For many people, the time spent on the road is the perfect opportunity to listen to music. For those moments of escape, having a reliable car stereo is essential. But how long should a car stereo last?
A car stereo should last at least five years, but it depends on how you take care of it. It should be pretty easy to make them last for ten years or more if you use them correctly and not put too much strain on them. Cleaning CDs before inserting them goes a long way too.
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Ok, so now we know roughly how long car speakers should last. In this article, we’ll be looking at why speakers fail when they do and how to take proper care of them so you can make them last as long as they should. Let’s get started!
Most Durable Brands of Car Stereo
When it comes to which stereo brand is the most reliable, the most visible brands are usually the best bet. That means brands like Sony, Kenwood, and JVC are probably your safest bet when it comes to stereo lifespan. Of course, which stereo you buy is only half the story. How you treat your speakers is probably the most important factor affecting your car stereo’s lifespan.
The Parts of a Car Speaker
Before we get into the various reasons why speakers can fail, it will help us learn a bit about the different parts that might fail and what each one of them does. Here are some of the most important elements to know:
- The diaphragm (or cone) moves back and forth, and this movement pushes the air, creating the sound you hear.
- The voice coil is the part that moves the cone back and forth.
- The suspension (also known as the spider) is the part that holds the voice coil and allows it to move around freely.
- The woofer is the part of the speaker that produces low-frequency sounds.
- The tweeter is the part that produces high-frequency sounds. This can be damaged by increased high-frequency harmonics.
Why Do Speakers Fail?
There are many different mechanisms through which speakers can fail, although the underlying cause can differ.
The speakers are probably the part of the stereo that is most likely to break down, so it is worth spending some time to understand what actually happens during a blowout.
Here are the two main broad ways that your speakers can fail:
The most common reason for thermal failure is that the speaker receives more power than it can manage. This causes the internal components to heat up, which can result in one or more parts failing.
The wiring in the voice coil, for example, can melt due to this excess heat, which will cause the speaker to fail. The glue holding components together can also heat, causing a ‘blowout.’ Speakers can again blow out due to blown fuses in this way.
A sign that your speaker is overheating is that your stereo suddenly stops producing sound, then comes back after a short while. A good tip for audiophiles is that you can use high or low-pass filters to ensure the speakers only get signals to convert to sound efficiently.
Rough handling is the leading cause of mechanical failure, usually in torn or stretched cones. Pulled or stretched cones are likely the result of mechanical failure rather than thermal failure caused by excess power, although you cannot rule out either cause.
You have to remember that cones have a limited range of motion. Too much power will cause them to overextend, resulting in tearing or stretching, although it is quite unlikely.
Other Stereo Problems
Aside from speakers failing, there are plenty of other things that can go wrong in your stereo system.
That said, the speakers are probably the first elements to fail since they move so much and generate so much heat. Here are a few common problems that might affect parts other than the speakers:
There are a few ways your radio can fail. If it refuses to turn on entirely, you likely have a wiring or fuse problem.
The fuse panel is usually located on the side of the dashboard on the driver’s side. If the radio turns off when you hit a bump or sharp turn in the road, then you probably have a loose connection in the back of the stereo.
Other common problems include issues with the power supply and the grounding system.
Sometimes, you can get strange sounds in your car stereo. An ‘accessory pop,’ for example, occurs when something like the headlights or indicators draw some power away from the stereo. And this is heard as a pop.
The most common of these sounds is an ‘alternator whine,’ which is a whine that rises and falls with engine speed. Hearing this sound usually means a grounding problem, so the solution is to find the poorly grounded component and reground it.
One problem that can happen is that your stereo speakers entirely stop producing bass.
For bass to come out, both the speakers need to push air at the same time, but sometimes can be accidentally set up so that one speaker pushes as the other pulls.
This is usually an issue of polarity, meaning that the negative and positive terminals are incorrectly wired. That is why this problem usually crops up after an upgrade or repairs.
Maximum Power and RMS Specs
We keep going on about how important it is not to overload your speakers with too much power. But how much is too much?
All amplifiers and speakers have a maximum output and maximum input of power, which can be found in the manual’s specs section. If the amp’s maximum output is much higher than the speaker’s maximum input, then turning the volume up on the amp can cause the speaker to blow out.
The RMS number of the speakers, which should be listed in the specs, refers to the continuous power. On a speaker, it refers to how much continuous power the speaker can receive, and on an amp, it tells how much continuous power the amp can produce.
In other words, you do not want to hook up an amp with an RMS of 60 watts to a speaker with an RMS of 30 watts since this will make the speakers much more likely to blow out.
The final number you need to look at is the peak power value. If a speaker can take 30 watts of continuous (RMS) power and 60 watts of peak power, that means that it can handle 30 watts over long periods but can handle bursts of up to 60 watts for short periods.
Try to match both the RMS and peak power values of your speaker to your amp. This is the best way to ensure you do not send too much power to the speakers.
It is worth noting that amps can exceed their maximum power rating.
When an amp is overdriven and attempting to deliver output voltage beyond its capabilities, the resulting distortion can end up causing the amp to put out a level of power that can be dangerous to your speakers. This problem is called clipping because the top and bottom of the waveform are clipped off.
Another danger of clipping is that it creates additional high-frequency harmonics, which can cause damage to the tweeters. The best way to prevent clipping is to match the amplifier’s peak power to the speakers’ peak power.
