Car stereo making a whining noise: How to stop it
A car stereo is an engine behind your car interior space. It determines the mood and atmosphere of your car’s interior. People will always compliment the car audio system no matter how long they spend in your car. Therefore, a good car stereo system with no whining noises will always serve you as a plus when it comes to ferrying your family and friends around the city or even a road trip to the countryside.
A car stereo will always serve as a constant companion while driving. Most drivers prefer listening to something extra apart from the engine and tyre noises which are more mundane. A car stereo system was seen as an essential tool to be included in an automobile because automotive engineers saw that it offers entertainment via radio station services, where car occupants get to listen to music, radio shows, news, weather forecasts and much more.
The first car radio was installed by Kelly’s Motors in NSW Australia, in 1924. In 1930, the American Galvin Manufacturing Corporation marketed a Motorola branded radio receiver for $130 which was deemed very expensive because an average car like a Ford Model A went at a cost of $540 back then. Since then, car stereo systems have undergone a lot of electrical and electronics engineering advancements making them some sophisticated pieces of equipment in a car interior.
Back to our story, when a car stereo system is installed, sometimes it might make whining noises periodically or continuously throughout its usage which means you have to turn your radio off or live with annoyance as a countermeasure. The sound of screeching can be irritating to your ears and those of the car occupants. Therefore, having this whining noise on your drive to work or leisure is no way to start the day.
If this sounds like your current situation, you urgently need a solution to this problem and the solution might be quite easy as you are thinking right now. Sit back and relax, get a mug of coffee and sip it down as we take you through the process of eliminating this annoyance of whining noise.
Causes and solutions to whining noise in car stereo systems
Most car owners replace the factory car audio system due to its low built quality hence replacing it with an aftermarket car stereo system. The most replaced car stereo components are the speakers, head units, amplifiers and subwoofers. A common phenomenon with aftermarket speakers is the presence of whining noise coming from them after their installation.
There are several reasons that lead to this whining noise and we as carsaudio are going to highlight them to you and later discuss them in leaps and bounds. The common whining noise reasons include:
- Improperly grounded wire.
- Alternator noise.
- Engine noise.
- Spoilt car stereo components
- Poor car stereo wiring.
We are going to start with the most common causes of whining noise in car stereo systems.
1. Improperly grounded wire
In an aftermarket car stereo system, whining noise mostly comes from an improperly grounded wire. In a car stereo system, there are many wires that need to be checked in order to establish the cause of the whining noise by starting with the most obvious wiring problems related to car stereo systems. This will save you a lot of time and effort in eliminating the whining noise. The key is for you to understand that the whining noise originated from the poor earthing of the car stereo system.
Steps to isolate the problem
The first step to take is by checking the earth/ground wire connected to your car stereo system. Secondly, perform a check on all wires associated with the car’s stereo system, which includes the alternator ground. The main wires apart from the alternator ground are the wires connecting the alternator and the battery and speaker wires.
Therefore, troubleshooting bad ground wires is the no-cost, low-cost method of finding the whining noise in your car stereo system. If you still cannot solve the problem, a check of all related wires to the car stereo system needs to be performed. This procedure will require you to test each component separately with a multimeter.
A digital multimeter is the best choice where you can test the voltage from each component to check whether they are all reading the same voltage. Purchasing your own multimeter will be a much cheaper option as compared to taking your car to an electrical technician to check the electrical components on your behalf. If electrical components’ inspection is not your take, consider taking it to a professional electrical or car audio technician and have it checked. But you can consider the fun of being a geek having fun chasing wires!
Improper grounding of the car stereo system is one of the biggest causes for introducing noise into your audio system. During the test, ensure that the ground wire is not located near a noise source such as a car air conditioner system. Secondly, ensure that the ground wire is actually connected to the vehicle’s ground in order to eliminate the whining noise from your car stereo.
Another option of grounding the car stereo to eliminate the whining noise is by using an antenna lead of the aftermarket car stereo where it can act as a ground thereby enabling the new car stereo receiver unit to operate without its ground wire properly connected. The antenna lead at times is usually the source of whining noise problems.
As we have just explained, poor grounding of the new car stereo system can be the main source of introducing whining noise into your system killing all your great car audio entertainment. For now, you know there are a lot of things in the audio system of your car and any of these things can cause whining noise problems in your car stereo.
