So you want to be a car stereo installer? You watch "Pimp my Ride" and get all jazzed up by the awesome systems they put in the cars and think to yourself, "That looks like fun." The problem is, you don't know jack about it. Most stereo installers began their careers as hobbyists -- messing around with their own systems, tinkering and tweaking standard car radio installation kits. They went into the job with real world knowledge simply by doing it themselves.
There are also plenty of places that can help you get the information you need to become a professional car stereo installer without you risking your own stereo or one belonging to some unfortunate friend.
These tips will help you find the car audio installation training you need to succeed:
- Online. Now, getting training online goes against what I just said about risking your own system, but if you get some good online instruction and follow the details, then your risk lowers significantly. There are a few sites that will take you through the various steps of stereo installation slowly and succinctly to help ensure your success. About.com's car stereo information page is a great place to learn about what goes into car stereos and how to install one. There are other sites you can find by typing "how to install a car stereo" or something similar into your favorite search engine.
- Formal schooling. There seem to be more and more trade schools and technical colleges offering classes on car audio systems and mobile electronics. In most cases, the training is bundled into courses on car navigation, video, security and remote start training. Most places that offer stereo installation also offer these services, so you might want this type of training if you think you would like to work in an auto repair shop. I found Carstereo.com to be helpful in locating some schools that offer this training. Again, use a search engine to find training and locate a school for you.
You could also check your local phone book for tech schools in your area. Give them a call and see if the school has any classes or programs that cover installing a car audio system. Classes can range in price from less than $100 for a class lasting a couple of hours to more than $1000 for a full-blown mobile electronics course. Some community colleges offer associate's degrees in stereo installation. Colleges that offer programs in vehicle electronics and woodworking usually offer stereo installation courses.
- On the job training. You could always learn by getting a job as a car stereo systems installer and being trained on the job. That way you will be under the watchful eye of a superior every step of the way while installing different types of components. Local shops might also be willing to do this if you can assure them of your intentions. They don't want to put time and effort into someone who will leave as soon as they know everything about installing a car audio system. The best thing to do is visit a few local shops and talk to the manager or ask an installer how things work in the shop with regards to hiring and training. You’ll also want to build a portfolio of your work. This should include photos and/or examples of the more interesting installations you’ve done, whether you were paid for the work or not.
If you’re serious about wanting to be a professional installer, you may want to become a Mobile Electronics Certified Professional (MECP). This certification program, developed in 1991, is run by the Consumer Electronics Association and shows that you know the latest industry standards in car stereo installation, along with other car electronics. More than 20,000 professionals have been certified so far. Being certified can help you better understand some of the complex electrical systems in today’s stereos. It can also give you a leg up in getting a better job.
There are three different levels of MECP certification (Basic, Advanced and Master) and a Mobile Product Specialist certification for salespeople within the industry. The Advanced and Master levels require that you have some experience working in the industry. The Basic certification expires after two years; the other certifications expire after four years. You can take the test at a variety of test centers and community colleges throughout the United States.
Wherever you decide to get your training, remember that installation isn’t just about wires and screws. Stereo installers often need to know about upholstery, fiberglass and Plexiglas formation to ensure that installations look good. Plus, you will need to work quickly, as you will do many installations during a day.
In my opinion, nothing beats a little hands-on training coupled with some structured basic electronics schooling. Be it a full-blown technical school or some night classes, you can never know too much when it comes to car audio installation!