If you drive for short trips to the store or have longer trips to the beach, one thing you will use for sure is your car stereo.
Listening to music, podcasts, or even playing a DVD for the children require that you have a system that runs smoothly. Finding out why the car stereo is getting hot is one of the most important things in your mind.
Your car stereo can overheat because of many reasons. The most common are faulty wiring, venting, and low-quality stereos. Each of these will have different overall effects on how you enjoy your stereo on short or long trips. To fix them, you must create an environment where the stereo will have enough ventilation and reliable wiring.
As an Amazon Associate, ImproveCarAudio will receive a small commission from qualifying purchases made through the links in this article.
Tip: One of the main reasons a car radio gets hot is the bad wiring that you should replace rather than try to repair.
Many things will ultimately change how your car stereo works, and you should not underestimate the risks coming from the overheated car stereo.
One of the scariest things you will learn about car stereo systems is that they can overheat and burn down your car even when you did not use the car for several days.
In the article below, we will go through why your car stereo will overheat and the things you can do to stop it from turning your favorite cruiser into nothing more than a pile of ashes.
What can cause my head unit to overheat?
There are three main reasons why your car stereo will overheat, and each requires a different solution.
Knowing what they are and how to find them is the first step to finding a permanent solution to your car stereo problems.
If you start noticing strange behavior in your car stereo, then these are the three things you need to look at:
Lack of Ventilation
All electronic devices need some ventilation, especially those that do not have any fans built-in. These systems will still have open parts where hot air can escape, and colder air can quickly enter.
The same can be said for car stereo systems, with stronger systems requiring more complex venting systems to eliminate all the created heat.
Most car stereos should be open on at least two sides, with the mounting brackets being the only parts that make direct contact with the head unit you are installing. If you suspect that your head unit is not receiving enough venting, then you need to remove it and check the mounting area. You should be able to easily see the cables that run underneath the dashboard from here.
Sometimes your car may not be the best-looking thing on earth, and every member of your family drove it before you got it, but your new stereo seems to work fine.
This is where the most dangerous type of overheating starts for car audio systems; not all the cables in your car will be the same quality. If you are using wires that provide too much voltage or cannot handle the amount requested, you will have a dangerous situation.
To test the cables that go into your car stereo, you will need to check them, and if any have been overheating, you will see that the plastic insulation around is broken, melted, or just burnt.
Ensuring that your stereo system is not overheating because of the bad voltage that it is receiving can save you a lot of time and headaches down the line.
Quality of the Stereo Unit
The most difficult pill to swallow for many people is that the bargain brand of stereo they bought for their car is the problem.
People will often want to stick with the cheapest brand they trust when doing the first upgrades to their stereo system; sometimes, the car manufacturer has done the same.
These low-quality systems usually offer the same benefits that more expensive car stereo systems do. However, they rarely provide the same level of research, causing the stereo system to overheat even when your air conditioning is cooling it down.
Buying a more expensive stereo is not just about getting a brand name quality. It means that your stereo is not going to burn down your car anytime soon.
How do you know if the car radio is hot?
Unlike computers that will warn you when they are overheating, the stereo system will usually keep going until it breaks or burns down the car. Learning how to measure the heat of the car stereo and whether it is in a dangerous territory will mean you can safely trust your new stereo system.
There are only three ways to measure your car stereo system’s temperature without installing expensive and overly complicated temperature monitoring systems.
Touch the Stereo Unit
If you suspect that the head unit is overheating while using it, the simplest way to test it is to stop somewhere and touch it. If the unit’s faceplate is hot to the touch, it can be a sign that something is wrong. Many times, this is when you should remove the radio as soon as you can.
When you have the unit removed from the car, you can plug it in and test it by simply plugging in the system and starting the vehicle. Playing a few songs and enjoying the music with the unit removed should produce the same effect. If the radio does not become so hot and you can touch it, the problem is in the ventilation.
Does Radio Heat up Fast?
As said earlier, all electronics produce some level of heat, and car stereo systems should be heating up while you are using them for even the most relaxing drives. However, it should take a long while for the unit to get noticeably hot to the touch, and it should never get so hot that you cannot touch it.
If your head unit gets so hot that you cannot even change the volume without burning the tips of your fingers, it is a clear sign that something is wrong. You should disconnect the stereo as soon as possible and check the manual for possible causes. In some cases, you may need to send the stereo for repair.
Switching On and Off
While touching the stereo unit may seem like the most common way of seeing if your head unit is overheating, it is usually not the first symptom new car owners experience. If you have a quality radio from a well-known brand, it will have a safety cut-out switch.
If the unit is overheating for any reason, this safety switch will entirely shut down the stereo system. You will not be able to restart it even if you shut down the car and start it back up, meaning it is the best and safest way of seeing if your vehicle is overheating or not.
The stereo system manual will usually tell you that this is why the stereo worked fine for a while and then suddenly shut down.
Are Overheated Car Stereos dangerous?
