What Is a Car Radio Code?

Keep those numbers handy

A car radio code is a short string of numbers associated with a security feature found in some head units. Its purpose is to prevent theft by rendering a stolen head unit useless when it's disconnected from the battery. However, ​this feature also kicks in if your battery dies. In either case, you must enter the code to get the head unit working again. The typical radio will flash "CODE" to indicate this.

Finding Your Car Radio Code

There are a few ways to locate a car radio code, but here are the main ones, in descending order of complexity and cost.

Look in the Owner's Manual

In some cases, you might find the car radio code in the owner's manual. This isn't an especially secure place for it, given that most people keep their manuals in their vehicles, but some manuals have a space for it. If you bought your car used, the previous owner might have entered it there.

2020 Tesla Model 3 owner's manual

Check Manufacturers' Websites

Check the sites of your automaker and the stereo manufacturer. Companies sometimes keep online databases of car radio codes. Entering info such as your vehicle identification number (VIN) or the radio's serial number might return the code you're looking for.

In addition to OEM databases, a handful of free databases offer codes for various types of radios.

Radio code website

Call Your Dealer

Regardless of which dealer you bought your car from, one should be able to help. Have the make, model, year, and VIN of your vehicle handy in addition to the serial and part numbers of the radio.

Pay for a Service

If none of those options works, you’ll need to pay for a local or online service that has access to a database of car radio codes. Typically, they need the make and model of your vehicle, the brand and model of the radio, and the radio's part and serial numbers.

Once you find your code, jot it down and keep it somewhere safe and easily accessible.

Entering the Code

The procedure for entering the car radio code is specific to the make and model of the stereo. In most cases, use the volume or tuner knobs or buttons to select numbers, and then click the knob or push another button to advance.

Some late-model autos and sound systems require you to press a combination of buttons rather than enter a code.

Be careful entering codes; too many tries might lock you out. Then, you'll have to complete a reset procedure. In some cases, you must disconnect the battery again and leave it disconnected for a while. In other cases, you must turn on the ignition (but not start the engine), turn on the radio, and wait for a period of time. The procedure varies, so check the owner's manual for your vehicle.

Battery Memory Keeper Devices

Memory keeper (or keep alive) devices prevent the radio from requiring a code after the battery has been disconnected. These devices typically plug into the cigarette lighter and provide limited power to the electrical system while the battery is disconnected.

Although these devices typically work fine, they pose a danger to the electrical system. If you plug one of these devices in when replacing a battery, for example, the positive battery cable contacting any ground (for example, the negative battery cable, frame, or engine) will cause a short. There might be additional precautions to be aware of, so read the instruction manual carefully.

'Memory keeper' device for autos
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