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You start another normal day. Get up, have some breakfast, get in your car, turn on the ignition and… silence. You do a double-take and stop your car and turn it on again. You look at your car stereo and see that it has power. It looks to have power because the light is on. You try turning up the volume and changing the radio stations. None, nada, zilch.
One of my friends bought a second-hand car. He shared that one day, he noticed that the car stereo won’t turn on but has power. Normally, he just starts the engine, and the stereo would blare music from the speakers. But, on that day it was utter silence. What happened then?
I had a similar problem, too when I installed a new car stereo but it won’t turn on. It had power, yes, but for some reason, it just wouldn’t function. It took me a day to install and get the problem fixed. Well, better than not having music while driving.
There are a lot of possible reasons why the car stereo won’t turn on. A good sign is that it has power, so it means it’s not busted. Since the car is bought second-hand, there may have been underlying problems that weren’t detected.
Now, let’s get to the bottom of this and determine the possible causes behind why the car stereo won’t turn on but has power.
Troubleshooting and Diagnosis
Some Say a Dead Battery could Cause it, Is that True?
One possible reason is that your car’s battery has recently gone dead. When you turn on the ignition but the car stereo won’t turn on, the installation of a new battery might have triggered something else. It could have been a blown fuse, wiring that was damaged, and even the anti-theft mode prevented the car stereo from turning on. It is crucial to investigate which of these issues affected the car stereo.
Why Did it Go on Activated Protected Mode?
Going back to the battery, when you start the ignition, and the car stereo won’t turn on check the display. Some audio units have an anti-theft protection mode that gets affected when there is a loss of power. The logic behind this is that the audio unit will become useless if stolen.
If your car stereo has an anti-theft protected mode, you should see a different display on it. It should ask you for a code or just not operate at all. To resolve this, you need to enter a code or perform some troubleshooting steps. You need to check the manufacturer’s manual to help you out.
However, if the display is totally blank and your audio unit doesn’t have an anti-theft mode, it could be something else.
What Happens When the Fuse Has Gone Bad?
For some reason, a blown out fuse may be the culprit. A power surge may have caused damage to the fuse. Again, this could be due to a battery replacement or a lighter socket went bad. One time, I accidentally pushed the lighter into the socket, and my radio and dashboard lights went dead. In that case, I accidentally blew one or two fuses.
Use a multimeter or a test light to check the fuses’ power. Check the audio unit for built-in fuses as well. Be careful when replacing the fuses though. Never replace it with a higher amperage fuse. Also, have your car checked for underlying problems. A blown out fuse is not common and may signal electrical problems.
What’s With the Pigtail Connector and Wiring?
If you recently installed a new car stereo but it won’t turn on, the problem could be the wirings.
The first thing you need to do is remove the newly installed car stereo to determine why it won’t turn on. The pigtail connector should be connected properly to the audio unit. You can also remove it and replace it to ensure that there is an electrical connection.
Next, use a voltage meter or test light to check the black ground wire, the yellow constant 12v wire, and the red accessory 12v wire. The wires should have proper voltage in them. The yellow wire should always have 12 volts even if the car is turned off. The red wire should only have 12 volts if the car is powered up. Test the ground war with another metal ground to see if it works properly.
In some situations, an aftermarket car stereo would have different wiring from the of the OEM stereo. Some audio units have six pieces of wiring.
Consult the manual and verify if the wirings are connected properly. Since the car stereo has power but doesn’t turn on, we can safely say that there is nothing wrong with the wires, just the connection.
I’ve Checked the Power, What Else Did I Miss?
Car radios have two power wires. One of them gives power to the memory and is always hot. The other power wire only becomes hot when the ignition is turned on. If reversed, then that is the problem.
Use a multimeter to inspect the power at the back of the radio. If the main audio unit has no power but the fuse block has, trace the power wire. You may need to replace the power wire if this is the case. Check also if that wire leads to another fuse that may be blown out.
Is it a Poorly Grounded Unit?
When the audio unit is not grounded properly, you may be dealing with ground loops. When the car stereo won’t turn on as you start the ignition, there could be improper grounding.
Check the wires for signs of rust or corrosion. Check the electrical connection between the pigtail and the ground.Either the wires got disconnected or just need to be connected to a better ground.
On the other hand, if you bought an aftermarket audio unit, you would need to run a separate ground wire directly to the car’s metal chassis for it to be properly grounded.
I Have a Portable CD Player, Should I Check all the Accessories?
An amplifier connected to the main audio unit could also be a problem. In some cases, the wires may have been dislodged. The primary cause could be accidents or even a new installation.
If you recently installed a new amplifier, check the wirings for signs of damage or displacement.
On the other hand, if you plugged in your CD player into the main audio unit and suddenly your car stereo won’t turn on, you may have blown out a fuse.
What About the Antenna?
Another possible reason is that the ground lies on the antenna. Check the antenna if it has become disconnected or displaced. If this is the case, hook up the antenna to a good ground and you should be good to go.
Does the Unit Need Replacement?
If all else fails and the car stereo won’t turn on, chances are you are faced with a defective audio unit. Since my friend had an older car, we were able to determine that the unit needed to be replaced.
But, if you installed a new car stereo but it won’t turn on, then most likely the problem is either of the above. You may want to refer to the stereo manufacturer and see if the unit has a factory defect.
Could it Be Something Else?
Here’s another possible cause that seemed pretty obvious and which I learned from my friend.
His car stereo had a remote control. Now, when he turned on the ignition, and the car stereo won’t turn on, he pushed the power button on the car stereo. Nada. That’s when he remembered that he kept the stereo remote control. Voila! The car stereo turned on!
Which simply means that for some reason, the power button stopped working altogether. Sometimes we just have to start with the simplest and most obvious things.
Car stereos are an audiophile’s best friend. It helps keep us from getting bored on the road. It helps us fight stress and tension. It also helps uplift our moods or make us relax.
A busted car stereo is upsetting. For people who have no idea how to troubleshoot a car, much less a car stereo, this could mean distressing news.
That is why with the tips above I hope that you have learned a thing or two about troubleshooting car stereos. It may not be simple just to tear out the car stereo and fix it yourself, but at least it helps give you an idea of what the underlying problems are.
Should you decide to bring your car to a mechanic, at least you’d have an idea of what questions to ask. Don’t be surprised if the mechanic just tells you to purchase a new stereo. Yeah, it is expensive to do that! Why buy one when it could still be fixed, right?
What do you think? Do you have other troubleshooting steps for us? When faced with the same situation, what did you do? Please share with us your feedback and even stories.
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