Can You Retain Factory Steering Wheel Controls with an Aftermarket Stereo?

April 4, 2024

Are you contemplating upgrading your car’s radio head unit with an aftermarket option but worried about losing the functionality of your factory steering wheel controls? You’re not alone. Many car owners share the same concern. Indeed, it’s a significant topic of discussion in various forums. We’ve trawled through numerous replies and threads on different platforms and collated the most valuable insights to answer this question.

Understanding Steering Wheel Controls

Every modern car comes equipped with steering wheel controls. These buttons can regulate the volume, switch radio stations, take phone calls, and more. They bring the ultimate user experience by allowing drivers to operate the car radio without taking their hands off the wheel, thereby ensuring safety.

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More commonly, steering wheel controls are wired to the car’s radio head unit. Hence, when you decide to swap the factory radio with an aftermarket stereo, it’s natural to wonder whether these controls will still work. The common assumption is that, since these controls interact with the head unit, changing it would render them useless. But is this valid?

Utilizing an Aftermarket Head Unit

An aftermarket head unit can provide a noticeable improvement in your car’s audio system. It often comes with a superior interface, more features, and a better sound quality compared to the factory radio. However, one of the frequently asked questions on car forums is whether these units support the existing steering wheel controls.

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The good news is that yes, most aftermarket head units can work with steering wheel controls. However, you may need to use a special adapter or harness to connect the new stereo to the car’s wiring system. The adapter interprets the signals from the steering wheel controls and relays them to the aftermarket head unit.

Several reputable manufacturers produce these adapters, so you’re likely to find one that matches your car model and the aftermarket head unit. Notably, some aftermarket stereos even come with a pre-packaged adapter.

Installation of the Adapter or Harness

The installation of the adapter or harness is a process that requires precision and caution. According to posts in various forums, many users have managed to install the adapter themselves, although some have reported difficulties.

Therefore, if you are not confident in your technical abilities, it may be better to hire a professional to do the job. A professional will ensure that the installation is done correctly, and you do not risk damaging the new head unit, the adapter, or the car’s wiring.

The harness usually connects to the wiring of the aftermarket head unit and the steering wheel controls. Once it’s connected, you’ll need to program the steering wheel controls. The process will vary depending on the manufacturer of the adapter and the model of your car, though you can usually find detailed instructions in the product manual.

Steering Wheel Controls After Installation

Once the adapter is installed and programmed correctly, your steering wheel controls should work with your aftermarket stereo. However, their functions may vary based on the stereo’s specifications.

For instance, a button on the steering wheel that used to change the radio station might now serve a different function, such as changing the audio source. Similarly, you might find that some buttons now have more than one function, depending on how long you hold them down or how many times you press them.

To gain a better understanding of how your steering wheel controls will function after the installation, it’s advisable to check the manual of the aftermarket head unit or the adapter. You can also look for information on online forums. There, you’ll find numerous threads where users discuss their experiences and post replies to similar queries.


In light of all the information we have collated, you can indeed retain steering wheel controls when you replace your car’s factory radio with an aftermarket unit. The key is to use the right adapter or harness and ensure proper installation. Once done, you’ll be able to enjoy your new stereo without sacrificing the convenience and safety that steering wheel controls offer.

So go ahead, take that leap and upgrade your car’s audio system. With a little effort and the right resources, you’ll have the best of both worlds—a superior sound system and retained steering wheel controls.

Selecting the Right Adapter for Your Vehicle and Aftermarket Stereo

Identifying the right adapter to connect your steering wheel controls to the aftermarket head unit is a crucial step. The adapter needs to be compatible with both your car’s make and model, as well as the aftermarket stereo you have chosen.

A variety of manufacturers, such as Axxess ASWC, PAC SWI, among others, produce these adapters. While choosing, remember that not all adapters are made equal. Some are specific to particular car models, while others are universal and can work with a wide array of vehicles and head units.

To choose the right one, you should first check the compatibility list of the adapter manufacturer. This list usually states which car models and stereo brands the adapter works with. If you have a Double Din stereo, for instance, you need to ensure the adapter is compatible with it.

Another factor to consider is the functionality of the adapter. Some adapters only allow basic steering wheel control functions like volume adjustment and station switching. Others, however, provide more advanced features, such as voice commands or the ability to program custom functions.

Before making a purchase, it’s worthwhile to check online car forums. Forum members often share their experiences and reviews about different adapters. Join Nov forums, Nissan forums, or other vehicle-specific forums to get the best advice from people who have similar vehicles and have undergone similar upgrades.

Performing the Installation Correctly

Once you have the right adapter, the next step is the installation. This is a task that requires careful attention. Improper installation can lead to the steering wheel controls not working correctly, or worse, damage to the aftermarket head unit or car’s wiring system.

The adapter will come with a wiring harness that needs to connect the steering wheel controls to the aftermarket stereo. It’s crucial to follow the detailed instructions provided by the manufacturer to correctly install the wiring harness.

While some car owners may feel comfortable performing this installation themselves, others may prefer to hire a professional. This could be a wise decision, especially if you’re not familiar with car audio installation. A professional can ensure that the wiring is done right and that the steering wheel controls work seamlessly with the aftermarket stereo.

Once the installation is done, you’ll need to program the steering wheel controls using the instructions provided with the adapter. This process can be complex, so take your time to understand it.


In conclusion, retaining your factory steering wheel controls with an aftermarket stereo is not just a possibility, but a reality for many car owners. All it takes is selecting the right adapter, whether it’s from Axxess ASWC, PAC SWI, or another manufacturer, and ensuring a proper installation process. With these steps, you can enjoy the enhanced audio quality of an aftermarket stereo without sacrificing the convenience of your steering wheel controls.

So, don’t let the fear of losing your steering wheel controls stop you from enhancing your car’s audio system. With the right strategy, you can enjoy the best of both worlds. The journey to upgrade may require a bit of effort, but the reward is a superior sound experience coupled with the convenience and safety of retained steering wheel controls.