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How To Install Satellite Radio in Your Car 
 
by Deborah Zeitler May 26, 2005

  • Satellite-Ready Car Stereos

Besides factory-installed units, many models of newer cars are being sold with "satellite-ready" stereos. If you have a satellite-ready car stereo then you’ll need to purchase one additional piece of equipment to get connected, called a tuner. A tuner is a small box that costs about $100, and fits out of sight underneath your car seat. Just a single wire runs from the tuner to the back of your in-dash stereo. Both XM and Sirius sell satellite-ready stereos, and as time goes on more and more after-market car stereos will be made satellite-ready. Read the documentation for your stereo; if you bought it recently it might already have this capability.

  • Plug-n-Play Satellite Radio

If you don’t have a satellite-ready car stereo, you don’t need to purchase one as long as you already have an FM stereo of some kind installed in your vehicle. If you do, another option is to buy a "plug-n-play" receiver. To use a plug-n-play receiver in your car you also need to buy a car installation kit made specifically for the receiver you choose (in order to "plug" it into your car).

Some plug-n-play receivers are part of a "boom box" unit - and just like it sounds, you can carry it with you and listen to satellite radio wherever you want, or even connect it to your home stereo. The receiver, which is roughly the size of a compact Walkman, is detachable. When you want to listen in your car you just remove the receiver from the boom box and plug it into your car.

  • Installing a Plug-n-Play Car Kit

The car kit for a satellite receiver consists of an antenna, a mounting base and a "cradle." The base attaches to either your dashboard console or to the inside of your windshield with a suction cup, and the cradle fits onto the base and holds the receiver unit. The size of the receiver cradle is a little larger than the dashboard cradles used for cell phones. Once the base and cradle are installed, there are only two wires you need to run: one from the back of the receiver cradle to the antenna, and another wire from the cradle to a power source inside your car.

If you want to use your vehicle’s 12V battery line as your power source, have a professional stereo installer do this unless you’re comfortable working with an automotive electrical system and know exactly what you’re doing. An easier option for connecting the receiver cradle to a power source is to use the cigarette lighter adapter that comes with the car kit. Just plug in one end of the adapter to the receiver cradle and the other end into your cigarette lighter. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing as using the battery line hidden behind your dashboard, but it has the advantage of being easy and fast.

  • Connecting Car Stereo Speakers to a Satellite Receiver

Satellite receivers use wireless technology, which lets you listen to your car’s speakers without needing to wire them to the receiver. Just set your stereo to an unused FM frequency (usually 88.1) and turn on the receiver; you’ll then hear your satellite channels through your car’s speakers instead of your regular FM stations.

Using the satellite receiver’s wireless capability will give your radio the FM sound quality you’re accustomed to hearing in your car. But if you want to take advantage of the digital quality sound that you can get from satellite radio, then there’s one last step before finishing your installation. Run one more wire from the back of the receiver cradle to your existing car stereo. Even though this is a step that might require a professional installer, it would probably be well worth it if you have high-end stereo speakers.

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