Cars last a long time these days. Sometimes that’s a not-so-good thing.
Don’t get me wrong: there are great benefits to your car lasting to the end of days. The average price of a new car has never been higher, so it’s nice that your investment goes a long way. Plus, the used-car market would suffer greatly if an Accord (or my old Caravan) didn’t last 200,000 miles.
But technology moves faster than it takes a Yugo’s bumper to start rusting. In the time it takes you to pair your phone’s Bluetooth, this year’s Lexus can become last year’s Oldsmobile. Luckily, when you realize CDs are the new mini cassette, there’s an ample aftermarket that will let you swap out your factory radio for something with this season’s bells and whistles.
That’s exactly the recourse my mom took when the CD changer in her 2003 Voyager kicked the bucket. And because I’m cheaper than those guys from Best Buy who drive Beetles, I’m the one she asked to install it.
I sent her to Crutchfield, since they include the extra stuff necessary for to install an aftermarket head unit into your particular make and model, including antenna adapter, wiring harness, and mounting frame. I didn’t want to be stuck without parts.
It was also almost time for me to replace the torque strut in my Sunfire. Last time, I’d resolved to buy a performance part with polyurethane bushings, instead of one with OEM-spec rubber. The engine’s age has led to multiple oil leaks, and oil eats rubber. But it apparently doesn’t eat polyurethane. So I bought a $50 part to replace a $20 part in the hopes of never having to replace it again. Odds are, it’ll outlast the car, depending on whether I come into some money and can afford to rebuild the engine.
So I made a day of it, starting with the radio.
Step one in any process involving electrically-driven components is to disconnect the battery. It’s less of a concern over electrocuting yourself than it is creating a short, damaging the battery and possibly other things. A high-school teacher of mine told me he once saw a car engine melt from a short circuit, caused by an improperly-installed stereo. (That one involved running a wire through the firewall without proper insulation.) All things considered, electricity is one of those invisible things that can kill you, so I disconnected the battery.
This Voyager is from the Daimler days of Chrysler. The buyout was supposed to be a merger of equals, but the only thing worthwhile that Chrysler got was the LX platform, upon which the Charger and the 300 were built. They also got the Crossfire, based on the old Mercedes SLK, but all of them were built with cheap materials and suffered poor quality. (The worst thing Daimler did, in my opinion, was to kill the ME Four-Twelve; a turbocharged V12 supercar built by Chrysler engineers with Mercedes parts that was designed and built in just eighteen months. But it out-performed the $500,000 Mercedes SLR, and Daimler couldn’t have that.)
So the Voyager has cheap materials and build quality. It was designed to be assembled in a hurry, to maximize productivity. So the center console is held on by six metal clips and two screws, obscured by a small pop-off panel. Screws are easy. Invisible metal clips that need to be pried off always make me think I’m going to break something. Proceed cautiously.
The panel does eventually come off, after come cringe-inducing creaks. It’s only necessary to remove the top-most wire connection (the one for the hazard light toggle and rear window wiper controls) to get the panel out of the way, but you could remove all three of them by sliding the red latches out and the connectors will come free.
Then comes the removal of the old unit. It’s held in place by four screws, easily removed. I was a bit worried that Daimler might have gone with some weird fastener head, like a pentalobe, in order to make sure their own mechanics are the only ones who could service their products, like Nintendo and the tri-wing bit. But rest-assured, Daimler decided a Phillips head was cheaper in the long-run.
If ever you needed a reminder this is from the Daimler days, it’s printed on top of the head unit. A more subtle clue in in the snap-lock antenna connection. The connection releases by pulling the black collar away from the stereo unit, but only in just the right way. Seems to be on a time-delay of some sort, because it took me and my dad some fifteen minutes of pulling and pushing and prying and prodding the connector every which-way before it finally relented. The speaker wire harness is much simpler, I thank whatever higher power. A simple clip-lock connection held that in place. The connector for the CD changer was an aftermarket installation, and rather than pull the cable all the way through the dash and passenger-side door sill, I just tucked it deep into the dash. There’s plenty of room in there, after all.
