Decades ago, car radios had just two knobs to adjust the volume and the frequencies. Today’s car stereos are full of electronics, touch screens, or anything else we can imagine. But why do car stereos have removable faceplates?
Car stereos have removable faceplates because it serves as a deterrent for would-be thieves. This concept of removable stereo faceplates was introduced and popularized by Pioneer in the late 1980s. The move directly responded to the waves of car stereo theft that had been sweeping the U.S. since the late 1960s.
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We dive into the thinking behind this phenomenon before establishing whether an audio system with removable faceplates is right for you. If this design already convinces you, then there are some great consumer tips for you as well. Let us begin.
Why do car stereos have removable faceplates?
As we can imagine, stereo faceplates are removable for security reasons. Unfortunately, we live in a world where having your radio stolen is a legitimate fear for most car owners.
Many sleepless nights were spent wondering if the (real or imagined) sound of glass breaking in the street came from your car.
If you park on the street, prepare for the worst. If you live in a sketchy part of town, in particular, your shiny new stereo could act as a magnet for society’s stickier fingers. Throughout modern history, car radios are rather valuable in these mean streets.
Also, as far as a car’s more expensive parts go, the radio is perhaps the easiest to access and extract. Besides, the thief would have a better view of his surroundings while stealing a car stereo than any other car part. He (or she) would also have the advantage of already being inside the vehicle (and being a hot-wire expert), should the need for a quick getaway arise.
Fun fact…the American Mutual Insurance Alliance totted up the figure that car insurers shelled out to cover stereo theft in 1970. The answer they yielded was a simply ludicrous $40 million. One area that was hit hard with this shocking crime was Detroit during, and after, its hey-day as America’s “Motor City.”
After an industry-wide attempt to secure car stereos throughout the 70s and 80s, car-audio giant Pioneer, which well, pioneered the first successful attempts at a fully detachable faceplate for their radios in 1989.
The face panel would be removed, and, in its place, would be the functionless blank face of the head unit. This would give the illusion that no radio was installed in the vehicle and, hopefully, deter the would-be break-in.
Should you remove the faceplate from your car stereo?
In my opinion, if you have a radio with a removable faceplate, you are in luck, and the fact that you have the option to do so is reason enough to use it.
If you are insecure about where you park your car, it would be advisable to get a stereo with a removable face.
Various bits of footage all across the social platforms have shown just how easy it is for some people to break into private vehicles in very public places. You never know what a cheeky or desperate passer-by is capable of, so you better watch yourself and your possessions.
People will break into your car for a pack of cigarettes if the neighborhood is bad enough, so do not ever store valuables in your vehicle.
Stereos without faceplates are completely hassle-free in modern times. The biggest drawback is, of course, is that you can lose a faceplate or forget it at home. This can lead to one too many tuneless commutes, so I suggest storing the faceplate somewhere within the car itself.
The glovebox is the first place a robber would look, though, so get creative with your hiding spots. Thanks to handbags, ladies are less likely to be forgetting their faceplates at home.
The main problem which facilitates theft of car radios in the first place is the driver-friendly positioning of the radio. While the positioning may be excellent for you to tune into your favorite drivetime radio shows, it is also in a great position for criminals to scout your vehicle and get a good look at your system before deciding to break in.
A removable faceplate might be the right solution, but the better will be installing a complex and integrated “infotainment” system to replace the conventional and generic single stereo.
Of course, more and more cars are now being manufactured with these features as stock, which has resulted in vehicles with bespoke entertainment systems. These systems integrate the car’s multimedia capabilities, navigation tools, and vehicle status information in one unit.
A high-end example of such a system is Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX (Mercedes- Benz User Experience), which is a central hub from which users can adjust various functions and access different forms of data, maps, and media.
The Bluetooth-to-phone connectivity is also integrated into that system and controls features such as air conditioning, ambient lighting, and seat heating and massaging!
The thief would have to steal the whole car, a dead-end thanks to GPS. There you have it, the best way to protect your ailing second-hand stereo is to buy a brand-spanking-new Mercedes.
Ultimately, the point is to show that a thief is extremely unlikely to have the knowledge, skill, or time required to steal something so complicated and with so many moving parts with such systems.
There is also no market for fencing the stolen hardware because the system will be specific to that particular car model. Some of these systems are even programmed in a way that makes them specific to a vehicle.
Can you swap car stereo faceplates?
The answer to this question depends on several factors. The most important is if there is compatibility with the stereo head unit. Remember, the faceplate is just a peripheral part of the stereo, not the stereo itself.
In most cases, you can only swap out faceplates if they are designed to work for the same head unit. Cross-model and inter-generational compatibility of faces and head units within certain stereo brands is not uncommon, but cross-brand compatibility is extremely rare.
This makes sense because standardized compatibility for faceplates could encourage more car stereo theft, as thieves would simply steal head units and then buy (or steal) a cheap replacement faceplate. The point of removable faceplates, in the first place, is for them to be difficult to replace.
Pioneer faceplates are renowned, at least unofficially, for being some of the more swappable ones out there. However, be ready for backlight issues or some buttons not working as intended.
Can you buy a spare removable faceplate for your radio?
I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear the word “removable,” my anxious mind quickly races to translate that into “losable.”
Carrying your faceplate everywhere you go is a good security measure, but one day you might find yourself misplacing it after one too many drinks at night out (but remember, don’t drink and drive).
As stated earlier, getting a new car stereo faceplate by itself is tricky because of the industry’s concerted efforts to discourage theft. If you insist on only getting a faceplate, the best place to start is the stereo manufacturer. Contact them and find out if they still make faceplates for your particular model. If they do, they will probably ask for some sort of confirmation that your stereo was bought and not “borrowed.”
You will have a better chance of succeeding with these replacements if your stereo is one of the latest on the market.
If that fails, you might have to scour the second-hand markets in your area or check out eBay for your specific model. Be careful of these approaches, as you may end up buying a stolen faceplate.
Heck, you might even buy back YOUR stolen faceplate. However, most of the sellers are genuine, friendly people who might help you out.
For most people though, you might as well buy a new stereo with a removable faceplate.
Check out the 632UAB Digital Media AM/FM Receiver from BOSS Audio Systems. Simple and at the same time sophisticated, the radio has a low-key appearance, with one unassuming knob veered to the left of a good-sized LCD screen.
Don’t be fooled though. This is one of the best stereos you can get today.
Head to Amazon and get yourself a great deal. It is important to note that BOSS only offers its 3-year Platinum Online Dealer warranty if you buy through Amazon.com.
Naturally, the stereo has a removable faceplate, and the overall package is a Single-DIN chassis. Seven inches in length, 5 inches in width, and 2 inches in height.
The body itself is black, but the buttons and lines around the knob, the USB port, and auxiliary port light up in a neon blue. It looks absolutely killer at night, with the screen text and audio visualizer also pulsating in blue.
The radio pumps out 50 Watts of feel-good vibes through each of its four speakers. Your usual bass, treble, and fader controls are in full swing here. There is also an equalizer controller built into the system. The tweaks have a real feel to them, giving you a genuinely customizable listening experience.
No-CD or DVD player, unfortunately.
However, you can play MP3 and WMA formats via the USB port. Or you could hook your smartphone up via Bluetooth and play all the formats it supports.
The mentioned AUX is on standby, of course.
Stream from all of your favorite services, make and receive phone calls completely hands-free, or just simply listen to FM/AM radio as you cruise through the city, sketchy blocks, and all.