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Minivan stereo swap and/or iPod adapter installation (2001-07)

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by David Zatz. See minivan repairs and car stereos. Thanks to Jeremy Schrag and Jim Z.

For the iPod adapter installation section, all instructions are the same except instead of swapping stereos, you keep the same unit and place and plug the adapter into it as described.

Vehicle audio Electronics Technology Radio Electronic device

If there was one major complaint we had about our 2006 Chrysler Town & Country, it was the stereo. When we bought it, it was also the one item we didn't really check carefully. I'd driven this series of minivan earlier and had even taken a 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan on a long road trip, but that model had the earlier, and better, stereo unit.

What do we mean by RAZ or RBU stereo? Each stereo has a sales code, and most of them have that code printed somewhere on the face of the unit, in small letters.

The stereo worked well enough, but the sound was "thuddy" and muddy; the bass was jacked up so high that listening to AM hurt, and no amount of tuning could make it right, even down to hooking up an iPod and using its internal equalizer to try to balance things out. Trying to track down the problem - head unit or speakers? - I sent a similar "RAZ" unit to our resident stereo expert, Jeremy Schrag. His analysis: it was the head unit. Using the same speakers as his other test rigs, it produced inferior sound.

I acquired a used RBU stereo from a junkyard (LKQ Online), with a date code of 2002, for under $50 plus a few dollars for shipping. I expected to sell my RAZ on eBay but so far there have been no bids. Does its reputation precede it?

Jim Z wrote: "Modern Chrysler stereos (J1850 or CAN units from around 1998 to the present) store the entire lineup of cabin equalizer curves in ROM; when they are installed in a supported car, the radio gets some information from the body controller (J1850) or FCM (CAN) and loads the correct equalization, to eliminate the need for separate radio part numbers for each model. In theory, you can put the radio from a 2002 Neon into a 2002 Caravan, and it'll change the equalization curve to match the Caravan."

One fascinating discovery was that the RBU and RAZ are almost completely identical in appearance. Every single button and control is the same (except that the Eject button is above or below the time setting buttons); the graphics are identical but in different locations. You'd never know the RAZ was a Mitsubishi while the RBU is an Alpine. (Jim Z. also noted that the RBU is the same as the RBP stereo, except the RBU has dual play capability and a transmitter for headphones, so you can play the radio over the speakers while listening to a CD on headphones. That means I could just as easily have used an RBP.)

Before you start, make sure the ignition is off , the key is removed, and, ideally, the battery is disconnected. Tools are a plastic pry tool (or if you live dangerously, a flat-blade screwdriver), a small flat-blade screwdriver, and a medium sized Phillips screwdriver.

Removing the stereo is almost shockingly easy. First, gently pry off the trim piece between the cupholders and the trim that covers the climate control and stereo. I expected this to be harder and to leave a mark, but an ordinary thing-blade screwdriver popped it off quickly and without much resistance. Your mileage may vary and the best tool for this is a specially designed plastic trim-popper, to make sure you don't leave permanent marks.

Auto part

Vehicle Car Technology Electronic device

Once that piece is popped off, four screws are revealed. You only need to remove two of them, the ones that fasten the trim piece on. Then pull off the trim piece - I grabbed it from the bottom end. It's held on by clips on top, screws on bottom. It required some muscle to remove (but be careful not to use too much). You will probably need to remove the top wiring harness connector on the trim piece (which also holds the climate control knobs and defroster control). You need to stick a little screwdriver into the gray connector to release the catch (thanks, "CudaPete," for doing this part since he happened to be there at the time.)

Windshield Technology Glass Machine Automotive window part

Once the trim piece has been carefully moved (so it's not pulling on the remaining wires), the stereo's four hold-in screws are obvious and easily removed. The stereo can then be carefully moved out, and the wiring harness removed. The antenna is also very easy to remove, but you need to pull on the black plastic retainer, not on the antenna cable itself. It comes out with a gentle "click." The other wiring harnesses have the old fashioned "push the tab in, then pull the harness out" system.

Vehicle audio Electronics Technology Vehicle Car

Putting in a new stereo is easy if you buy one that was set up to go with the car. Plug in the main wiring harness, which holds power and speaker leads; firmly but gently and carefully push in the antenna by the black plastic ring until it (quietly, you may feel it rather than hear it) clicks and is clearly seated. If you had a second wiring harness plugged into the old stereo, plug it into the new one.

Electronics Technology Electronic device

You will probably find an empty space where a second wiring harness is supposed to be plugged in; that's for the CD changer or other auxiliary input, if you have one. You can continue to leave it empty if it's empty.

Installing an iPod adapter

Cable Technology Electronic device Usb cable Data transfer cable
If the stereo has an empty space where a second wiring harness would normally go, which is normally the case if you don't have rear seat video or a CD changer, you can use that space for an iPod adapter. Both Mopar and aftermarket varieties are available, with 10-wire plugs that go into the empty space in the back of the stereo head unit. Wiring these into the glove box is a matter for their own instructions, but long story short, you plug that in to the top jack.

Blaine Martinson bought a non-Mopar unit for $80 (Mopar units sell for $100 - $250... for the same part number) and installed it in his Caravan. He undid the "other" two screws that are visible when you take off the trim piece (the first part of the instructions on this page), and removed the shelf; he drilled a 1/2 inch hole in the top, and fished the cable end through (the hole was barely large enough to accommodate the plug). Then he attached Velcro strips to the bottom of the adapter unit, added Velcro to the underside of the radio (avoiding blocking the vent holes, and put it all back together. Blaine's photo album. We expect to install a Mopar adapter in the near future, using the glove box method; the Mopar adapter also has a control box.

Finishing up

Reattach the stereo, re-attach the wiring harness to the trim piece and gently push it back in again (making sure all the clips attach), screw it back in, and turn the power on.

It may take ten or twenty seconds for the stereo to interface with the car (as Jim Z. wrote, it's talking to the computer and finding out what vehicle it's in, then setting the correct equalization curve - tuning itself for the car, so to speak) and power up. After the first start, it will turn on immediately. If all is well, gently reattach the final trim piece, and you're done. If not, it's time to take it all apart again.

In our case, we found that some of the thuddiness of the RAZ was gone, and we could listen to AM and talk FM again without getting a quick headache; and the sound of music is better in spatial definition and clarity. It's still not the 300M (it's probably not even up to our Neon's standard), and it's not the Infinity system in our PT GT, but at least now it sounds better than the AM radio in our Valiant. Except, ahem, on AM.

RAZ vs RBU and more

Jim Z. wrote that the RAZ and RBU should sound around the same because they have the same DSP and tuning. We pondered this, and decided that perhaps the difference is the year (2002 vs 2006) not the unit, or perhaps Alpine just makes better supporting circuitry. Jeremy Schrag added: The DSP chip is only one factor; there's the design of the preamp and power amp stages to consider as well. The RBU and RAZ also share the same power amp chip, yet they sound quite different. The chip may also be configured differently."

General Chrysler-related radio and stereo articles at Allpar:
CD and DVD systems (stereos have a three-letter code on the face plate)
Tape and tape/CD systems
From here to Infinity
CD changers
Classic systems (before tape decks)

2017 minivans

Repairs and performance

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