Overheating car radios are one of the most dangerous parts you can find inside of your car. They can cause instant fires and not only while driving but also for vehicles parked in your garage. Car fires are some of the fastest and most intense types of fires you will ever experience.
There is one universal truth when it comes to the heat in the car, and the only part of the vehicle that should be extremely hot is the engine. Well, there is one more, and these are brakes, but we are talking here about car interior.
Every other part of the car should be warm or cold, depending on how you set the car’s air conditioning system.
When you are installing a new radio system, you may be wondering what is the worst thing that could happen to your car.
The easy and simple answer is that it will burn down, even when completely turned off. An overheating custom stereo system is one of the most common reasons cars are suddenly going aflame.
How do I prevent car radio from overheating?
When you have done all the testing and finally figured out that your car stereo is indeed overheating, you will want to find a way to stop it. There are many solutions to consider, and some of them are as simple as doing a few wiring problems, while others require a few days of work to make it correctly.
Knowing what each option is and how you can effectively implement them without a challenge will mean a lot less stress for you overall. These should be done starting with the most evident and important, moving down to the expensive and complicated.
Check Harness and Wiring
Any head unit’s wiring is the leading cause of them overheating, so when you get a used car with a modified stereo system or install your own stereo system, you should do it to the best degree possible. Before you start working in your vehicle, you should have the new stereo system in front of you, along with its instructions.
Reading these will tell you the thickness of the wires required and the voltages the unit will pull while working. Checking to see if your car’s wiring harness will handle these is vital to preventing damage later down the line.
If you are receiving a car with an already customized stereo system, you should remove the stereo system to check whether there is any wear and tear on the cabling harness. Usually, if there is some damage done to the wires, the insulation will have turned brittle or become discolored. Replacing wires that are damaged with stronger ones will mean you can comfortably keep using the stereo system.
The other thing that is likely to cause heating to go out of control on your stereo system is improper heating. If you have a standard stereo system, then the mount in the car should already have the required venting holes to ensure it does not overheat. When the stereo system does require extra venting, creating them is not as complicated as you may think.
The mounting unit for stereo systems in all cars is a mix of plastic and metal. By removing some of the plastic, you can create extra passive ventilation.
The plastic you can cut easily by using a Dremel tool or a small metal saw. It will be a tight space to work in, but once the right ventilation holes have been created, your stereo system should work a lot better.
One of the most overlooked ways of creating more ventilation is tidying up the stereo system cables. Using zip ties and a few creative bends, you can ensure that the airflow for the entire dashboard is improved tenfold.
Both of these should be done if you ever suspect the stereo system needs a bit more air to breathe.
Cleaning Around the Stereo
To the surprise of many new car owners, the car’s inside can become surprisingly dirty if not cleaned properly. When you are checking on your stereo system or installing a new one, it is always good to do a bit of extra cleaning around the dash and clean the stereo.
Using compressed air and a soft brush will clean out all of the dust that can become accumulated in the nooks and crannies of your car. This simple addition to checking on everything in your vehicle will improve the car electronics’ overall performance.
The best part about this step is that it takes only a few minutes to complete and will help solve the venting problem. Some of the dustiest places on earth can be found in the nooks and crannies of the dashboard of any car.
Add Cooling Fans
An extreme way to keep your stereo system cooled is by installing a few basic computer fans into the dashboard. These fans are created to operate for hours on end without resting or needing to be maintained, and if you are unsure if the vents for the stereo will be sufficient enough, you can simply add these.
Computer fans have been the most popular way of fixing the overheating problem for stereos for a long time. This is because the car’s internal wiring provides the same voltage and amperage as those found in computers. Many larger stereo systems will already have some of these included or mounting locations for fans.
However, it should be noted that while computer fans can quickly help to prevent overheating for a stereo system that needs more venting, the fans can cause more problems. An exposed fan in such an enclosed area with cables can be hazardous. It should only be considered a solution if you are entirely comfortable with your car’s internal wiring.
Replace Stereo With the New One.
While venting, fans, cleaning, and new wiring are all ways of easy fixing your overheating stereo, sometimes they will do nothing other than prolong the inevitable. If the previous owner of your car installed a low-quality stereo system or you decided not to get a proper system, then it will eventually fail.
Stereo systems do not always have to go through diligent testing or requirements set out by the government. This means that when you buy a cheaper, budget stereo from an unknown brand, it could have several faults. These systems usually draw too much power, are not well cooled, and have a power draw that can kill your battery.
It may seem counterintuitive, but buying lower functionality, higher quality stereo systems from trusted manufacturers will mean years of saved headaches. A proper stereo system will have warranties, be quality assured tested, and adhere to several operational guidelines set out by governing bodies.
The fight to have a proper stereo system is a never-ending one, and ensuring that it works properly in your car is a simple series of steps that you need to follow. An overheating stereo system is one of the most dangerous things you could have in your vehicle. It’s better to drive around without sound if it is overheating.
Just be sure when you install the new stereo system that you connect the speakers correctly. Nothing says botched job like no sound from the right and scrambled squeaks from the left!