NEWS

An Aux Tale: My Quest to Get My Car's Antiquated Stereo System Jacked

02-tech-story-carlson.jpg Patty's new single DIN Sony stereo | Cars.com photo by Kylie Carlson

My 2003 Volkswagen Passat, otherwise known as Patty, has been a trustworthy ride since my sister and I got her in May. There have been tiny inconveniences that come with owning an old car, like misbehaving locking mechanisms and a cracked side mirror, but one issue has risen above the rest: Patty has no auxiliary jack.

Related: No More Cutouts: Where Do Aftermarket Stereos Go?

Patty has both a tape deck and a CD player, but like most people these days, I use a streaming service instead of owning my music. I’ve burned my own CDs to sustain me, but all my selections predate 2014. And if I want to listen to podcasts on the road, I’m completely out of luck (unless I stick a Bluetooth speaker in the cupholder like my sister does).

03-tech-story-carlson.jpg Me and Patty, ready for the road | Cars.com photo by Kylie Carlson

With this car being my new means of transportation between Chicago and where I go to school in Columbia, Mo., a six-and-a-half-hour journey, I knew that CDs and radio broadcasts would not be enough to keep me going through hundreds of miles of cornfields. Thank goodness there are options out there to adapt your old car to the modern era — the tricky part was finding an option that worked for me.

A Temporary Fix With Tape

When I first bought a tape cassette adapter for less than $8, I was thrilled. Reviews warned of crappy sound quality, but ours didn’t have many noticeable crackling or buzzing noises. We were just excited to drive with the windows open and play our favorite songs.

But, the honeymoon phase ended quickly. After just a week of use, the cassette adapter gave out on us. If you turn the stereo up all the way, you can hear the faintest sound coming through but nothing else. I was annoyed that it bit the dust so quickly, but for the cost of a sandwich, I guess I was happy to have my own tunes for a few days.

DIY Is Sometimes Better Left to Pinterest

As it does, the internet lied to me and made it seem like installing a new stereo deck myself would be completely manageable. Even though I hadn’t done this before and am not great with technology, I thought it was certainly doable. Besides the cost of the deck itself, which can vary depending how advanced you want it to be, the parts needed to install it would be anywhere from $55 to $100.

Shop the 2018 Volkswagen Passat near you

Used
2018 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SE
48,506 mi.
$24,950 $2,350 price drop
Great Deal | $1,149 under
Home Delivery
Virtual Appointments
Used
2018 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SE
24,405 mi.
$24,690 $2,260 price drop
Great Deal | $2,142 under
Home Delivery
Virtual Appointments

Someone broke the news to me that the process could easily take up to four hours on my own, and it would involve at least a heat gun and possibly a soldering iron — neither of which I own or have ever used. It became clear that the risk of damaging my car or burning myself was high and not worth saving the money it would cost to have it professionally installed. (If you think that you can do the job on your own, make sure you do a lot of research before making your decision.)

Leaving It to the Professionals

I decided to shop for a new deck with Best Buy — mostly because if you buy a deck that’s more than $100, you get the $65 installation for free. I went with a Sony receiver that has an AM/FM tuner, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and an auxiliary jack. It was a $109.99 deck on sale for $89.99, so they still gave me the free installation.

I thought I could make this happen for less than $130, but I didn’t realize that the installation parts alone would be $135 before tax. After calling for a quote, Best Buy emailed me a service proposal with all of the parts I would need for my vehicle (so keep in mind that the parts cost can vary by car). My Passat needed an aftermarket antenna, a wiring harness and installation hardware for the aftermarket radio. I ordered everything online and, on Best Buy’s recommendation, picked up the deck and all the parts from my local Best Buy a few days before my installation appointment.

When I made the appointment, I was told installation would take an hour and a half. When I showed up, I was told it would take about an hour. It only ended up being 30 minutes; the installer even took 10 minutes to show me how everything worked, including helping me connect my phone to the deck via Bluetooth. I was in and out with a new car stereo in 45 minutes. The installer also hooked up the microphone for hands-free calling that came with the deck and was able to retain my steering wheel’s seek and volume functions.

The Result: Hands-Free Happiness

I was in love at first sight, mostly because of how pretty the deck is. I anticipated that it might look a little clunky, but it fit seamlessly in the dash. Since I’d replaced my old double DIN stereo with a single DIN unit, there’s now a new storage cubby in the dash below the radio, which I’m happy about.

01-tech-story-carlson.jpg Patty's old double DIN stereo | Cars.com photo by Kasey Carlson

Some features of the stereo are a little finicky. Cutting the stereo size in half means many of the buttons are used to control several different options, so I know I’m going to spend a lot of time with the instruction manual in the coming weeks. It also has a USB port, which is useful for charging devices, but music doesn’t play automatically from connected devices and has to be messed with in the settings. It’s funny that I’ve barely looked in the direction of the auxiliary jack — the original reason I started looking for a new deck — because of the other connectivity options that are available. Instead, I prefer Bluetooth.

With the smaller deck, I lost a few sound options. I am not exactly heartbroken about losing a tape deck, but I no longer have knobs for fader or sound tone. The new stereo does include an “extra bass” button that helps give songs a little more life, but if you like a little extra treble, it’s no longer immediately at your fingertips.

I wasn’t expecting a major sound quality improvement with the new deck, but I was impressed by it. I got this upgrade for the connectivity, but CDs now sound crisper and clearer in comparison to the old stereo.

Overall, I am incredibly pleased with Patty’s new audio setup. If you’re frustrated with your old car stereo, this is an upgrade you can tailor to your needs and budget. I’m excited to hit the open road with a long playlist.

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

Latest expert reviews