Ex-Japanese car stereo systems hacks

Ex-Japanese car stereo systems hacks

Japan’s used car export market has grown in leaps and bounds. For the past 4 years Zimbabwe has been importing half a billion United states Dollars’ worth of used cars. A good chunk of these is from Japan. The most popular cars imported into Zimbabwe from Japan present a somewhat irritating yet widespread problem. The stereo systems are not as a music lover would love them to be. A major contributor to this problem is the generation of the cars that are imported. Most of the imported are 10-15 years old hence the tech is not really great.

Stereo problems

Some of the shortfalls with used Japanese car stereo include:


This one is probably the worst. Japanese radios have a bandwidth of 14MHz (76-90MHz) while most African countries have a bandwidth of 20MHz (88-108MHz). This means one cannot enjoy most of the FM radio stations in their country. In fact in Zimbabwe one might only be able to listen to only 1 radio station out of a possible 6!

Auxiliary input

Smartphones have become a significant part of our lives. Most people just love to play music from their phone or from an iPod. Most Japanese cars do not have a 3.5mm jack auxilliary input and that is a huge bummer for a music loving driver.

CD players

Dodgy CD players, single CD players and lets face it, CD’s are just not as popular anymore. They are expensive (unless of cause you are into certain unscrupulous practices), they scratch and you probably need a bunch of them if you are into music. The worst experience is having a 1 CD player in your car, changing it can be mammoth task for most people.

If at any point in your life you have faced any of these challenges or if you are planning to buy an ex-jap as they are popularly called then you might want to consider some of our solutions. These are cheap DIY solutions that do not involve you getting a new stereo.

The modulator

This is by far the most popular device used to solve the auxilliary and CD problems. Prices will range from US$2 up to as much as US$100 depending on type, quality and features. The major problem is these devices really suck. I’ve personally bought more than 10 in the last two years. The major problems with FM modulators include

  • durability (the common ones do not last)
  • audio quality (not so great)
  • interference from other cars (you might find yourself listening to someone else’s music)
  • Finding a specific song might be an issue and the control are a bit scrappy
FM transmitter/modulator
Advanced FM transmitter (video&bluetooth)

Bandwidth expander

The bandwidth problem is a quick fix that will cost US$10-20 depending on type and quality. The device operation is simple, it ‘moves’ frequency up by a specific margin allowing your stereo to access previously inaccessible frequencies. Installation is also relatively simple though one might have to do a bit of some research on opening a specific head unit to get to the stereo system FM aerial connector and power source. Most of the units come with 3 wires, 2 of them are obvious and have to be connected to the aerial while the third should be connected to the stereo’s 12V power source.

car stereo bandwidth expander
Typical bandwidth expander connections

Important: Once installed, the extender will shift radio stations up depending on the size of the extension e.g. a 100MHz station would be on 90MHz with a 10MHz extender.

Plugin devices

There are various plugin devices to solve the CD player and auxiliary problems. These include some third party Digital CD changers and auxiliary jack adapter which are of a plug and play nature. Installation is more or less similar to the aforementioned bandwidth extender installation. Some of the most popular manufacturers of such devices include Anycar and Yatour. The major advantages of these devices include Perfect CD quality sound, NO FM transmitter, NO tone loss, NO noise and NO interference

Support MP3, USB, SD and 1/8” stereo jack auxiliary input

Digital Music Changer by Yatour
Typical plugin device installation guide – image anycar link


Aux in hack

Cheapest solution to the auxiliary problem. A bit technical but very simple solution. Open up your car stereo, find the radio module input pins and solder in an auxiliary input. DONE! Your FM has transformed into a clean auxiliary input. I did this hack on a Subaru Legacy stereo and it worked perfectly.

Topside of radio module Ground pin
Underside of radio module












To find the signal input pins use a 3.5mm jack cable plugged into a phone or ipod and play something. The other end of the cable should be stripped bare and the signal cable touched on each leg of the radio module while the ground is attached to the radio module ground. You should hear the music coming out of the speakers once the signal input pin is touched.

This hack can be done for almost any stereo. The most important thing is to find out how to remove the stereo system from the dash cabinet without damaging it. There are a lot of videos on youtube for most popular cars

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