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How To: Install a Satellite Car Radio

I’m A Satellite Radio Junky

I have a confession to make: I am a satellite radio junkie with a dilemma. When I drive, I like to listen to the BBC World Service over Sirius XM Radio's satellite network. I’ve been a subscriber for eight years. But I just bought a used Mercedes-Benz station wagon, and there’s no satellite radio in it. The dealer wants over $1,000 to install one for me—that’s more than the price of my first two cars combined.

Rather than paying the dealer to install a radio that only works in the car, I’m going to put in a portable satellite radio that not only plays in the car but can be taken out for listening just about anywhere. Yes, I’m going to do this myself, and I’ll show you how.

I’m going to use the Pioneer Inno radio that works with XM’s network, but you can just as easily use the Stiletto 2 model that works with the Sirius network. Or, for that matter, this sequence works for installing an MP3 player in your car.

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While some of these tasks are complicated, I’ve broken them into easy-to-digest steps. Anybody who has stripped wires to repair a headphone cable or a lamp cord can do this, too. Everything you’ll touch is protected by fuses so you won’t damage anything, and none of this will have any effect on the car’s warranty. Be careful not to damage the interior of your car while you are hiding wires (one of the last steps we’ll cover). We should also mention that, like any Do-It-Yourself project, you do this at your own risk, and Tom’s Guide and its writers are not responsible for your property.

Despite merging into one company, Sirius and XM operate separate satellites that broadcast their respective shows to earth. They both have sports, talk shows, and channels for every musical genre from hip hop to classical, while the programming costs $13 a month or about $140 for a year prepaid.

The radio, car installation kit, extra parts, and hardware should run between $200 and $250 and can be found at my online retailers.

Set aside a couple of hours to do the installation and you’ll need an electric drill, wire cutters, some nuts and bolts, electrical tape, a screwdriver, a basic multi-meter for measuring voltage and polarity (here's an example), and a tongue depressor or a flat piece of wood or plastic to hide the wires. Also, it helps to install the system with all of the car's doors open for better lighting.

Here is what you’ll need for this project:

Satellite radio;

Car installation kit;

Cigarette lighter extension cord;

1/8" stereo audio jumper cable;

Tongue depressor;

Electrical tape;

Mounting bracket (optional);

Electric drill;

Wire cutters;

Nuts and bolts;




  • mpasternak
    This article over complicates a rather simple easy and straight forward task.
    Simply put, Anyone in the market for a newer Sattelite radio will easily be able to purchase an "all in one" kit that will come with mounts and the wires necessary to do this, with easy instructions (that all fit on one page! imagine that!)

    Most will come with suction based mounts that easily clip on to your dash / windshield just like any standard GPS. No need for complicated mounts. The wires can all be easily routed within the cars pre exiting body panels. just get a flat head screwdriver to lift them slightly and push the wires in (carefull, don't crimp / fray em)

    If there is any concern with needing a 2nd power outlet. I recommend buying a splitter. they exist. They are cheap and they do not modify your car electronics in any form and therefore won't possibly void warranties.

    And ALL the modern car / mobile based radios should come with a built in FM transmitter. Just set the station, set your radio to it, and voila.

  • MrHorspwer
    Cut Brian some slack. He didn't go the "simple, easy, straight forward" installation because, frankly, that way looks like crap.

    Suction cup mounts and random cigarette lighter adapters clutter up an interior and generally look lame, nevermind the crap sound quality you get from an FM modulator.

    I'm with Brian. Buy a vehicle specific mount, wire up an extra power source and tuck it out of sight, use the audio jack provided by the factory for the best sound quality, and keep the unsightly pimple antenna on the inside. Ta-da... probably the least intrusive install you can expect from an add-on piece of audio equipment.

    Then again, that looks like a pretty pricey German car. Why didn't it just come as standard equipment? Hell, every new Hyundai comes standard with satellite radio.

    Gotta put in a plug for the Jason Ellis Show. 3:00 PM ET on Faction - Sirus 28/XM 52. Red Dragons!
  • michaelahess
    If you can't install an XM radio in your car without this kind of help, you probably shouldn't be driving in the first place, it's far more complicated.

    Also, just to rant, having a radio in each vehicle is down right stupid, and a waste of money; likewise paying for integrated radio's. Unless you only have one vehicle and NEVER intend to use it elsewhere, why throw your money away? I've got a mount in all three of my vehicles that I've wired the antenna's, power, and audio cable to. Takes about 10 seconds to drop my radio into any of the vehicles and it's a nice clean install. Aftermarket stereo's with a 3.5mm input certainly help.

    I then have a "portable" antenna with FM transmitter for taking the radio in friends cars or running it off my battery powered inverters when camping.
  • Parrdacc
    What I don't get is the $400 and up dollars dealers charge for some of these radios. I wish I had the option to just not have a radio in my car when I buy it. I do not know about other people, but I always replace the factory radio and speakers for ones that are better anyway.
  • captaincharisma
    satellite radio to me is only good where there is not many (or good) radio stations. i felt the same way before i tried it and never looked back. i like it because you get to listen to any music genre at any time you want. and you can't do that with FM radio. and the talk radio is good for sports and comedy (hoard stern & O&A as examples)

    anyway i like a clean integrated look so i got a kenwood deck and installed the tuner from Sirius. if i want to listen to it in my house i just use my internet account

    Parrdacc i too replace the stock radio when i get a new car but even if you do not have a factory radio you still would have to pay for a wiring harness (maybe) and dash kit anyway. its getting bad in cars today as they integrate the stock radio in other functions of the car Mazda and Ford are example's of this.
  • tjhart85
    @mpasternak It all depends on the look & feel you want. I would NEVER do what you suggest for anything more than a temp mount job....It looks horrible!My units are always hard wired in with an extra fuse (similar to how Brian did this) and wires completely hidden.

    Otherwise, what's the point? Honestly.

    Satellite radio plays pretty much any type of music you'd want with no commercials. They also get paid by your dollar, so they don't just play the crap that the MPAA wants radio stations to play, the DJs get to make choices play stuff a radio station wouldn't (uncut music for one....LONG songs for another). For example, I've heard NOFX - Please Play This Song on the Radio which would NEVER get played on FM!

    More importantly than that though, the music stays the same wherever you go. For me, if I go more than 30 miles, most of my stations are gone. Sucks!
  • mantismn
    Okay, so I've been doing car install professionally for about 7 years now, and that SureConnect is a pile of garbage. It works on maybe half the cars out there, and on those few, it works like crap. As far as the satellite antenna on the dash board; unless it's a Sirius unit, good luck keeping a decent signal. Running it out of the window or sunroof is just a bad idea because you're just asking to have the wire crimped or cut, and poof, there goes your antenna and $30 to $40 for a replacement. The suction cups that come with the units are a waste of time if you live anywhere north of Missouri because once they get cold, plop goes your radio, hopefully not cracking the screen on the shifter or dash. The vent clips work, I've used them, but they're not pretty and they're not that stable. Usually the unit has quite a bit of play and bounces around while you drive. I understand the point of this article.... just my .02...
  • wildwell
    Naturally, the more thought out and intricate the installation, the more attractive the final product. I think Brian did a great job of describing a nice, clean install that doesn't require fabrication and lots of cutting and permanent interior damage.
  • AtuBrian
    so simple task he makes complicated