Be careful not to confuse the RMS with the peak power. Sometimes, the manufacturer will only include the specs’ peak power because they like to show the big numbers, which can be misleading when completing a car audio system.
Should I Buy an Aftermarket Stereo?
Historically, it has always been the case that stock stereos are of lower quality than ones that you buy after and install yourself, and these are called ‘aftermarket’ stereos.
However, in recent years, car manufacturers have been integrating the stereo into the onboard computer, making it much more difficult to replace. If you are not happy with the stock stereo, it should still be possible to replace an integrated stereo and use dash adaptors.
Not only do aftermarket stereo systems usually have better sound quality, they often come with various features and connectivity that you won’t find on the stock stereo. Apple compatibility, satellite radio, and Bluetooth are just a few examples.
Most important for this post, however, is that aftermarket stereos tend to last a lot longer. If you are having trouble, replacing the stock with an aftermarket stereo might be the right call.
8 Care Tips for Your Car Stereo
Ok, now that we have had a look at the different parts of car speakers and identified some of the ways they can break down, it is time to move onto ways to make your car speakers last longer.
Some of these tips are pretty obvious, but it is still worth considering them. You will probably have already guessed number one. Here are 8 care tips for your car stereo:
Don’t Send Too Much Power.
This has already been mentioned a couple of times, but only because it is so important. Overloading with power is the main cause of death for speakers.
There are multiple components within the speaker that will not be able to cope with a sudden burst of energy, including the tweeters and, to a lesser extent, the woofers. As mentioned before, too much power often causes the speaker to overheat, which can melt vital components.
As we have already mentioned, power overload can cause both thermal and mechanical failures. This happens because the audio force’s power peaks force the cones to push themselves too hard, which causes them to overextend.
In other words, pushing the cones further than they are supposed to go causes them to become stretched and torn, and this can wreak havoc on the sound quality or even cause the speaker to break down altogether.
Clean CDs Before Inserting
If you have a dirty or scratched CD, trying to play it in the stereo can end up damaging the player. That is because as the CD plays, the dirt on the surface and stuck inside the scratches will fall out.
When you take the CD out, then, the dirt stays in and clogs the machine. Giving the underside of the CD a wipe with a dry cloth before inserting it is actually a great way to make your stereo last longer.
Handle With Care
Rough handling is the primary cause of mechanical failure in speakers. This happens because the voice coil becomes misaligned, which causes the cone to drag. The way to find out if this is your problem is to turn the volume way down, then turn the bass up full and the treble to 0.
When you play a bassy song, then you should hear a rasp on the bass notes. This tells you that the cone is dragging.
Keep Speakers Dry
Ok, admittedly, this is pretty obvious. However, dampness causes a lot of speaker failures. One way this happens is when the speakers are housed in the door of a car, and then a faulty or degraded seal allows moisture in.
Making sure your car is watertight is a great way to keep the speakers alive longer. Any bit of dampness can wreak havoc on your speakers. If your speakers get wet in any way, make sure to dry them thoroughly as soon as possible.
Clean Out the Dust
There are lots of holes in a speaker, which can allow dust in, which can be very damaging to the speaker. Occasionally using compressed air to clear the dust will go a long way towards making the speakers last longer.
You can also wipe away the dust, but be sure not to use a liquid cleaner since this could cause damage to the amplifiers. Hoovering the car frequently will help to prevent dust buildup.
Keep Speakers Cool
As mentioned earlier, too much power will cause a speaker to overheat, damaging the internal components. Too much heat will have the same effect.
Try not to leave the car in scorching heat for long periods since this can also cause the glue inside the speakers to melt and disintegrate slowly, causing a speaker blowout. Who knew parking in the shade could make your stereo last longer?
Replace the Foam
Your speaker’s cone is surrounded by a foam ring, which helps to keep the sound clear and precise. If the audio quality has deteriorated over time, degradation of this foam ring might be the culprit.
Before you replace the whole speaker, try just replacing the foam ring. If that works, you may have just gotten several more years out of your stereo speakers.
Preserve the Foam
There are products available that can help to preserve the life of the foam surrounding your speaker cones. This foam guard from simplyspeakers prevents moisture damage, microbial attack, and UV damage.
Be warned, however, that some customers have reported that treatments like this can stiffen the foam, affecting the sound. That said, they claim to be able to make your foam last 50% longer!
Speaker Lifespan – The Final Judgement
So now we know how many different ways there are to make speakers and stereos last longer. Some are very obvious, but others can be a surprise even to audiophiles.
These tips will allow you to get the absolute most out of your stereo, but it is worth noting that the lifespan will be partly determined by how well-built the stereo was in the first place.
But how long can you make a high-quality car stereo last if you do everything right?
Unfortunately, it is tough to say. It depends on so many different factors, from the brand to the maintenance. As a general rule, it is safe to say that a good car stereo should last five years if taken care of.
If your car has a stereo of a good reliable brand like Sony, and you follow all the guidelines laid out above, you should be able to make your stereo last ten years or more. However, malfunctions are unpredictable and bound to happen at some point.
Two things broadly determine the lifespan of a car stereo:
- The initial build quality of the stereo, and
- The speaker’s treatment.
It cannot be stressed enough that sending too much power to the speakers is the best way to wreck your stereo.
If you start with an excellent quality stereo from a brand like Sony or Kenwood and follow all the tips laid out in this article, you should be able to make your stereo last well over five years.
Familiarize yourself with the warranty so you can get a replacement if it breaks down before it should.