If after ensuring that the car stereo is well-grounded and the whining noise in-car speakers exist, you should try repositioning all the wires connected to the audio system and keeping them away from other wires. Wires close to each other produce interference and noise is produced in sound. We will cover more on this soon in poor car stereo wiring.
2. Alternator noise
What is the alternator whining noise?
Alternator whining noise is caused by a difference in voltage, known as electrical potential between two electrical connection points or by a loose or intermittent ground connection. If you notice the change in the whining noise as you accelerate or decelerate your car, then the noise is caused by the alternator. This is due to the Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) which are made by the rotation of the crankshaft of the car engine.
The whining noise from the alternator gets into the car stereo head unit through power cables which are later heard by you and the car occupants as a whining noise. This noise can be very irritating but a solution can be found very easily. The car stereo head unit is usually connected to the car stereo system via power and RCA cables which make the inbuilt amplifier collect the high-frequency noise from the car alternator and amplify it.
This causes voltage disparity due to an improperly grounded alternator, radio, or stereo component. Troubleshooting your car stereo and its components is how you will find the problem.
There are two methods to solve this type of whining noise in your car’s audio system caused by the alternator.
One is by the installation of a noise filter between the car battery and alternator which prevents the noise from entering the head unit. The head unit will therefore not collect the high-frequency alternator noises. Secondly, you can also install an inline noise filter in the power cables of the head unit. The power cables will stop collecting the whining noise and make the sound crisp and clear.
By installing any of these sound filters, the alternator whining noise will be blocked from being collected by your car’s stereo head unit.
3. Engine noise
Number three possible reasons for your car stereo speakers making a whining noise is due to the running car engine. Vibrations from a running car engine can cause the sound to be amplified and heard through the speakers.
By discerning all possible reasons for car stereo whining noise and all narrowing down to engine noise, there are several options to solve this problem.
Speaker insulation is key when it comes to eliminating unnecessary noise from your car audio system. Engine noise can be a reason for whining noise. Therefore, you will be required to add some sound absorbers known as sound-deadening materials which we have covered in detail in a separate article. Sound deadeners will help in dampening vibrations caused by the engine which is a cause of the whining noise.
Try to dampen the vibrations from the engine by using sound deadening products. This will help to reduce the noise that is being transmitted to the speakers. The sound vibration energy is absorbed hence eliminating speaker resonance and baffling out the excessive sound. This external noise normally has a negative impact on music quality and also the usage of speakers where the car owner is required to use excessive volume in order to cancel out the external noise.
A second option to sound deadeners is by adding some insulation around the speakers known as speaker baffles. Speaker baffles are made of 27 foam or rubber. They are the best option when it comes to car speakers’ protection whereby they protect the speakers from being damaged by weather elements. To the solution that we are looking for currently, these speaker baffles help in absorbing excess sound energy that might be caused by engine vibrations hence acting as a barrier between your speakers and engine noise.
Hopefully, one of these two fixes will help in stopping your car stereo speakers from collecting the engine noise when it is running leading to the whining noise. If no solution is found, you may consider reading further on this article.
4. Spoilt car stereo components
Whining noise in car stereo systems can be caused by various spoilt or damaged components. These components can both spoil at the same time or individually. Therefore, we are going to highlight some of the components that when they get damaged, they will bring forward to the production of whining noise heard in your car stereo. Some of these components include:
- a) Speakers
- b) Amplifier
- c) Subwoofer
- d) Head unit
- e) Radio antennae
a) Damaged or dirty speakers
Speakers are the major components of a car stereo because they reproduce sound. They are likely to get damaged with time and cause audio distortion to your music hence interfering with your listening experience. Therefore, if your car stereo is making a whining noise, this would be the most possible reason why you will find that one or more of your speakers may be damaged. This can cause in the worst case the speaker to fail.
Speakers can only be inspected and repaired by a car audio technician because it is a bit technical to handle them and careless mistakes or handling can be catastrophic leading to serious damages to your speakers. Sometimes speakers are repairable but if not, the solution is a replacement.
