Piston Slap: A new Frontier for stereo installations?


Danny writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I have a 2010 Nissan Frontier with a factory CD player, but it had no AUX input or Bluetooth connection to play music from my phone. After about two years of dealing with one of those sketchy Bluetooth adapters that plugs into the 12v outlet on the dash, I finally caved and ordered a stereo receiver and all the necessary accessories from Crutchfield.

The receiver works well, and even made my factory speakers sound a bit better, but despite getting all the replacement trim pieces and installing it all correctly, the dash now makes chittering noises anytime I drive over a bump in the road, and sometimes just when the truck is idling. If I press hard on the tray above the stereo, I can minimize some of the noise, but the new stereo support brackets and the little tray underneath the receiver are just not as robust as the original equipment.

Should I pull it all apart and start adding foam adhesive wherever I can? Thanks for your help!

Sajeev answers:

I have experienced similar issues when upgrading radios on Fords from the last 40 years, so I know you are on the right track with the comment about foam insulation. Sometimes you don’t need foam, because the factory radio has a rear support bracket. While many stereos from the Rad era have a rear bracket, I suspect those days are far behind us. So let’s take a look at the installation kit that came with your purchase:

Metra Electronics

That’s a lotta plastic! The problem is, these kits don’t necessarily replicate every bit the factory uses to firmly install a stereo. And the factory mounts are usually better quality, often made of metal instead of plastic. But this general information isn’t wholly relevant to the Nissan Frontier in question, so have a look at what Danny pulled out of his truck:

There is no provision for a rear support bracket (a centrally-located threaded hole, or a bolt to attach said bracket), but look at those beefy metal brackets on both sides! Odds are these can’t be reused on the aftermarket radio installation kit, so you do indeed need to use something to stop the vibration. I recommend the same structural packaging foam I mentioned for Project Valentino, but don’t go crazy with it; find the one spot that causes the vibration and add a wedge of foam there. Just a little wedge, not a strip, pad, or anything bigger.

Air circulation/heat management is generally paramount when it comes to aftermarket audio systems, especially if you are running the internal amplifier to power your speakers. Blocking the holes in its chassis could prematurely kill your new stereo, so get some double-sided tape or glue and affix the wedge of foam in a minimalist fashion.

Conservative use of foam insulation and glue is paramount here, as a little bit goes a long way. Hope this solves your problem!

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    I’m all about replacing plastic “brackets” with metal whenever possible. Plastic is just generally to “giving” to firmly hold something as heavy as a sound system, especially with road vibrations and potholes seeming getting worse instead of better. When I get the chance, I’ll toss scrap sheet metal into a bin and use it to fashion hangers/holders/straps/brackets/or other types of stabilizers for installation anywhere in my vehicles. It often involves a bit of imagination and fab work, but you’d be surprised what you can make out of some scrap with tin snips, a vise, hammer and drill!

    Overall I have had good luck with the plastic on aftermarket stereo installation kits, and the lightness is appreciated. One place I hate seeing plastic is on things like radiators (the side tanks) and one of my cars is getting a 100% aluminum radiator when the plastic one fails again (or when I take it in for servicing next time).

    The trouble is no matter the fastener plastic dashes never go back together as tight as they came apart.

    I have found this product from 3M to really do a better job than foam or tape.


    The best way to avoid this is look for a factory radio that has been modified for true blue tooth. E bay has several venders that do this for most radios. It bolts right in no mods.

    I’ve lost count of how many aftermarket CD players, and then the CD/bluetooth units, and then just bluetooth units I’ve put in my constantly revolving daily drivers over the years. Once I ran across those little sketchy bluetooth cigarette lighter things a few years ago, I haven’t installed an aftermarket radio since.

    Not really the place for this – but Sajeev, I was at my local Pull-a-Part in Mississippi this weekend, and saw a 1986 Lincoln Continental and thought of you. I would post a picture here if I could. It was black over dark maroon, almost what the Givenchy paint scheme looks like. I think the engine was a mid 90s 5.0 and it had Mercury wheels. Other than a good dent in the rear driver quarter, the body and interior were way too good to be in the junkyard.

    Oof. I know that car well (had to be a Givenchy) and it’s sad to hear it didn’t get restored (presumably after getting in a wreck). 1986 was the first year for the Sequential EFI 5.0, and I assume that’s what you saw.

    I have nearly this exact cab in my xterra. I think I might be better off replacing those cheap friggin speakers first ha

    Oddly enough, the noise usually goes away after about 5 minutes of driving, as if once the receiver “warms up” it fits better. I’m going to try a little foam and go from there, thanks Sajeev!

    Interesting about Ferrari. My 1986 328 GTS (actually Nov 1985) has the speakers, electric antenna…and the radio delete plate. Obviously dealerships could install Blaupunkt, Bose, whatever. But was never done. Just guess the sound of that engine was enough.

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