The mounting bracket Crutchfield sends installs into the dash using the four screws that held the original radio. I am a bit worried about the style of screw they used, which looks more at-home fastening pieces of wood, as it seems to drive into some kind of metal clasp. But I suppose it is hard to fit a nut, washer and bolt into such a confined space on an assembly line. So here we are. The DIN sleeve, which holds the actual head unit, slides into the bracket, and you bend down the appropriate tabs (determined by sight) to keep the sleeve securely in place. Tabs further out from the center correspond to a thinner bracket. If it’s still wiggling in the frame, use a tab further-out.
So now comes connecting the wiring harness. Do yourself a favor and buy an actual wire stripper/crimper. The harness from Crutchfield was pre-stripped (nice touch), but the length was excessive for the connectors I had. I had a wire cutter/stripper, but it was a cheap one, and didn’t crimp so well, so it only served to trim stripped wire and strip wires on the harness from the new head unit’s manufacturer. Dad had a real crimper, made the job easier on the crimping end.
Now, this is not the first time I’ve installed a head unit. The first time, I screwed up the left-rear speaker, which I only discovered after installation. If you’re following my footsteps, do yourself a favor and use a multi-meter to verify the wiring connections before plugging it all in and closing up the trim panels. Nothing like pulling everything apart all over again, especially a Daimler-era Chrysler that doesn’t belong to you.
So I had everything solidly connected. I counted my blessings and connected the wiring harness at both ends.
Drama-free, the new unit slides in with a satisfying click. Then comes reconnecting the battery, turning the key, and finding out if it worked. The radio prompts for initial setup, so I consider it a success. Some nervous budging got the panel back into place, and the whole installation actually looks pretty good, despite the radio being glossy and everything else being matte.
Now on to the other half: permanently replacing my own car’s torque strut.
Either the upper mounts are putting some odd pressure on the engine, or rolling the front onto raps somehow pushes the engine forward. I might never know, unless I put the whole car on a lift, which would only happen in a shop or a wealthy friend’s house. So with this in mind, I pull out the Harbor Freight cable come-along from the last job. To keep the engine from lurching forward when the screws come loose, I preloaded some tension, to be released when the new part is in.
But here I come to a problem. The new polyurethane mount is a different shape than the old one, so the come-along’s hook is in the way, prohibiting me from slotting the bolt in. I would just have to take off the come-along, attach the front end of the mount, then hook the winch back up and tension the engine back into place.
Problem deux: Be it by manufacturing defect or bracket deformation from having to install so many of the same part, the new mount is too thick for the bracket. Either way, no amount of Jeremy Clarkson-style hammering would wedge the wider end into either bracket, so some trimmings must be made.
Dad’s got a pile of files and rasps in his workshop, so selecting an appropriate one and hammering out the inner barrel, I figured I’d only need to take off a millimeter or two. Of course, I had no way of knowing when I’d get to that point, so after a few minutes filing I did a test-fitting, and immediately went back to the workshop for more filing.
One last try got the larger end into the rear bracket (just). So I had to pull it out of the bracket and attach the front end before winching it so the hook wouldn’t get in the way. More hammering was needed as it was still a snug fit, but hammering is always better when it leads to results, Mister Clarkson.
Bolts in place, tension released, and one last check to make sure I hadn’t done anything stupid to something critical, I gave the engine a turn to check the mount’s effectiveness.
Here, we had something a bit strange. There was more… “gusto” from the engine, I guess you could say. Like a subwoofer was synced to the exhaust note of the car. Stepping outside, I heard no difference. I must assume that polyurethane is more resistant than rubber, and the mount is translating more engine vibrations to the chassis. It might be annoying to someone more accustomed to the ride in a Lexus, but it suits me just fine. Eddy just growls now.
Feels like I added 10% more horsepower without having to add any stickers! Now I’m wondering what I would get with a real performance part…