Another fix to your speakers can be cleaning them. Cars are exposed to dusty conditions especially vehicles that go offroad. Dust and dirt particles might get into the speaker compartment leading to audio distortion. This distortion is felt in the ears in the form of a whining noise. We recommend an easy fix to your speakers which will involve cleaning them. This can be done by using a vacuum cleaner to remove any dust or dirt that may be causing the sound to be distorted. Ensure that the speaker cones and grills are carefully and fully cleaned because they get clogged by dust and dirt particles leading to the hissing or whining sound.
b) Damaged or incorrectly installed amplifier
Another reason that can cause the whining noise in your car stereo system is a damaged amplifier unit. Most of the time the amplifier can collect alternator or engine noises through the power cables or RCA cables. If this is not the reason why insulators have already been provided, then the reason can be the amplifier unit is damaged.
A damaged amplifier can be a reason for the whining noise in your car stereo system. Amplifiers are sensitive electrical equipment and once damaged at times they can be irreparable. Poor amplifier grounding of car external amplifiers can also introduce whining noise to your car stereo system.
An amplifier can also introduce noise into your system through bad grounding or through poor mounting. Rubber grommets or feet installation to the car chassis can help isolate the vehicle vibrations being transmitted to the amplifier unit. Car chassis vibrations are a potential source of the noise. If all else fails to solve the whining noise problem, install a noise suppressor.
Therefore, we recommend visiting a car audio repair centre for them to inspect and repair your amplifier. Some of the reasons that may cause amplifier whining noise may be due to repeated use or overuse, incorrect installation, ageing or physical damage.
The best solution to this problem for a poorly grounded external car stereo amplifier is by checking and repairing the amplifier grounding. Make sure the amplifier is grounded properly and if the problem persists you may need to isolate the amplifier or install a noise filter.
Is the amplifier installed near a car component that is radiating noise, like a rear-mounted tuner? If so, unscrew it and move it away to see if the noise stops. Remove your patch cables. If you still hear noise, check to see if your amplifier is isolated from the vehicle’s chassis. Any contact between your amplifier’s metal casing and your car’s body could cause whining noise problems.
c) Damaged subwoofer
Subwoofers are speaker units tailored and designed for low-frequency notes production and bass audio. They consume more power for this to be achieved. Sometimes they even overheat due to prolonged usage. This heat at times interferes with the subwoofer cone making it to cause bass audio distortion. Sometimes the distortion may be in the form of whining noise.
If the subwoofer is found to be defective and irreparable, the solution will be the replacement of the unit.
d) Head unit producing a whining noise
A brand-new aftermarket head unit installed in a car stereo should be in perfect condition with no distortion or whining noise of any sort to your audio listening experience. There are several reasons that can cause a fresh head unit installation to produce a whining noise. We will check on a few key reasons, which include:
(i) Improper head unit grounding
Ensure that your car stereo head unit is well-grounded in order to clear the whining noise produced by the head unit.
Is the head unit installed and securely attached to the car’s chassis with a good contact to clean metal? The ground wire should ideally be 18-inches in length at most because if a longer ground wire is installed, it can cause noise problems. Improper grounding of the head unit is one reason for most system whining noise problems.
(ii) Antenna noise
Antenna noise is normally caused by radio statics. Performing a check on the head unit in order to be in a position to identify if the noise is caused by antenna noise is crucial. You can start by first checking if the noise is coming from the following sources such as CD, auxiliary/USB, AM and FM input options. If the noise is present only on the radio by selecting the AM or FM options, then the whining noise is most likely coming through your antenna lead.
Car antenna components are overlooked by most car owners hence less attention is paid to their contribution to distortion-free and whining noise-free audio experience. A key component, especially when listening to the radio through your car stereo system, can be a weak link in your car’s stereo system. While checking all of the other components of your system, make sure your antenna is tightly properly grounded.
First, start by unplugging the antenna cable from the head unit. If the whining noise gets eliminated after unplugging the antenna, then that is the reason for the whining noise in your car stereo. An easy fix by trying to install an antenna noise suppressor such as the American International’s AS100. This filter device plugs in-line between your receiver and your antenna, breaking the ground path between them, thus preventing whining noise caused by antennae radio statics from entering your system.
Ensure that your car antenna connections to your head unit are securely and tightly grounded.
(iii) Radiated noise
After performing the detailed analysis to ascertain if your car radio antenna is the reason behind your whining noise problem, the next reason might be radiated noise to your head unit. Disassemble the head unit from its installation point hence free it from the car dashboard while a CD is playing from it.
