Have you been dreaming of putting together a fantastic, blow-out-the-windows audio system in your ride but don’t know where to start? Are you startled when you’re quoted prices by installation shops – if you can even find a reputable one in business anymore – and wish you could handle the whole job by yourself to save those stratospheric labor costs? Do you find yourself utterly bewildered when you hear terms like “kickpanel”?

We don’t blame you. There are few areas in consumer electronics as fundamentally overwhelming as mobile audio installation, especially if you’ve never had any experience with putting amplifiers, radios or speakers in a vehicle.

In this overview, we’re going to try and make the subject of “how to install car speakers” as easy as possible to understand, so that you get all the basics for tackling a project on your own.

Dash, Doors and Kickpanels: It’s About Location, Location, Location

Before we get into the installation end of things, let’s talk about installing speakers in the dashboard and in the doors – the primary locations in a vehicle for loudspeakers that aren’t subwoofers.

To begin with, it’s important to understand that car speaker placement is vital to the overall sound of a mobile audio system, and when installing car speakers there are two primary options: Factory locations or custom locations.

Factory locations, as the name implies, are convenient for simple drop-in replacements, but for the best sound, custom work is often required.

So as we alluded to, the most common locations for car speaker installations are the dash, the doors and, in addition to these, the vehicle’s rear deck.

Once you start getting into custom locations, this usually involves putting speakers into the kickpanels, which constitute the area under the dash in the far left and right corners of the vehicle’s interior.

But most mobile sound enthusiasts choose to improve their system’s imaging with matched components or by mounting the mid-woofers in factory locations and tweeters up high on the dash or door. You should keep the mid-woofer and tweeter as close together as possible so that the two drivers act together as a single point-source.

Once front speakers are installed to your liking, you need to ensure that your rear speakers are playing their part in creating an ideal soundstage; while your front speakers should give you the best midrange and high frequency experience possible, your rear speakers can be of conventional “coaxial” types or low-frequency drivers.

The Installation Process

Now we’ll get into the meat and potatoes of this post, which is how to install car speakers. To begin with, we’d like to mention that most factory speaker systems that come in many new vehicles are, to put a fine point on it, often lousy; this is the primary reason why those with an ear for more premium sound look to aftermarket speaker solutions, as they’re a cost-effective way (relatively speaking, depending on how much you want to spend) to boost an audio system’s performance and are also somewhat easy to install (with the right guidance, which is what we’re providing here).

As a prerequisite for the actual installation process, here are some guidelines to follow as you prep your vehicle for its incoming sound system accompaniments:

  • Consider the stereo system you are installing your new speakers in to account for power handling capabilities, how many channels your amplifier or head unit can push and more.
  • Check the dimensions of existing speakers you may be replacing so minimum modifications will be needed to fit the new ones in.
  • Consider quality (composite or fabric cones versus paper, ceramic permanent magnet speakers versus wound electromagnetic speakers, etc.).
  • Select speakers with trim packages that are appealing to you.
  • Look at the electronic characteristics of your speakers (inline resistors, wiring-in-series circuit configurations, etc.).
  • Consider the power requirements of your new speakers, as this will affect wiring.
  • Gather tools (screwdrivers, wire cutters/strippers, crimping tools, allen wrenches, etc.).
  • Ensure that the speakers you’ve chosen fit your vehicle.
  • Prevent electrical damage by disconnecting your vehicle’s battery.
  • Defer to any specific instructions provided in the box with your new speakers.

Step One: Take Any Panels or Speaker Grilles Off

Nearly all speakers in the interior of a car or truck will be covered with some kind of protective paneling or grill, and before a speaker can be replaced or modified (if you’re replacing them), this barrier must be removed. Pry the grill off with a suitable tool, such as a flathead screwdriver, removing any bolts or screws that are holding it in place.

Step Two: Remove the Factory Speaker

Speakers are usually, but not always, attached to a wiring harness, so be sure not to rip it out when removing it; you may also find that you need to unscrew one or more small bolts and/or chip at any adhesive foam or glue that is holding the speaker in place.

Step Three: Connect the New Speaker to the Car’s Electrical System

Usually, connecting your new speaker is a fairly simple matter of plugging your speaker’s wiring harness into the car’s wiring harness; however, if you vehicle doesn’t have this simple type of connection, you may need to connect your speaker with a “soldered” or “crimped” connection.

Step Four: Test the Speaker

Now that the speaker is (hopefully) connected, it’s time to test the connection so that you don’t have to endure the nightmare of having to fix a problem later on; re-connect the battery’s negative terminal and turn on the head unit’s power, listening for sound coming out of your new speaker(s). At this point, you should also be listening for visible vibrations and audible distortion at high volumes. Should your speaker not be working, this most likely means there is a problem with its electrical connection.

Step Five: Secure the New Speaker

Once you’re confident that your speaker works properly, secure it in its “seat” in the door or dash; with any luck, your new speaker will fit in the factory speaker’s housing, but you may have to use a specialty mounting bracket (usually included with the speaker itself) and drill new screw holes and/or use adhesives to hold the speakers in place.

The remainder of this process comes down to:

  • Installing and testing any subwoofers
  • Installing and testing any separate tweeters
  • Replacing all panels and speaker grilles

Here’s a video explaining the ins and outs of speaker installation.

Wrapping It Up

You can install most car speakers using tools that you probably already have, and hopefully, with the assistance we provided here, you will be well on your way to building that system of your dreams. If you have any further questions, feel free to post them in the comment section.

Vincent Talbot