Steering wheel controls: Can I keep them?

Keeping Your Steering Wheel Controls Working

Wondering if you can keep your factory steering wheel controls working when you switch to an aftermarket radio? If you are getting ready to buy a new car stereo, not to worry, you can retain functionality of your steering wheel controls that you love so much. But as with anything in car audio, it comes with a cost.

First off, you don't have to pay to keep your steering wheel controls working. Just understand that if you don't then they won't work. The buttons on your steering wheel were designed to
only talk to your factory head unit. Once the factory head unit is removed, that communication link is broken. The good news is, if you do go aftermarket and realize later that you can't live without the buttons on your steering wheel, you can always go back and add the parts you need to make them work with the new radio.

The Parts You Will Need

The part you will need to retain functionality is called a steering wheel control module. You need to make sure the head unit you are buying has steering wheel control input. So make sure you either check the specs or ask before making a purchase. Most of today's car stereos have the input to add the controls. You only need to be wary of the models that are about 3 years old or older.

It used to be that you had to buy your module and radio wiring harness separately. But these days, depending on your vehicle, you can buy a harness that has a steering wheel control module built in. Once the stereo is installed, the harness can be programmed to receive input from the steering wheel. You wind up saving about thirty bucks or so if there is one of these combo harnesses available for your vehicle.

Finding Your Steering Wheel Control Module

There are many vendors of the module. I recommend either using Pac-Audio or Metra pieces. Each of these vendors websites will have a vehicle fit guide to help you select the right part. I generally only look to Metra if Pac doesn't have a module listed for a particular vehicle or if the module they do have isn't working for whatever reason. Most of your reputable car stereo shops will stock the module you need.

Your vehicle was designed so that the steering wheel controls would only work with the factory head unit, so don't freak out if they decide to stop working. There isn't a module on the market that hasn't temporarily failed at one time or another. So if you wind up having issues don't worry, they normally just need to be reset and reprogrammed. And this is why we highly recommend you have them installed professionally.

You will find a lot of varying reviews regarding steering wheel control modules. I recommend you consult with a professional prior to buying the right one for your car.