If the whining noise gets eliminated, this indicates that the whining noise is originating from the proximity of the head unit to a noise producer like an air conditioning heating motor. This whining noise is often referred to as “sideway noise”
If the whining noise-causing accessory has a motor, a source noise filter can be installed on the accessory’s power leading to minimising radiated noise. If it is the car computer or any other motor-less car accessory that is causing the problem, move your head unit’s wiring away from that accessory to minimise the radiated noise.
Another great fix to the radiated noise transmission to your head unit is by installing a magnetic shielding foil also known as a Mu-metal to shield the backside of the head unit or use it to wrap the wire or component that is radiating the whining noise into your car stereo system.
Another solution to the radiated noise problem is solved by repositioning the antenna wires or antenna. Try this by moving all the cables away from the antenna cable or changing the antenna component itself.
(iv) Check your amplifier gain structure
If you have an external aftermarket amplifier installed in your system, the first thing to do is to quiet any system noise, which sounds like a constant whining noise. First, check for the system whining noise with the car engine off. Insert a CD into the CD player and turn it to pause. Listen to the system with the volume way down, then way up. Play music from the CD and if you hear a whining noise or static in either instance, reduce the gain on your amplifier.
Pass more signal from the head unit to the amp by leaving the head unit’s volume higher before you set the amplifier’s gain. Use the trial and error method until you eliminate the whining noise to a minimum or entirely. If the whining noise is not fully eliminated, the little bit of it remaining will be cancelled out while driving the car and other environmental factors.
5. Poor car stereo wiring
Poor car stereo and components wiring can also lead to whining noise production which can be irritating when you are in the mood to listen to your best music or radio channel while driving. We are going to explain some common car stereo wiring problems and their easy fixes. They include:
a) Bad cables or wiring
Bad cables and wiring problems can also be the main reason for whining noise in your car stereo system. Generally, this is caused by bad ground connections or cables getting tangled up too much. If this might be the reason, a thorough cables and wires inspection needs to be carried out.
You can do the inspection by yourself and solve the visible issues but if you are skilled with the basic electronics knowledge, you can delve deeper. You can use the car manual or if that is not your trade-in electronics, you can take your car to a car audio maintenance workshop for it to be inspected but for a fee.
b) Whining noise via patch cables
Whining noise can be picked up by the RCA patch cables connecting your car stereo components. To test this, detach the cables from your car amplifier. Insert the RCA cable to one side, that is left or right, into the amplifier’s left and right input jacks. Turn on your car’s audio system and engine.
If the noise is gone, reconnect the RCA cables to the amp, and disconnect them from your receiver. If you hear the noise after the reconnection, your patch cables are definitely picking up the whining noise.
How much noise your cable receives depends largely on the size of its “loop area” where the larger the loop area, the more vulnerable your cable is to induced interference causing the whining noise. A cable’s loop area is equal to the distance between its centre conductor and outer shield times the length of one complete twist in a twisted pair configuration, or the entire length of the cable in a coaxial type. Consider trading your old cable for one with a twisted pair design. You will get a smaller loop area and less whining noise.
The fix to this is by trying to re-route the cables in order to separate them from your power cable by at least 18 inches of length. Also, ensure that you install the best brand of patch cables to ensure quality is guaranteed.
The inexpensive RCA cables are preferred by many uninformed car owners who may opt to use them to connect their car audio components. These cables do not have the insulation or conductivity required which is necessary to deflect noise in a metallic, highly conductive automobile.
PAC’s SNI-1 is a ground loop isolator which can be installed between the head unit’s preamp outputs and your amp to minimise the whining noise problem because it features a loop area design.
c) Whining noise picked up by power or ground cables
As we have discussed earlier, ground cables are the main source of whining noise in a car stereo system. If the whining noise was not due to a poor grounding cable installation or antenna cable, it may be coming in through the amplifier’s main power cable.
Some car audio enthusiasts can have multiple amplifiers installed in their car stereo system which can also create ground loop problems.
Whining noise created by the amplifier’s main power cable occurs if it is of insufficient gauge so you might try installing a thicker cable to power your amplifier’s power cable.
