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RBK: fixing a Chrysler-Huntsville CD-cassette player for Dodge and Plymouth cars and trucks

by Jeremy Schrag

This isn't your RBK? Maybe it's an RBK v2!

The year was 2005. The place was Regina, Saskatchewan, and I had just driven my parents to the city to look for a new vehicle. After looking through several dealer lots on a hundred-degree day, my folks were in a hurry to find something fast. Something air conditioned, because my car wasn't. Something cheap, because they'd just left a 1996 Caravan immobile in the driveway after its third and final transmission failure.

That something turned out to be a rather basic 2002 Caravan SE. It wasn't loaded, seemingly its only options were SentryKey™ and power windows, but it was something they could afford, with working AC.

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Today's article features the stock CD player head unit from that very van. Another of the very few options, it was the deck that was available right below the fancy CD/cassette combo deck of the time. I would later go on to retrofit a Chrysler/Infinity speaker system into that van to improve the disappointing sound quality, but the CD player itself was used nearly the entire time my parents owned the van. Right up until I started doing articles for this very website, in fact, and I got my hands on a combo deck to give them.

Allow me to introduce the "RBK," which is the sales code these went by in 2002. There is more than one version of this deck; in later years, it would gain the ability to receive satellite radio broadcasts. That version can be identified by looking for the absence of the analog bass and treble controls... it has buttons there instead for software adjustment of bass and treble.

Among the features of this deck include support for CD rewritables, CD changer control of the in-dash changers available at the time, and all the other usual bells and whistles one expected from a factory deck back in the day.

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My parents had that 2002 Caravan from 2005 to 2011. That's a pretty long time when you realize that the van racked up about 335,000 kilometers in that time, ending up at 420,000 (261,000 miles) before they sold it. As a result, this deck is rather dusty, but I've cleaned it up enough to make out some of the more important details on the label. One of those details is the supplier code of 7910, which pinpoints Chrysler's own Huntsville Electronics (now Siemens) as the source of manufacture.

Note the presence of the two screws up top by the faceplate - these will need to be removed to get inside the unit. You will require several Torx drivers to service this unit: T-15, T-10, and T-8.

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As always, I'll show you how to get into this deck for servicing. Huntsville's decks have always been pretty easy to work on, and this unit is no exception. There are a few tricks, but they're easy to remember. I'll point them out as we go along.

Meantime, you see three screws in the above shot. Two holding this side of the faceplate on, and one with a red arrow. The red arrowed one holds tension on the amplifier chip clamp, so those parts stay in contact with the side panel; which acts as their heatsink. Remember that screw for later.

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This being a late 2002 deck, it has the newer gray double connector arrangement instead of the older black/gray 7 pin connectors. However, it predates the move to the CANBUS system, so you can power this deck up without it being in the vehicle, like most of the newer rounded face units in this style.

About the arrows: red ones indicate the screws holding on the top panel, and the bottom tray. They're pretty self explanatory. Of the green ones, the leftmost one holds down the antenna connector while the rightmost one engages a heatsink clamp for the deck's voltage regulator. Don't mix them up, not that it's very hard to do that. They are totally different screws.

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Here's the other side of the deck. The only two screws you see here are the faceplate screws.

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Looking at the bottom, we see no screws at all, just a few labels and two of the four black clips that hold the faceplate to the deck.

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First, we'll remove the faceplate assembly as a unit. You don't need to remove the knobs on the front panel unless you plan to remove the faceplate circuit board. I've done it here so I can show you the components of the faceplate assembly later.

Note the red arrow. The small ribbon cable here uses a connector with a catch on it. Press down where the arrow is pointing, and pull back toward the deck. Further north in this shot is the main ribbon cable - it uses a friction fit connector that you just pull straight out of the deck.

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The faceplate is off the deck, and you can (just barely) see that friction fit connector inside the big hole up top there. When re-assembling, you do have to be careful to center that connector so that each wire has a pin. Otherwise, it's not very hard to put it back together at all.

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Now, we're going to remove the rotary encoder... the part that was attached to that little ribbon cable. It comes out easily, like so. Only two screws hold it in.

But I won't stop there... I'll remove the rest of the screws holding the circuit board down and show you the three main pieces of the faceplate assembly.

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Here we have the black faceplate itself, the gray silicon contact sheet, and the circuit board. If you've spilled soda inside the unit and the buttons are sticky, or if you need to clean any of the contacts, you'll be seeing this too.

You'll observe a red arrow in the picture - it is pointing at one of six clear caps that go over some of the button contacts. These need to be there to provide illumination to those specific buttons. If any fall off, glue them back on.

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An up close look at the circuit board. The red arrow indicates a set of the traces where the contacts hit. These need to be clean for proper operation. A blue arrow indicates one of the many lamps used for illumination. Be advised that while they appear to be the same grain of wheat style microlamps used on older Chrysler decks, these are mounted to a base and soldered down. As such, they are very tricky to replace. I don't know a source where you can obtain replacements for these as an assembly, but it may be possible to adapt a replacement bulb, regardless. As long as the bulb doesn't project too far from the board and is located in roughly the same spot, it should be possible to replace the bulbs and omit those little gray bases entirely.

