Let's say you park your car in an area frequented by urban entrepreneurs who gather intoxicant-obtainment resources by harvesting car audio equipment from vehicles… yet you still want some tunes in your ride.
It presents quite the dilemma, because even the crappiest cassette deck serves as an irresistible lure, tempting some crackhead to smash your side window with a spark plug and then gouge the hell out of your dash with a prybar while removing his $2 prize. Fortunately, Jalopnik Cheapskate Tips™ have the solution! These days, all you really need is a means of connecting an MP3 player- or even a cellphone with music-playback functionality- into an amplifier driving a couple of speakers.
4-time DOTS honoree WhatWouldJesseDo leaves his super-clean '83 Toyota 4x4 in the parking lot of a local train station each day, and the truck has had its stereo torn out by thieves three times in as many months. Each time, Jesse installed a cheaper, less appealing stereo, and each time he returned to his truck to find the window smashed and a hole in the dash. All he wanted was a way to plug in his iPhone and have music while behind the wheel, yet the truck had to appear completely bereft of anything that might be readily converted into hubba rocks, 40-ouncers, black tar, DMT, or Ibogaine.
I found the solution when rigging up 2-way radio communication for the Black Metal V8olvo race car; we didn't have the money to buy fancy radios with in-helmet headsets, so I rigged a cheapo GMRS walkie-talkie with a modified CB radio microphone and fed the audio to this no-frills audio amplifier, which drove a couple of door-mounted junkyard speakers. When the spotter called out a yellow flag into his walkie-talkie, the driver- as well as drivers of other cars and, occasionally, spectators in the bleachers- heard him loud and clear!
The thing has "MP3 IN" printed right on the case, so that was all the inspiration I needed. This little amp, sporting an alleged 360 watts of power (ha ha ha!), is sold under countless brand names, but all are the same; I assume there's some town in southeast China that's made up entirely of huge factories churning out these little blue boxes. They're crap, but they get the job done and the sound quality doesn't suck as much as you'd expect; you get RCA and 3.5mm lines in, two speaker outputs, volume, bass, and treble controls (which feature a really cheezy multicolored flashing LED setup). They're all over eBay, and you can get yourself one for under $15 shipped.
Jesse opted for the prestigious Cheng Sheng version, which boasts an impressive 400 watt output (I'm guessing it's more like 25). He stopped by Chez Murilee yesterday, while I was working on wiring the 20R Sprite, so I just grabbed my implements of Wiring Hell and shifted operations to his Hilux.
Since the last car thief owned wire cutters, enough of the old stereo's wiring harness was still present to make hookup of the Cheng Sheng Amp a simple task. I had a stash of inline noise filters I'd picked up during junkyard expeditions, so I added one to the power circuit; without such a filter, ignition noise is liable to come through with such a cheapo amp.
Just to make sure everything worked, we rigged up a temporary wires-twisted-together installation and tested it out with an iPod. Sounds good!
If your car lacks speakers, no problemo! Just head over to the nearest self-service junkyard when it's having a Half Off sale and grab some factory speakers for $2 apiece. I prefer high-end Japanese cars for my junkyard speaker selection; why go with Nissan when you could have Infiniti for the same price?
Since portable music players all have volume and EQ controls, there's no need to install the Cheng Sheng where prying eyes might spot it- just wire it so it's powered up when the ignition is hot and leave the volume knob cranked, then adjust the sound on the music player. In Jesse's truck, the best out-of-view location was under the seat. Rather than drill holes to mount it, we just used self-adhesive Velcro.
A 3.5mm stereo plug to dual male RCA cable can be had for next to nothing, so the budget so far remained under 20 bucks. We ran the cable under the seat and to the center console. All systems go when plugged into Jesse's iPhone!
But the dash didn't quite look wretched enough. To convince would-be thieves that they'd be better off moving on to the next vehicle in the lot, the Toyota's dash had to look thoroughly de-stereoized, preferably with a tangle of sliced wires hanging out of a gaping hole where a stereo once lived. Here's a shot from the junkyard to provide inspiration.
By a stroke of good fortune, I'd just torn out the last vestiges of Prince Of Darkness wiring from my Austin-Healey; what could possibly look more disreputable a-dangling from a jagged dashboard hole? Quickly, I fished some of Lucas Electric's finest from the trash can. You know what they say about Lucas Electrics: Get home before dark!
Some work with the cutters and a few zipties, and it looks just horrible! The only concern here is that the Quantum Unreliability Field of the Prince Of Darkness wires might destabilize the Toyota wiring harness at the quark level, but we figure the Warlord Grade™ construction of the Hilux can handle it.
Now, some of you are probably saying to yourselves, "Well, that's all well and good for when I want to listen to Foghat's Fool For The City on my $12 iPod Shuffle knockoff, but what if I want to listen to the radio, eh? What then, smarty-pants?" Well, of course you want to listen to the radio, and you can totally do it with this setup. Just pick up a $6 portable AM/FM and plug the audio cable right into the headphone jack. Hell, you can even use a Walkman cassette player. Mission accomplished!