The solution to ground loop problems can be solved by grounding each amplifier with its own separate wire. If you are still unable to locate the cause of the whining noise, consider installing a ground loop isolator such as the PAC’s SNI-1. Install it between the head unit’s preamp outputs and the amplifiers to minimise this problem.
d) Whining noise through the speaker wiring
Whining noise can also be a result of incorrect speaker wires. Speaker wires can be tested by turning the system off and disconnecting all the speaker wires from the amplifier. Start the car engine and if the whining noise is still present, then engine noise is being radiated into the speaker wires.
The only solution to whining noise created through speaker wires is by repositioning them, or, as a last resort, shielding them by wrapping them with Mu-metal foil.
e) Whining noise through the electrical system
(i) Low battery fluid
Tried out all the whining noise fighting tips in this article! Do not despair because we have one last fix remaining for your car stereo ultimately. If the car stereo system noises are in the form of low hisses, statics or general whines, then the problem might be with your car’s electrical system.
Your battery fluid might be needing some top-up. If after the top up, you still have problems, have a mechanic check your battery and also the alternator.
(ii) Ignition noise
For old cars that might not have undergone a major service in recent years, then the whining noise might be a result of ignition noise. This is normally a ticking noise that varies in speed as you accelerate. Also, poor grounding of the ignition may cause whining noise production. Therefore, ignition whine is cause by difference in voltage; the electrical potential between two points triggering the alternator whine. Grounding is therefore very crucial to car components in order to prevent RCA cables from picking this whining noise.
Your car may need a tune-up of the following items: resistor-type spark plugs, shielded carbon-core spark plug wires, distributor cap, and coil.
If the whining noise persists due to the ignition noise, then your ignition system may not be grounded well enough hence broadcasting whining from other items such as your air conditioner, bonnet and exhaust system. Chances are, grounding one of the under-bonnet components will eliminate the whining noise.
An easy solution to this problem will be to switch on your sound system and leave the car running. Try to ground each of these different components of the car. Most possibly, grounding one of your car’s components will eliminate the noise. If so, make the ground permanent with a braided ground strap.
(iii) Battery charging wire and chassis ground wires
A very effective fix for electrical system noise is called “The Big Three” upgrade. This is where your car’s battery charging wire and chassis ground wires are augmented by adding large gauge wires.
Large gauge wires of 1/0-gauge or 4-gauge are added to those connecting the alternator to the battery’s positive pole, the battery’s negative pole to the chassis, and the chassis to the engine block. These connections establish better current flow and more consistent voltage, which improves your car stereo system’s signal to whining noise ratio. It also ensures against loose or restrictive ground connections, which, as said before, are common sources of whining noise.
Impact of whining noise in your car stereo on your nervous system
Whining noise problems can be very frustrating and impart negative feedback to you as a car owner and people who use your car, especially when you are anxious to hear your new car stereo system. Car stereo systems can be complex to decipher especially for newbies or not-technical oriented car owners. Therefore, whining noise is just nature’s way of telling you that something’s out of whack. Just run down the list, eliminating possible noise sources until you find the problem.
Go through our article and try to isolate each possible cause and most definitely you will end up with a solution to the whining noise in your car stereo system.
Thank you for reading! We hope this article was helpful in fixing your car stereo’s whining noise. Please feel free to share it with your friends who might also be experiencing this issue.
When your car stereo starts making a whining noise, it can be very frustrating. It may seem like there is nothing you can do to fix the problem, but in reality, there are a few things you can try. We have already discussed them, now is up to you to fold your sleeves and get to do the job.
Our guide will help you diagnose and solve problems with whining noise in your car audio system. Hopefully, one of these fixes will help fix your car stereo’s whining noise. If not, it may be time to consider replacing the stereo entirely. In this way, you will get rid of whining noise in your car speakers and enjoy music in clear sound.
A great car stereo system is just like a piece of junk if it produces a whining noise. No car owner or occupant would like to be in a car that produces a whining noise. Therefore, they will end up preferring it to be switched off which interferes with the peace of their ears. Finding the cause of car stereo whining noise is imperative to your enjoyment.
Taking your car to a car audio technician’s workshop for us always remains an option. We believe in self-diagnosis and DIY techniques for any car audio problem before consulting the gurus because it is cost-effective. However, knowing how your car stereo works and how to fix it is gratifying. Removing the whining noise from your car stereo is more time-consuming than costly. The end result of doing the job all by yourself with little assistance will save money, and when it is fixed, you can say I did this!