in the $700 range. These factory CD changers are actually aftermarket manufacturer CD changers made with different interfaces. Usually you can get an adapter from Precision Interface Electronics (PIE) or a similar company that will allow you to add an aftermarket changer to your factory head unit.

Leased Vehicles

A general rule for leased vehicles is that as long as you can return the vehicle to its original state you won't have any problems when you return the vehicle. Make sure your installer understands that you are bringing in a leased vehicle and that anything that is done to it must be able to be undone. This means no cutting of door panels, no removing metal, cutting carpeting, modifying the dash, etc. Drop in speakers, head unit replacements (using wiring harness adapters), subwoofer systems, amplifiers, CD changers, and many more.

Almost any component can be added in such a way that will not void your lease. They even make video monitors that come in their own head rests. You simply replace your current head rest with one of these and then when your lease is up you swap them back out. Security systems, normally an invasive installation, can be installed without cutting wires if a wiring harness "T" adapter is made for your vehicle. These are simply installed between your factory wiring plugs and all of the connections are made to the adapter. When the lease is up you simply remove the aftermarket harness and plug the factory harness back together. Ask your installer if one of these harnesses is available for your vehicle. Several companies make them so ask around if you're told one is not available.

Magnuson-Moss Act

Did your dealer tell you that you'd void your factory warranty if you installed aftermarket equipment? Well guess what. You won't and you've got the law on your side. The Magnuson-Moss Act of 1975 says that a company can't void its warranty because a consumer had aftermarket equipment installed unless they can prove that the aftermarket equipment caused the problem. This means they can't blame the engine knock on your subwoofer system.

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