Note that if you do replace these bulbs, buy enough to re-work the whole circuit board. You don't want to have to do this again, and it's very possible that the heat of your soldering iron will kill some of the other bulbs, if they're at the end of their life. Also, be aware that the bulbs have that blue colored filter over them to provide the illumination color. You can find these in just about any color you want on eBay as I type this, usually from the same sources that carry the bulbs. Which, by the way, are 12 volts, 3mm; in case you need to know.

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Here's the business side of the contact assembly. Clean the black contact surfaces as needed.

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Now, we'll get further into the deck. Remove the four screws holding on the top panel, and remove the top panel. You should see this view.

Before we can remove the mainboard from the unit, there are seven metal tabs to de-solder and bend flush with the sides. I've indicated them in red. Sharp eyes may have spotted the little scorch mark near that one on the bottom middle, and may be wondering if a part flamed out there. Worry not, it only looks like a part caught fire there. The scorch marks are from the soldering job used to secure that tab... they cleaned right up without a problem.

Remove the screw holding the antenna jack to the case, and the other screw on the back holding the voltage regulator clamped in. They're the green ones I showed you in the picture of the back. Remove the one lonely screw on the side panel heatsink. Now, just pull the mainboard upwards. It might be in there a little tight... just go easy on it as you work it loose.

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With the mainboard up, we must remove the cable that connects the CD mechanism to the unit. Make sure you note how this goes in, observing where the red stripe on the cable goes, because it can be installed backwards. You don't want to do that. Trust me.

To release the cable, just put your thumbs on the catches on either side and push them away from the cable. The cable will literally pop right off, as those two catches are rigged to push the cable out when they are forced apart.

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Here's the component side of the mainboard. It's not too hard to service, but it does have a lot of surface mount technology to be careful around.

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A look at the amplifier section. To replace these chips, you must first remove the metal clamp that held them to the heatsink side of the case. Just grab it with a long nose pliers and pull straight up - it's just snapped in. Remember how it goes back in.

The amp chips themselves are from Philips, but they use a proprietary Chrysler part number that traces to nowhere in the known Interweb. I have no idea what the specs are, or where you can find replacements. Best to use a parts deck as a source for these.

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Time to look at the CD module. First, we need to remove the bottom tray from the rest of the case. Remove the screw arrowed in red, and remove the two on the back near the bottom. Then, just lift the case up and off the bottom tray, like so:

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To remove the CD module from the bottom tray, you have four screws to deal with. I've arrowed two of them in red here.

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And the other two in red here. What's the blue arrow for? Well, that shows you the large open back of the CD module, through which you can already clean the laser lens. Just use a cotton swab with some isopropyl alcohol on it, stick it in there, and gently swab the clear lens of the laser.

To tweak laser power (and you shouldn't have to on this deck), we must get the unit even further apart.

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This is the CD module from straight on, before we go any further. Note the arrows. The red one indicates the little plastic cam that activates the loading mechanism. The CD presses on that as it's inserted, the mechanism activates, and the roller indicated by the green arrow grips the CD by its edge and rolls it right into position. I rather like this loading method - it leaves little chance of the mechanism putting any marks, scratches, or smears on the disc as it loads. Someone over in the factory was using his head when designing the CD module.

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You can already tweak the laser power without messing with this circuit board, but in case you need to get in there to work on a broken loading gear, I've indicated a few things with arrows. Red shows you the mounting screws... they require your T-8 Torx bit to remove. From there, remove the purple indicated wires. All three of those connectors are keyed and friction fit - you just pull them straight out. Unsnap the keeper holding in the laser sled ribbon cable - yellow. Just push those little tabs on each side toward the cable until they unsnap, and pull the ribbon cable out. It won't take a lot of force. Be careful when you go to re-seat that cable - sometimes they'll fool you and make you think they're fully inserted when they are not. If you can re-snap the cable keeper and still easily pull the cable out, it wasn't fully seated.

Finally, the board itself can be removed by pushing to the left on that metal tab indicated in blue. That side of the board will release, you pull the board straight up from there, and then pull the board to the left to release the tabs on the right side of the picture. Don't worry about the alignment of the microswitches on the bottom... the designer of this deck is so good, he even remembered to make it so that you could just pull up on the board without worrying about a thing underneath it.

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Here's a close-up of the laser power potentiometer, indicated in red. You do have to remove the laser sled ribbon cable to get at it, but it's not hard. Tweak in very small adjustments, if you mess with it at all.

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Here's the other side of the circuit board, with red arrows indicating the microswitches. As mentioned, you don't need to worry about pressing these in while you reinstall the board. In their natural configuration, the board will just drop right into place.

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Finally, a look at the mechanism without the board in place.

Time to put it all back together and test.

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Looks like it's working just fine.

There is a second version of the RBK - covered here.

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)

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