Tinkering With Car Radios – Simpler Isn’t Always Better

A while back, the little display window on my car stereo suddenly went dark. Since I normally listen to CD’s, and on those rare occasions when I do listen to the radio it’s usually tuned to one station, I didn’t really notice it much at first. But I eventually found myself missing it, so I decided to look into a fix.

I do have a little experience with this. My first exposure to car radios was many years ago as a passenger in my parents’ car, and I wouldn’t have been allowed to do anything but listen to that one, but by the time I was in my teens and had an old car of my own, things changed.

Remember those radios? Chrome-encrusted monsters with a row of stiff push buttons that you’d set by grabbing each and pulling it out, then pushing it back in? Of course, they only received AM broadcasts, but they sure sounded good to us — especially if you’d installed rear speakers, the ultimate in customization.

I was always interested in electrical things anyway, and I became pretty adept at pulling car radios out of the dashboard when necessary (or sometimes just to tinker). If you had real problems, you could even get a replacement radio cheap at the auto wrecking yard and drop it into the hole in your dash.

The dials of those radios were backlit by a tiny bulb that could be replaced and I remember doing that in at least one of my old cars. When my modern car developed its problem the first thing I did was see if there was access to a bulb, or even a separate fuse for the display — another possibility.

Not with this car – which, by the way, is out of warranty – but I did discover that you could hold a flashlight up to the display and see the numbers, so that told me it was working and just needed to be lit up. (Don’t we all?) I finally gave up and called the service department of the car dealer. I know it won’t surprise you to find out that the entire “module” would have to be replaced. (Module=new stereo=$$$)

Simple, right? Just replace the whole thing. So it turns out that auto manufacturers have simplified the repair too much for me, and if you see me rolling along the highway shining a flashlight on my dashboard, try not to stare.

Meanwhile I’ll be thinking of those days when it was less simple – but much easier – to fix a car radio, and the music was pretty good too. Here’s one from that era, and it’s the perfect song for romantic moonlit driving — or parking.

Buddy Holly – “True Love Ways”

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