Aftermarket audio products: To change or not to change?

Aftermarket audio products: To change or not to change?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to modify car audio systems in modern machines. Credit: Dietmar Janssen/

Not very long ago, there was a clamour for aftermarket car audio products.

The minute that car and music enthusiasts took delivery of their brand new set of wheels, their minds would immediately think of upgrading the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) factory-fitted audio system. Several cars would come with no audio system at all.

In lower-priced cars, the audio system already installed may not be of very high quality. It will definitely sound decent but there are people out there who demand a lot more.

What one can do to improve the audio experience is virtually unlimited. From just popping in a couple of small coaxial speakers into the front dash or door and a pair of oval coaxial speakers into the boot of the car, there would be a definite improvement in sound. Coaxial speakers are woofers and tweeters gelled into one.

There is another category of enthusiasts, the extremists so to speak. From tens of thousands to lakhs of rupees, they install separate woofers and tweeters for more accurate sound reproduction. Subwoofers and external amplifiers could be installed to give more punch to the music.

With the introduction of high-end audio/video players with touchscreen panels and in-built navigation systems, it is just the stuff to have on the dashboard of your car to look cool and sound great.

To put it very simply, what can be done to get the best sound is limited to the amount of money one can spend.

However, there is a problem brewing. Electronics are taking over virtually every aspect of our life and cars are no different. Automobiles are increasingly becoming dependent on electronics and software. The Electronic Control Unit (ECU) controls most of the engine’s working and one little problem can leave the car dead.

The problem lies in tweaking cars to upgrade the audio system, particularly the sedan class and upwards due to their complexity. Of course, if it is a Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Audi, rest assured that the audio system will be top notch.

There are two aspects that people need to be aware of while upgrading from OEM systems. One, if the car is still under warranty and the electrical or audio system is tampered with, the automaker will refuse warranty service. Two, if the modification is done in any garage, there is a chance that things could go horribly wrong if the mechanic is not familiar with the complicated systems of modern cars.

In terms of practicality, the way dashboards are designed and audio systems are fitted in, an aftermarket product just may not fit into that slot.

J Anand, MD of Jayem Automotives (Coimbatore), said: “There are big woofers, amplifiers etc. and there is nothing wrong in adding audio equipment. However, one needs to be careful in doing this. Wires of the correct thickness need to be installed. There are a lot of fuses and they have margins as to how much extra load they can take. It was not like earlier when they could handle bigger loads. Modern cars are more sensitive."

“If not done correctly and by a mechanic who does not understand a modern car, its ECU, diagnostics etc., there will definitely be a problem. If non-showroom mechanics understand all this, it should be fine,” he added.

Ace rally driver Karna Kadur, a former Indian National Rally Champion, said: “This has beeen growing but it has come to that point where it is difficult to modify sometimes. Also, the warranty will expire if anything is modified. Even changing the tyres could nullify the warranty. Insurance could also be denied."

“There is no solution for this. Whatever the dealership says is the law. If work is done outside and there is a problem, the warranty may not be honoured at all. This is probably auto companies’ way of going after the aftermarket audio products,” he said.

It is becoming more difficult to add aftermarket audio products, but not impossible. One will just have to exercise a level of caution while getting it done in garages.

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