Choosing a New Car Antenna

car antenna
You're never limited by the type of antenna your car actually came with. Martin Stenmark / Maskot / Getty

Question: How do I choose a replacement antenna for my car?

I think I need a new antenna for my car, but I’m not sure how to choose a replacement. It seems like the easiest thing would be to just go to the dealer and have them install a new factory antenna, but I feel like that would probably be too expensive. What other kinds of options do I have, and how do I choose between them?


If you really do need a new car antenna, then you can go with either an OEM replacement that’s specifically designed for your vehicle, or you can get a generic aftermarket unit.

It’s pretty much up to you, but factory antennas usually don’t work any better than aftermarket ones, and they are usually more expensive. Depending on what kind of car you drive, and how old it is, you may also have trouble getting your hands on a replacement.

Choosing a Replacement Antenna

Before you choose a replacement antenna, it’s important to make sure that you actually need one in the first place. To that end, you might want to start off by checking the cable that connects your antenna to your head unit. If it isn’t firmly seated in the head unit, or it is corroded or damaged in any other way, then you should address that issue first.

Another easy test that you can do is to tune into a radio station and then attempt to wiggle your antenna mast. If you find that the mast wiggles around a lot, and that your radio reception is affected, then you might be able to simply tighten the mast or the assembly.

If the mast is broken, or you find rust, corrosion, or other damage, then you’ll have to decide what kind of replacement antenna to get. If, on the other hand, there isn't actually anything wrong with it, you can check out these other ways to improve your car radio reception.

Replacement Antenna Masts

The easiest antenna issue to address is a broken or missing mast.

Some masts screw down onto the main antenna assembly, and they can become loose over time (or stolen by vandals.) If that’s the case, then you’ll want to start off by checking with your local dealer to see if an OEM replacement is available. If a direct fit replacement is available, and the base that the mast attaches to isn’t rusted or corroded, then that’s going to be the easiest possible solution.

OEM Antenna Assemblies

If your antenna is rusted or corroded, then you will probably have to replace the whole thing instead of just the mast. In that case, using an OEM assembly is typically the path of least resistance, but it usually isn’t going to be the cheapest way to go. It never hurts to check with your local dealer to see what the price and availability is, but an aftermarket unit will often work just as well for less money. You can also replace a fixed OEM antenna with a motorized aftermarket unit if you want to.

Fixed-mast Aftermarket Antennas

In most cases, you’ll find that a rigid, fixed aftermarket antenna will be the least expensive option. These are pretty basic one-size-fits-all units that are usually designed to cover a range of vehicles, so you may not be able to find an aftermarket unit that looks exactly like the factory unit that you’re replacing.

However, they’re functionally the same, and you should get roughly the same performance out of an aftermarket unit that you might expect from a factory antenna.

Motorized Aftermarket Antennas

Whether your car came with a motorized antenna or not, you always have the option to replace your factory unit with a motorized one. These antennas are designed to extend the mast when you turn the radio on and retract it when you turn the radio off. They are significantly more expensive than fixed antennas, but they offer some additional peace of mind. If you’ve ever had an antenna mast broken off or stolen by a vandal, then you’ll probably rest a lot easier with a motorized antenna.

Factory Antenna Adapters

Most factory and aftermarket car radios use a standard antenna connection that’s referred to as a “motorola jack,” and most antennas and antenna cables use “motorola plugs.” However, there are a few notable exceptions. If you have drive a Volkswagen, Nissan or GM vehicle, and you still have the factory radio, you may need to buy an adapter to connect an aftermarket antenna. These adapters are extremely easy to install, and they typically aren’t all that expensive, but it’s still important to verify whether or not you need one before you go to install an aftermarket antenna.