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How to Remove Car Stereo Without Keys?

There are many reasons why you’d want to remove a car stereo. Older car stereos might be outdated or just too old to repair at any practical cost. It could be that you just want some better sound and a nicer-looking interface; you’ve saved up and got your new stereo ready. 

The only thing standing in your way is that old one, stubbornly locked in its plastic housing. However, you don’t have the specialized tools, sometimes called keys or DIN tools used to remove car stereos. Luckily, it is possible to remove the radio without them; you just need some basic tools and patience.

Before you get started on how to remove car stereo without keys, you’ll want to get your hands on the following items:

  • Flathead screwdriver.
  • Socket wrench.
  • Safety gloves.

Disconnect the Battery

Before you do anything, you need to disconnect the car’s battery. This is the first and most important safety tip, so make sure to do this before you start working on anything inside the car. 

Removing the Trim/Panel

Removing the Trim/Panel

Almost all radios you come across will be covered by some kind of plastic trim piece that needs to be removed in order to access the radio itself. These pieces are usually secured with bolts and screws. Make sure you select the right screwdriver size; if you go too large, you’ll risk stripping the heads of the screws.

Be sure to keep all the bolts and screws you remove in a container so they can be replaced after you’re done. These screws and bolts are usually to be found hidden from sight at the bottom of the panel that needs to be removed.

Something to keep in mind…

These pieces are made to be very secure. That means that even with all the screws and bolts removed; it will still put up quite a fight before it comes off. Use a flat-head screwdriver to wedge in between the panel and the mountings. Be patient and just tug at the edges till enough gets released for the whole piece to just pop off.

Newer Cars

If you’ve got a newer car, the chances are high that the whole dashboard will be one piece. This makes removing it to get to the radio a bit trickier, but still not impossible. Again you’ll want to make sure you loosen all the screws and bolts that might be securing the panel to the frame. 

Next, you’ll want to use a PLASTIC PRY BAR, such as one from the very affordable GOOACC 5PCS Auto Trim Removal Tool Kit No-Scratch Pry Tool Kit for Car Door Clip Panel & Audio Dashboard Dismantle -5PCS to start loosening the panel from the frame of the car. Remember to be patient because if you damage the panel, it’s a very expensive part to replace. Work from the edges and be very careful.

Getting the Stereo Out

Getting the Stereo Out

Most stereo units will be secured using at least two clips on the sides. These clips are made of metal and are very hard to reach to prevent theft and keep the stereo steady at high speeds. 

To reach these clips in such a way as to make them unfasten from the frame, you would usually use the so-called radio keys or DIN tools. Since we don’t have any, we’ll be looking at some alternatives on how to remove car stereo without keys.

Essentially anything that is long enough, thin enough, and flat enough will be able to reach the clips. If it is sturdy enough to be able to press the clip to come loose, it’s a winner. 

Finding the slots

Most of the time, there will be two small holes, one on each side of the stereo. Use a flashlight if you need to and peer inside the openings. This will allow you to see the clips and be sure you’ve got the right spot. Some newer cars, especially newer SUVs, sometimes have two holes on each side instead of on just one.

Something to mention before we get to the important part. Just because you don’t have the tools you need to get a car stereo out, doesn’t mean you can ignore your car’s user manual. 

Make sure you check to see how the radio is supposed to slide out before you start loosening it. You never know if your model has a quirk that you won’t notice unless you read the manual.

Alternatives to Keys/DIN Tools

Many alternatives to radio keys have been promoted over the internet and in chat rooms over the years. Some are cruder than others. The crudest would be to use knives.

Some people swear that if you do it right on such and such a model, you can get the stereo out without damaging it. Most people, even folks who admit to not being pros, will tell you to avoid using knives as the risk of damage is just too large. 

Next are files; they work very well. If you’ve got the right sizes, they work just as well as the keys. The problem is not everyone is going to have a set of sturdy small-sized files just lying around, are they? They also don’t sell them in nifty two-pair packs on the cheap. 

Good old-fashioned wire…

No doubt the favorite, as it is well suited to the task and can be found in most homes, or acquired for very little. The wire from clothes hangars and or anything similar in strength and malleability will do just fine. 

You will need to make at least two pieces; make sure they are long enough to reach all the way to the clip so as to release it. Insert the wires and push them all the way back, taking care that you don’t hit something on the way to the clip. 

You might think you’ve got it and start pushing at what you think is the release clip; meanwhile, you’re just bending the frame. Slow and steady is the key when you’re without a key.

The distinctive “Click”

The “Click” is how you’ll know you’ve got the radio properly unhinged from the frame. Pay attention, and don’t let up until you hear that “Click.” If you’re not hearing it, you’ve done something wrong, or your wire isn’t long or strong enough. 

Newer models

Newer models

Some newer models won’t have any holes to insert wires or even keys, for that matter. In these cases, your screwdriver set and a good socket wrench will have to be at hand. Be sure to remove all the bolts and screws and to keep them somewhere to replace the radio later. 

Removing the Radio

Once you’ve got the unit loose, you’ll want to slowly slide it towards you until it’s entirely clear of the housing. This does not mean you’re out of the woods. The last thing you need to do is disconnect any wires that are connected to the unit. If you damage any of the wires or the connectors, it’s just going to end up costing more time and money. 

Want to Get Your Ride Sounding Sweet?

We can help you with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Car Subwoofers, the Best Under Seat Subwoofers, the Best Competition Subwoofer, the Best 12-Inch Subwoofers, the Best 15-inch Subwoofers, and the Best Car Amplifiers you can buy in 2023.

You may also enjoy our detailed reviews of the Best 6.5 Speakers, the Best Cassette Adapter, the Best Bluetooth Headset For Truckers, and Great Apps to Listen to Music Without Wi-Fi for more great items currently on the market.

How to Remove Car Stereo Without Keys – Conclusion

Want to replace or upgrade your car stereo yourself? Need to get it done without spending a lot of money? It’s entirely possible with simple tools and a little patience. Just don’t neglect safety; disconnect the battery and wear some gloves. 

Take care to select the right size screwdriver and don’t rush; otherwise, you’ll miss a bolt or screw here and there. Remember to read the manual no matter what so that there are no surprises. Wait for that “click,” and check those wires. 

Until next time, happy listening!

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