July 7, 2015

Shopping For Car Stereos

Attentive readers will recall that the display on our car stereo has been going for a while. Inattentive readers may wish to refresh their memories.

Since October, and that ill-fated dalliance with a cheap car stereo, we’ve been bumbling along with the Kenwood, but the display is now utterly, utterly dead. So the other weekend, while the small boy was out with his grandad, we went to the only place where once can really browse car stereos – Halfords. The staff were, as you would of course expect, a small handful of overworked teenagers who wish that all these annoying customers would just go away and leave them alone. I don’t blame the kids, of course. There’s a complex network of events that got us where we are, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog post.

I’d already prepared my requirements. Essential features:

  • Bluetooth, for Karen
  • Front USB port or SD card slot, for me

Nice to have:

  • CD player
  • Compatibility with steering wheel controls

I quickly located the best deal on the wall, an Alpine CDE-173BT for £50, which was impressive because it’s more than £100 anywhere else. It had everything on both my essential and nice-to-have lists. Since there was no dedicated car audio dude available, and you can’t just grab a boxed car stereo off the shelves, I had to join the main checkout queue and wait for 5 minutes to get to the front.

When my turn came, it turned out that they were out of stock. They asked if I’d like them to see if it’s in stock at another store nearby? Yes please, I said. Another few minutes wait. Nope, it’s out of stock everywhere, what a great deal it is. But I’d be able to get it online, they said. At the same price, I asked? Yes, they said. I whipped out my phone and checked. Nope. Karen and I regrouped to discuss strategy.

Look, I said, I had a ballpark budget of £100 anyway. Just because the half-price deal wasn’t a goer, doesn’t mean we should bail. I went back to the wall and settled on a Pioneer DEH-4700BT. Again, it fulfilled all requirements, but wasn’t on sale, so would be £100. Back to the checkout. Waity waity wait. I asked for the adapter to connect it up to the car steering wheel, and there was a wait for that too. Eventually, eventually, we left the shop with the car stereo, and the steering wheel harness adapter, and I could go home and install it.

Installation wasn’t seamless. For one thing, it seems that the unit that Halfords had sold me had actually been bought and returned by someone else already. The anchoring pins on the mounting cage weren’t perfectly straight, and the removal hooks were also looking distinctly second-hand (which is actually a bit of an annoyance, because those things rely on being perfectly straight to work efficiently). Furthermore, the steering wheel adapter isn’t complete either! I need to buy an adapter to adapt the steering wheel adapter to the car stereo. If you’re confused by all this, don’t worry, it’s taken me a fair while to wrap my head around it too.

There’s actually also another small issue with the car stereo itself, but I want to put that in a separate blog post. Put the “Pioneer, really?” over there, and keep the “Halfords, really?” over here.

In conclusion, my Halfords shopping experience was predictably dire. The incomplete steering wheel adapter, the not-completely-new unit, the long wait – add on this issue with the car stereo, which I’ll describe in another blog post, and I’m almost, but not quite, on the cusp of wanting to take the whole thing back to the shop. But that would just mean spending even more time in Halfords. I’d rather cut my losses. Instead, I shall give advice to the unwary:

  1. If you’re looking to buy a car stereo, do not be tempted to think that Halfords, with its physical store and actual human people, will offer a better customer service than Amazon. Once upon a time, there was probably a guy there who could listen to your requirements and help you buy the right device for you. He was fired a long time ago. Nowadays, you’re on your own.
  2. If you’re looking to buy a car stereo, and play music from a USB stick, do not buy a Pioneer. This will be explained in another blog post.

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