How to Buy the Right Size Head Unit

head unit
Don't take it for granted that your car will accept the kind of head unit you think it will. Mark Horn / Photographer's Choice / Getty

Question: Will the stereo I want fit in my car?

I’ve been looking at new car stereos recently, and I think it’s time to finally pull the trigger. But how do I know for sure that the one I want is going to fit? It’s a pretty big purchase for me, and I’m afraid if I buy the wrong one online, and it doesn’t fit right, I won’t be able to return it.

Answer:

There are two easy ways to make sure that you buy the right size car stereo.

If you’re already doing research online, to figure out what kind of head unit you want, then it’s a pretty easy transition to just use an online size and fit guide to determine what will work in your car. The other method involves actually measuring your head unit, which takes a little more work but is essentially foolproof.

Using an Online Car Stereo Size Database

Car audio retailers are probably the single greatest source of information about size and fit for aftermarket car audio components, which makes sense, since their customers are far more likely to be satisfied if the components they buy actually fit in their vehicles. Even before the rise of the Internet, brick-and-mortar car audio stores typically had size and fit databases that kept track of what size speakers, head units, and other components fit in specific vehicles. Today, that information is always at your fingertips courtesy of the Internet.

Although retailers provide this information with the hopes of making a sale, you are, of course, free to use the information from one database and purchase a head unit from whichever outlet you see fit. The key is to plug in the make, model and year of your vehicle, along with any relevant trim options, and to make note of the head units that the tool says will fit in your vehicle.

If the tool shows that double DIN head units will fit, then you can safely buy a double DIN head unit or a single DIN unit with the appropriate dash kit.

Some popular online lookup tools include:

Measuring Your Own Head Unit

Fit databases and lookup tools are usually pretty accurate, and you can take most of the guesswork out of the equation by verifying one against another, but physically measuring your head unit is pretty much foolproof. This takes a little more work, and you may have to remove some trim pieces to see exactly what you’re working with, but you’ll have to remove those anyway to replace the head unit.

The most common head unit sizes measure roughly:

If your head unit is 4” tall, then a double DIN head unit will be a direct-fit replacement, while a single DIN or 1.5 DIN head unit will require some type of mounting kit. If your head unit is 3” tall, then you can replace it with a 1.5 DIN head unit or a single DIN unit with the appropriate kit. In some cases, you can also replace a 1.5 DIN head unit with a full double DIN head unit with the right dash kit.

And if your head unit measures 2” tall, you’re typically stuck replacing it with a single DIN head unit, unless your vehicle came with a “spacer” or “pocket” that provides enough space to install a 3” or 4” tall head unit.

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